Westbank Community Health and Care with Community Services' Manager, Nikki Bromley (centre) and CEO Sarah Hicks (right) and a Westbank volunteer (second from left) with the first cohort of newbie cooks. Image by Andra Patriche Photography.

New west country cookery school celebrates success

5 min


Devon community cookery school celebrates first graduates from culinary course

A first cohort of newbie cooks are celebrating the successful completion of a brand new two month culinary course in Devon.

The eight students have honed their kitchen skills at the Community Cookery School which is based in a purpose-built teaching facility at Exminster.

The team at Westbank Community Health and Care are behind the project. Their aim is to improve people’s know-how in a kitchen environment.  

The centre opened its doors to beginner cooks this autumn and offered a free eight-week workshop to people of all ages who want to learn how to cook simple, nutritious and affordable meals.

A well-attended launch party allowed guests, including sponsors, to see the bespoke teaching kitchen in use.

Westbank’s Head of Volunteering and Health Services, Amanda Kohn, with Young Carer Ambassador, Exeter Chief’s Ollie Devoto. Image by Andra Patriche Photography.

The event marked the completion of a year of hard work by the Westbank team to raise the necessary funding to design and build a state-of-the-art workspace with eight learner workstations, including a height-adjustable one for people with disabilities.

‘It’s been fantastic to welcome our first learners to the Community Cookery School at Westbank,’ says Nikki Bromley, Community Services Manager. She developed and delivers the cookery courses.

‘For the last two months, we’ve been running two classes per week – on Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings – and the take-up has been wonderful.’

‘Some people have limited experience in the kitchen, others have none at all, so we start with the basics like food hygiene and knife skills.’

‘We show participants how to cook simple, wholesome meals and sauces that can be adapted to make plenty of dishes on a budget.’

‘It’s satisfying to teach people how to make the most of fresh produce to cook more sustainably, and every one of our learners has embraced this experience. They’ve all enjoyed learning how to cook and meeting new people.’

Celebrating success at the Community Cookery School with team members from Westbank Community Health and Care. Imagery by Andra Patriche Photography.

‘A great opportunity to do something on my own’

‘It’s a great opportunity to do something on my own, learn new skills and broaden both our horizons on the food front,’ explains Paul, a full-time carer from Dawlish. He’s previously attended courses at Westbank with his son, who has autism.

‘I loved it. Learning how to make the most of produce from food banks, trying different vegetables and the way it’s been taught – it’s really opened up my skill set in the kitchen. It’s a phenomenal space with amazing facilities.’

The idea of creating a bespoke teaching kitchen at Westbank Community Health and Care began simmering away following the Covid lockdowns.

During the pandemic, the charity distributed food boxes with fresh produce and many recipients said they lacked the knowledge, skills and confidence to make meals with the vegetables, and basic store cupboard ingredients which they had been gifted.

Since then, the sharp rise in the cost of living has forced many households, particularly those on low incomes, to stretch their grocery budget even further.

Bulk cooking, preparing meals from scratch, and minimising waste, are simple ways to feed a family more affordably. 

‘The best bit for me has been learning new things,’ says Tina from Exminster who was keen to give the course a go. 

Westbank CEO Sarah Hicks with the Lord Mayor of Exeter. Image by Andra Patriche Photography.

Learning new things and different things to try

‘My kids have enjoyed everything I’ve cooked and look forward to me coming home with different things for them to try on Thursdays.’

‘I’ve discovered how to use a lot more vegetables and healthier options. I’d never tried Lentil Cottage Pie before and the whole family enjoyed it. I’ve now volunteered to help on future courses!’

After securing a sizeable pot of fundraising, Westbank began transforming an empty café at its Exminster HQ into a community teaching kitchen, purpose-built to host cookery workshops for people of all ages.

The team’s initial focus was on young parents, low-income families and older, isolated people.

‘It’s been a great experience cooking here at Westbank and I’ve made new friends with other people on the course,’ says Christopher from Exeter.

‘The eight week course is quite extensive and we’ve all learnt a lot. I would certainly come back again. This course has been mainly vegetarian food and I’ve put in my request to do a vegan course next year.’

‘My wife won’t let me do much in the kitchen because she’s very careful about what she eats! I’ve learnt different ways of preparing food,’ says Bob from Pathfinder Village, near Tedburn St Mary. He’d done a limited amount of cooking until joining the course.  

‘I would never have thought of cooking a pizza from scratch and making dough, but now I know how to do that. It’s given me more confidence to cook things I like, and I’m looking forward to returning next year.’ 

The next Foundation Courses will begin in January. Anyone can apply to join them – and they are free of charge.

The project has received generous support totalling almost £74,500 from the Edward Gostling Foundation, Morrisons Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, National Lottery Community Fund / Awards for All England, Hubbub / Starbucks, 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, Veronica Awdry Charitable Trust, The Misses Barrie Charitable Trust and Waitrose.

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