Volunteer Paul found FoodCycle after his mother died. Having lived a semi-reclusive existence for much of his life, 52-year-old Paul, who has a lifelong learning disability, wanted to find something that would help him integrate with his community and help his social skills.
How did you discover FoodCycle?
I’m 52 and I’ve never had a proper job since I left school at 16. My mum died in March 2020 but before that we lived quite a reclusive life. It was just me and mum, and we did everything together. When she passed away, my extended family stepped in to help and support me to live independently. With my primary support and ‘cousin-in-law’ Allison, we met with my Disability Employment Advisor at the DWP who suggested we visit the Chelmsford Volunteering Centre. We went and had a chat with Sally about the different volunteering jobs, which is where we saw the advert for FoodCycle volunteers. I was really interested to find out more as I like food and my family were helping me learn how to cook including taking me shopping to buy ingredients.
Tell us about your first day at FoodCycle?
The team asked me to come in the afternoon before the meal and I had a lovely talk with Mike on the cooking team and met Sam, the Regional Manager and they told me what I needed to do as a volunteer in the kitchen. Then I joined my first meal, along with my cousin Mark who came to meet everyone, and the food was lovely. Since my first visit, everyone on the FoodCycle team has been really lovely. I go on my own and my family know that I’m going to be cared for and that people are going to be kind.
Tell us about your favourite FoodCycle meals?
The food is lovely. They don’t use meat, just things like rice or pasta with vegetables and the way they turn it into fantastic meals is just brilliant. My favourite pudding is apple crumble, there’s a lady on the cooking team at Chelmsford called Carol and she makes the best one. I’ve tried loads of things I haven’t tried before like stuffed aubergine, carrot soup and even spicy foods, which burn my mouth a bit. Because FoodCycle is about healthy eating, I’ve also been able to learn about balancing meals and making sure I eat healthy foods, but puddings are still my favourite.
Tell us about your volunteering role at FoodCycle?
I’m booked into the three-hour cooking shift every week, my cousin sorts this out on the computer for me, before the meal where I help weigh the surplus food and work with the other cooking team members to decide what we’re making that week. I like to peel the vegetables and wash up best and like a good natter with the team while we are working. I also eat with the guests and often stay behind to help with the washing up and putting the tables away.
Tell us what you’ve learned volunteering with FoodCycle?
Mike has taught me to hold a knife differently when you cut vegetables, how to make food taste better and how to make it look good on the plate. Because my mind works in a visual way, I find it hard to follow a recipe but in the FoodCycle kitchens everything is very visual, the menus are discussed and demonstrated, and everyone helps each other.
I’m working with various agencies to try to get me part time work including ECL who support people with disabilities to find jobs. Because of FoodCycle, I’ve found I enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen environment and its something I’d love to do as proper paid work. Being at FoodCycle every week helps to show that I am interested in catering, that I am reliable, can work with other people and that I am committed, so it’s really changed things for me.
How is it working at FoodCycle with a disability?
They have been super helpful and patient at showing me how to do things. I am partially deaf, so I have hearing aids but I’m a bit nervous to wear them as I almost hear too much. After speaking to the team, we decided I don’t have to wear them there as they understand and talk slowly to me. Everyone just makes it so easy for me.
What would you say to other people with disabilities about volunteering at FoodCycle?
Just try it out and see if you like it and if you do, stick with it. Everyone at FoodCycle is friendly, inclusive, and supportive. You’ll find nice people to talk to and have a laugh with.
Tell us any ways that working with FoodCycle has changed you?
I’ve learned not to push myself too quickly. When I started, I always cut my fingers cutting and peeling the vegetables. Everyone said, just take your time and take it easy, don’t force yourself to try to be at the same level as everyone else. Being in such a relaxed atmosphere means I could learn new skills without feeling pressured. My support workers and family say my confidence has increased, I’m more positive and I talk about cooking a lot. I’m very proud of being a FoodCycle volunteer. I walk 40-minutes each way every week to my shift, I’d do it in any weather.
When I used to cook at home, I’d want someone there but now I have enough confidence to do cooking on my own. Last week I made my own tuna pasta bake and I did it without worrying I’m going to burn the house down!
Stay in touch with the FoodCycle family. Sign-up to get the latest news, volunteering opportunities, events and updates sent to you every month. You can unsubscribe at any time.