Young chefs are learning about cooking and community – BBC News

Image caption The frantic last minute rush, familiar to anyone who has cooked Christmas dinner

In an upstairs room at the Westview Community Association in Fleetwood the temperature is rising.

Oven doors are slammed shut as trays of stuffing are given another five minutes and Yorkshire puddings are whisked out before they burn.

The frantic last minute rush will be familiar to anyone who has made a Christmas dinner.

This is a room full of teenage cooks and for most, the first time they have experienced this kind of kitchen heat.

They are pulling together a lunch for more than 30 people, many of them elderly residents of the Westview estate in the Lancashire town.

It is hot and busy in the kitchen, but Naomi Parker, one of the adults helping oversee this epic meal, is pleased with the way her team has responded to the challenge.

“They’re doing really well, I’m proud of them. They’re doing better than me!” she says.

Cooking for the community

This is not just an exercise in cooking, it is also a chance to strengthen a community and develop some other broader skills as well.

Washing up at the sink is Keiran, one of the young cooks behind today’s feast.

“I feel like I’m doing something good for the community. It’s a warm feeling inside,” he explains.

Esme, busy mashing potatoes, also recognises the wider benefit value of what the group is doing.

“It’s good because I get to like, socialise with everybody and make new friends and build my confidence and everything.”

And that’s important in towns like Fleetwood, where a strong sense of community can help overcome some serious economic and health challenges.

What health experts call “lifestyle choices” – a poor diet, lack of exercise and drinking too much – mean life expectancy here is significantly lower than the average for England.

Illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, all linked to being overweight or obese, mean too many people in the town live lives blighted by ill health or premature death.

Value of cooking

Educating the next generation about how to cook and what to cook is a key part of creating a healthier Fleetwood for the future.

Those lessons are reinforced at Fleetwood High School, where Keiran and Esme are among the pupils building up their culinary skills in their GCSE food technology class.

In this class they are learning how to make a hearty vegetable soup, homemade healthy pizza and sweet and sour chicken.

It is not a course on simply how to cook, but rather to understand the value of cooking and the impact a good diet can have on our health.

Image caption Food technology classes at Fleetwood High School teach not only how to cook, but the value of cooking

So it is gratifying for food tech teachers like Elizabeth Harrison, who sees not only the physical benefits for her pupils, but improved mental health as well.

“Kids cook at home and bring the pictures in on their mobiles, so we can see they are still cooking at home and they really enjoy it.

“A lot of kids will say to you, ‘It de-stresses me if I cook, I like to cook tea at home, because I don’t feel like I’m under any pressure and what I produce, everybody is happy with.'”

The BBC is following efforts to improve the health of the town over the course of a year and these cooking classes – at school and in the community – are an important part of that.

Image caption Christmas dinner for some of the elderly residents of the Westview Estate

Back at the Westview Community Association, the cooking is finally over and dinner is served.

With roast spuds, Yorkshire pudding and stuffing, it is true that Christmas dinner is perhaps not the healthiest meal of the year.

But the skills these young chefs are learning here – about cooking, but also about working together and community – are for life, and not just for Christmas.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38405967