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Made In Hackney

Made In Hackney

Made In Hackney are a community food kitchen on a mission to make healthy, sustainable and local food available to everyone. A non-profit organisation, they offer volunteer-led cookery classes to different community groups, showcasing the economic, health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. 

We got the low-down from founder Sarah Bentley:

Tell us more about Made In Hackney…

We're the UK's only 100% plant-based eco-community kitchen. We're a charity and social enterprise that believes everyone should have access to healthy, affordable food that's good for people and the planet. To this effect, we teach Londoners the practical skills they need to cook healthy, affordable food from scratch using healthy techniques and whole, unprocessed plant-based ingredients - with as much of it local, organic and seasonal as budget allows.

Our work exposes people to plant-based recipes and wholefoods - many of whom would not usually come into contact with this type of eating - and we emphasis the health benefits of eating like this alongside the environmental benefits (read about our food policy here). People can be shocked that we don't use any animal products in our classes but how are we ever going to reduce our consumption of dairy and meat if no one knows how to do this in an inspiring, delicious and nutritionally balanced way? We don't expect people to cut dairy and meat out completely (great if they want to) but our programme helps them onto a safe and inspiring path to reduce their consumption. The planet just can't sustain the volume of animal products we're currently eating - we urgently need to evolve. 

We also teach urban food growing and signpost our participants to grassroots veg box schemes so they can access local, organic produce affordably and locally. In Hackney we signpost people to the Growing Communities - the most affordable and ethical source of organic fresh produce in the borough. 

What is the social impact?

Since opening in 2012 we've reached over 5,000 people - an incredible achievement for a tiny charity with a turnover of less than £120,000 per year with an entirely part-time team. The funds we secure go a long long way and we deliver a huge amount of interventions compared to money spent on admin and overheads costs. 

The bulk of our cookery programme is delivered to the groups that are most in need. Since opening in October 2012 we've worked with hearing and visually impaired groups, the gypsy and traveller community, young people in care, new mothers who are recovering addicts, young carers, low income families, people with long term health challenges, young stroke survivors, young people vulnerable of homelessness - and many other groups besides!

We have a set of outcomes which we measure constantly (are people now eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, cooking more from scratch at home, eating less junk food, eating less sugar and salt, using healthier cookery techniques, eating less meat etc) - but in reality what people gain from our programme is very individual. We've had young people that have bought juicers with pocket money and vowed never to drink energy drinks again. Male pensioners cooking meals for their families for the first time in their lives. People who've lost weight (a lady from the Zimbabwean Women's Association told us after completing one of our course "I used to waddle like a duck, but now I am so much lighter, I run like a cheetah"), lowered their cholesterol, their blood pressure or amount of insulin they need. People who've loved the food so much they've gone vegetarian. And blind people who haven't cooked for over a decade (since losing their sight) now having the confidence to cook again - but with far healthier ingredients and a lot more fresh produce than they've ever used before. 

Another lady said: "whatever you've done to my father - it's wonderful, and thank you". Clearly shocked and amused she told us at 82 years old her father had bought his own cookery set and had planned to cook his family a meal for the first time in his life. The stories are all so uplifting and make all the hard work behind what we do all the more worthwhile. 

Made In Hackney

Your courses do more than just teach people how to cook, what else do the participants learn while they are there?

The benefits of sitting down to eat - communally if possible. Ethical food sourcing and local outlets for this. How to read food labels. How to make sweet treats without refined sugar. Environmental impact of food, especially animal products. How to eat 7-9 portions of fruit and veg a day, as opposed to the usually recommended 5 (not really enough for optimum health!) How to make non-toxic cleaning products. Affordable sources of organic food - and why organic is good for our health and the planet. 

We also offer accredited training to boost people's employability prospects in things such as Food Hygiene and First Aid and we're about to launch a professional bread makers course for budding bread artisans. We also quite regularly offer Making To Sell courses to get aspiring food entrepreneurs skilled up and ready to launch a product. We're very proud that Gozo Deli is a graduate of this programme - the UK's first ever to be manufactured cashew cheese brand. 

What has been your biggest achievement?

The fact that we've brought 100% plant-based food to such a diverse and varied community of people is a huge achievement. We've worked in schools, children's centres, pensioners clubs, youth centres, for housing associations and for Hackney Council's Public Health team - all quite mainstream providers not known for promoting local, organic, seasonal, plant-based foods. They took a risk on us and we've proven it can be done well and participants can respond positively to it and not find it overwhelming or too unfamiliar.

We're also hugely proud and thankful for our epic team of volunteers without who we could not exist. Our volunteers assist our teachers in classes, lead some community classes, assist us as project apprentices in the office, man outreach stalls and fundraise. They're just amazing! In return we try to give back to our volunteers by offering lots of valuable training (social media, nutrition, first aid, child protection, working with vulnerable adults) and have regular thank you parties. 

How do you see Made In Hackney evolving in 5 years’ time?

We have so many ideas and dreams. We'd love to expand to larger premises so we can build a bespoke fully accessible eco-community kitchen to host up to 45 cooks (for team building events rather than an average cooking class). It can be a flagship example of best practice that community kitchens from all over the UK can visit for inspiration. Basically what we have now but on a much larger scale. 

How can people get involved with Made In Hackney?  

We're always open for people getting involved in Made In Hackney and supporting our work. They can volunteer with us as class hosts or project apprentices in the office. They can purchase tickets to attend one of our masterclasses in themes such as New Year Cleanse, Live Cultures & Ferments, Nut CheeseUltimate Brunch and Eating To Beat Candida - the proceeds of which go towards funding our free community work. Or they can make a donation - fundraising a constant but necessary challenge for a small but dynamic charity such as ours. 

If you would like to get involved or find out more, head to the Made In Hackney website.

Photography by Christian Sinibaldi (top image) & Tanya Harris (middle image).

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