Natalie Haymes, our Children’s Services Lead at Perry Barr District Children’s Centre, shares how homeless families in the area are being persuaded to give up chicken and chips for something much healthier and tastier.
“Most of us would say we enjoy a break in a hotel. But it’s not such a treat when you share your hotel room with up to six other family members for months on end. That’s the reality for many vulnerable families in Birmingham awaiting a permanent home, such is the shortage of social housing.
“Making meals in these circumstances is a challenge. At best, cooking facilities are a in a shared kitchenette down the hall. What do you do if you’re a single parent with small children, for example? You can’t leave them in the room while you go and cook, but you can’t take them with you either; with other families cooking there too, it’s cramped and unsafe. It’s just easier to all go to the nearest fast food outlet and buy chicken and chips for a pound, even if it is unhealthy.
“Genine Williams is a Specialist Health Visitor from Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Charity (BCHC). She works with homeless families, and when she heard about their mealtime struggles, she came up with a great solution; slow cookers! With funding from Perry Barr Neighbourhood Network, BCHC Charity bought slow cookers for Birmingham Forward Steps Partnership partners, including us. We’re very grateful to them!
“We set up a one-hour Slow Cooker Demonstration Event at our Centre and invited families from local refuges and hotels, plus those referred by health visitors and various children’s advice and support services. With the promise of a free slow cooker, recipe book, food and cutlery to take away, attendance was good. We put on activities for the children so the parents could focus on the cookery demo by Farah, one of our staff and a former chef. She showed them how to make simple, nutritious and delicious meals using a slow cooker – something they’ll be able to do even in a hotel room.
“We set up a one-hour Slow Cooker Demonstration Event at our Centre and invited families from local refuges and hotels, plus those referred by health visitors and various children’s advice and support services.” “Some of the families face a long journey to get their children to school each day, having been moved from another area. But a slow cooker makes their complex lives a little easier. They can prepare ingredients the night before, set it to cook as they go out and come back to a hot meal in the evening. It’s so simple that some of the mums at the demo were audibly plotting to offload cooking duties to the dads!
“Slow cooker food is also healthy as you don’t need to use any fats or oils. And it can be really cheap, especially as we’re setting up a Food Pantry at our Centre. Families pay £5 annual membership, and every week they can come in and spend under £5 and walk out with £30 worth of fresh food.
“The other great thing about this project is it enables us to connect with vulnerable families before they get into real difficulties. Alongside the cooking demo, we gave out information on other parenting, health and money-related services which they’ll find useful. It all adds up to giving the children of those in temporary accommodation a much better start!”
About Spurgeons Children’s Centre Services in Birmingham:
Spurgeons Children’s Charity delivers Children’s Centre services in four Birmingham districts under the Birmingham Forward Steps Partnership. Spurgeons children’s centres are places where parents of children aged 0–5 years can share the challenges and joys of parenthood. The centres offer a range of activities and support services to help you with all aspects of parenting, helping you make sure your child gets the best start in life.
To learn more about our work in Birmingham, click here.