Connected Communities Project Visit – Northway and Marston Community Kitchen

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Connected Communities Project Visit – Northway and Marston Community Kitchen

It was a grey day when I visited the Northway and Marston Community Kitchen, but the room was filled with delicious smells and was a hive of activity with the volunteer cooks and helpers hard at work finishing the dishes for the day.

It was inspiring to talk to the volunteers who explained it is a diverse and inclusive community including people from many places in Asia such as Pakistan and Palestine and other regions such as the Caribbean with quite an elderly population. Each week, this is reflected in the food cooked by a different community volunteer resulting in a menu with a unique flavour and cultural influence. To respect everyone’s preferences, halal meat is used and there’s always a vegan option.

The volunteers have food in common and take pleasure in swapping recipes and cooking tips. “Its amazing how one cook uses the same spices, fruits and tea but the taste is different because of the culture and how food is cooked.” I had some tasty vegan noodles and I now know the secret ingredient!

A partner organisation, Northway Together, provide excess food from the foodbank and then additional food and herbs are added from the community garden. People are asked what they would like next week and some of the Connected Communities funds are used to buy protein and additional food to supplement the menu, such as chicken, resulting in food for thirty people.

All sorts of people from the community enjoy the delicious food from the kitchen. Some will eat in the kitchen and chat and others pick up a take away. Theres always a mixture of people, some may have struggles with addiction or debilitating health issues, others are taken food because they are ill, elderly and/or lack mobility. It’s also an intergenerational intercultural space where families can come and children of different backgrounds can play together. The kitchen volunteers go beyond food and help to signpost people to services such as English lessons.

A gentleman explained to what it means to him, “It’s a place to meet people – everyone is very nice and the food is always very good. I do night shifts at the hospital so I can take food home with me to enjoy when I get in”. For a regular the kitchen is, “An absolute Godsend”. She has been active in the community and advocate for community development and education but told me she is now suffering with long Covid so has days when she is unable to leave the house. She said, ”Food has been brought to me on days I can’t get out.” She called it, ” A wonderful way to meet people…a lifeline and a support network…and somewhere you are not judged and made welcome.” It’s been a “Real blessing for me…and I sometimes take food for my Dad and for an elderly lady who I visit. She gets excited that its [hot food and] not a sandwich [which is her usual meal].”

People are encouraged to, ‘Come and cook your food’, as a way to help people feel welcome and included. The team at the kitchen are always looking for ways to be inclusive and commented that, “It takes someone to listen and value people to make a difference. If you feel lonely its good to talk to people. Everyone is welcome no questions asked.” The team have lots of other ideas such as cooking lessons to show people how to make healthy alternatives to less healthy food such as beefburgers from high street chains or substitutes to expensive fruit juices.

The message of the kitchen is of unity and spreading understanding of different cultures as well as sharing healthy food and providing a place where, “Everyone is welcomed with an open heart” and as commented by a lady enjoying the food, “It’s done out of love and kindness.”

Written By Lisa Stead, Project Development Manager

Community First Oxfordshire

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