Who’s going to wash the tea towels? Lessons from the Cook2Learn pilots

We have now completed the four planned Cook2Learn, Library Lab, pilot sessions. There are 19 people involved in the delivery of the Cook2Learn project so holding four pilot sessions gave everyone the opportunity to test out the practicalities of the venues, facilities, equipment, resources and session plans.

Generally the pilot sessions were successful. We were able to overcome a number of concerns that had been raised in earlier planning and demonstrate that the practical side of the workshops would work.

Here are the successes:

  • Venues – It really was not a problem to run a food workshop in a library space and not a kitchen!
  • Equipment – Feedback was very positive about the equipment purchased, we had everything that was needed and more.
  • Library resources – These were described as excellent, the large range of book stock ordered to support the project provides a Cook2Learn collection for each library. In the workshops these are on display and the library staff explain about the collection and demonstrate additional eMagazines available for library members on Zinio.
  • Session plans – Feedback was that these worked well and we have identified a few areas that need to be tweaked slightly.
  • Icebreakers/activities – These were fine and we have identified some more to add in. They do need to be hands-on and quick to do so they don’t impact on the time available for food preparation. Activities such as Change 4 Life’s Sugar Smart app and identifying healthy food swaps were particularly successful.
  • Recipes – These were good, about two different recipes were completed in each workshop. The food was very tasty, attendees were able to try new foods at the session and were able to take their creations home. Only cold food recipes were tried at the pilots which was interesting as there had been much discussion from the team beforehand about the limitations of cold food. This led to a microwave and kettle being provided along with a range of recipes that could utilise these.

These were all of the main areas that we were testing so the fact that they were successful is great. However, as expected, the pilot sessions also raised a number of new issues and areas that need to be addressed.

Key learning points:

  1. The equipment boxes need to be re-sorted and clearly labelled to make it easier to find items and pack away afterwards.
  2. The pilot sessions with real clients were far more successful than the two pilots where our Cook2Learn volunteers stood in as the customers. Although the volunteers’ role in these two sessions was supposed to be customer and ‘critical friend’, the health trainers, particularly, found this too challenging, partly because the volunteers were too well informed, this meant that the team roles and dynamics became confused.
  3. Be clear on everyone’s roles in the delivery of the workshop and expectations before and after the session (setting up and packing away). Build in time for the team to discuss session delivery and who is doing what, prior to customers arriving.
  4. Keep activities and icebreakers simple, ensure that these are adaptable depending on the abilities and levels of knowledge of attendees.
  5. Laminate recipe sheets, have a clear, simple and consistent format, include nutritional information and add a list of equipment needed for each recipe. This will help the team get out the right equipment before the start of the workshop.
  6. Ensure customers have the opportunity to weigh, measure and divide ingredients and follow the recipes, step-by-step, to help build confidence in numeracy and literacy skills. In these type of workshops there is a danger that the leader of the session will demonstrate and customers will follow, missing out these vital learning points.
  7. Provide checklists for the  delivery team, one for the beginning and one for the end of the session.
  8. Put together a simple ‘Top Tips’ sheet of things to consider, to be used as a helpful reminder for the team.
  9. Shopping:
  • Purchase ripe fruit! So much of it in supermarkets isn’t!
  • Where possible buy food, especially fresh food, on the day.
  • Keep a note of store cupboard items that have already been purchased to avoid unnecessary duplication.
  • Buy smallest or cheapest items for workshops – be aware of waste.

And who’s going to wash the tea towels? Well it’s always the little things that are easy to forget and can cause great consternation, this is one that looked like it would be a real sticking point.  After putting it out there to the team without any appropriate suggested solutions, I have suddenly discovered that you can purchase disposable tea towels – they are now at the top of my shopping list, solving the problem in an instant!

Cook2Learn launches in Weston-super-Mare on 10th January 2017






Practical training for staff and volunteers

This week saw the first training day that I had arranged with educational food consultant, Francine Russell from All about Food. Francine offers ‘train the trainer’ sessions and is used to working with community food projects.

We had sat down together a couple of weeks ago to work out a bespoke training day for the Cook2Learn team of 8 volunteers, 7 health trainers, 2 of the community learning team and 2 library staff. The training would be split over two days to offer an option on dates and have sensible sized groups.

Francine did a great job fitting a huge amount into a day and carefully balancing the different levels of knowledge the participants had, in order to make the session valuable to all. We were able to cover many areas such as food groups, sugar, salt, fat, knife skills, icebreaker resources and games, managing groups, hands-on demonstrations, running a food programme in an unusual environment and the benefits of working from libraries.

The day went well and the feedback from the evaluation forms was excellent.

However a number of concerns were expressed during the day and it became apparent to me that I still have quite a bit of work to do on pulling the team together and ensuring that everyone really gets the positive benefits of running a project like this from libraries.

One or two felt that not using full cooking with hobs, grills and ovens would mean that the workshops would be unsuccessful and customers would be disappointed. The project was never about teaching people how to cook, the food is the hook but the project aims are to help improve health and wellbeing by raising awareness of healthier food choices and increasing confidence in key skills, through food.

The advice I have been given right from the start, from a variety of people, is to keep the workshops as simple as possible when it comes to food and cooking. This makes absolute sense, if we can provide good quality advice and information about food, health, resources and services through hands-on, fun, practical two-hour workshops we will be succeeding. Practically speaking, if the food preparation is kept simple and risks are low, Cook2Learn sessions can be replicated in many spaces, allowing us to reach far more people. A wide variety of food can be used without cooking or baking including: making dips, wraps, healthy drinks, lots of ways with fruit, breakfast options, lunch box options, couscous, salads etc.  The fact that this is raised as a concern means that I need to work harder at getting everyone to understand the key aims and objectives so they can deliver the positive messages and achieve the desired outcomes. The marketing of the workshops will also need to be very clear to manage customer expectations.

The session also highlighted the very different ways in which the library service and health trainers work with customers and how we will all need to be adaptable.

The health trainers are used to working with their clients in one-to-one confidential, private settings and are worried that people will find workshops in an open library intimidating. Libraries are used to running events and activities in open libraries, as are our customers. Libraries are open access for all, so health trainers are likely to meet people who are not their usual target audience but could still benefit from their support. Libraries are likely to meet health trainer clients who have never been library users and do not see libraries as being relevant to them.  Health trainers may not usually think to show their clients where in the library they might find books and resources on diet, cooking, health and wellbeing. Equally library staff may not think of signposting customers to health trainers for practical support. By being flexible, having greater knowledge and understanding of each others services and customers, we should all be able to benefit from new, improved partnership working.

We have one more group to go through training, so I will be more prepared for these concerns at the second session.

I am now in the process of finalising the session plans with the health trainer’s manager, before we run four pilot sessions in November. The pilots will be using volunteers as workshop customers, giving everyone the opportunity to run through sessions together, increase confidence, iron out any issues and allow the team to practice in library settings before we go live in the New Year.

img_4841In the mean time library books and kitchen equipment have been ordered and are starting to arrive in boxes at our library depot – this is very exciting news!


Cook2Learn New Logo

26794 Cook2learn V2 A – Version 2

I’m really pleased with the new Cook2Learn logo designed by the Council’s graphics team. After some early ideas which resembled a cross between Bake Off and Master Chef this logo has developed and hits the spot.

We’re looking forward to using it on aprons, pop-up banners, posters, flyers, stickers and anything else we can think of!

Lessons learned….so far!

There have been lots of lessons learned so far but these are the biggies.Lessons (1)

Put time aside for your project

I have blocked out a day a week to concentrate on my Cook2Learn project, my mentor, Andy, insisted that I do this and it has worked really well. It means I don’t get sidetracked by my project on other days and vice versa with my other work. I try to make all of my project meetings on these days and because it is in my Outlook calendar, I find that my colleagues are really good about not booking in other meetings for me to attend. Of course there are occasional blips but generally, doing this has made me feel much more on top of things and kept me and the project on track.

It’s a Health and Safety Nightmare!

Well, I guess it was always going to be difficult! I had consulted with the Food Safety team prior to my application and while there was lots to consider, it all seemed feasible. However, I hadn’t expected the reaction I got from the Health and Safety team when I went to them to seek advice at the start of my project. It’s always good to remember that councils are very risk averse! For a week or so it seemed we were at gridlock and at the end of the day the Health and Safety team are able to shut down a project, funded or not. To work with them and allay their fears, I had to address every single concern they had raised – the numbers were high! After a lot of research I put together a long and detailed 10 page risk assessment and with the help of our Libraries Operations Manager, we  refined it to make sure every eventuality was covered. The Health and Safety team and I are now in a much better place!

We have had to make adjustments and there are some sites where it will only be possible to do cold food preparation but this was always likely and doesn’t impact greatly on the ability to run the project successfully. There will also need to be some additional safety equipment purchases but it’s good to know all of this before any of the budget has been spent. The process of having to do the risk assessment at the very early stages, has enabled me to be much clearer about the project needs and decision making, as the project development stages have progressed.

Get all of the team involved in project development

To deliver Cook2Learn I am working with Public Health, Health Trainers and Community Learning, for the most part major project decisions have been made in consultation with team managers. We all felt that it was really important for the teams who would be delivering the workshops and courses to be able to take some ownership of the project and be involved in the project development rather than just delivery. To help with this we held a really productive half-day development workshop with seven health trainers, two library staff, two community learning staff and team leaders. The health trainers and community learning team have experience of delivering cookery sessions and with their expertise and valuable input, the workshop enabled us to define session themes, identify equipment needs, draft session plans, content and activities and highlight areas we need to consider.

Since the development workshop the health trainers have gone on to identify a choice of recipes for each workshop theme and decided on some of the icebreakers and themed activities they will deliver.

I have also recently recruited eight volunteers to help deliver sessions. As well as attending planned training they will have a vital role in the development of the workshops by taking part in November’s pilot sessions and helping evaluate and refine sessions before the project launch in January.

All of the teams are really positive about the project and are looking forward to getting going with it, this has created a great buzz and lots of interest from other areas.

Helping library teams to understand…

I quickly realised that there was an urgent need to get our library teams on board with the Cook2Learn project, so they had an understanding of why the project was relevant to libraries, what it was all about and would be able to promote it when the time came. I had a 10 minute slot booked at a libraries’ meeting to explain the project to Library Supervisors and I had also recently discovered the delights of using infographics from Piktochart. Using an infographic seemed a much better visual way of explaining the project and would give Supervisors something to hand on to their teams.

Here’s the infographic I created. I think if I was doing it again now, it would maybe be slightly different as, due to the Carnegie Library Lab online learning, I am quickly becoming a convert to Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with the Why’ – but more of that later.


It started here…

In January this year I sent off my application for the second round of the Carnegie Library Lab programme, which is designed to support and develop innovation and leadership in the public library sector across the UK and Ireland.

My idea, Cook2Learn, was inspired by the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Culinary Literacy Center, which I visited on my Travelling Librarian study tour last year.  The Cook2Learn project proposal was to improve healthier food and lifestyle choices and increase confidence in numeracy and literacy skills of adults through learning about food and food preparation. I would be working with council partners (health trainers, Public Health and the Community Learning team), alongside library staff and volunteers to deliver workshops and short courses in libraries across North Somerset.

After a few weeks I was delighted to receive a call from Jenny Peachey at the Carnegie UK Trust to tell me that I had been selected as a Carnegie Partner.