Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together Campaign; Sharing Food To Combat Loneliness

Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together Campaign; Sharing Food To Combat Loneliness

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Photos by Sofy Robertson

My childhood memories of food all involve my mum cooking; except for one fateful week where, in her absence, I survived on a diet of fish fingers and baked beans courtesy of my dad. They also involve sitting around our big family table; an old-fashioned carved oak that my dad sat at when he was little. I remember learning how to use a knife and fork for the first time at that table and I distinctly remember my sister hiding bits of food that she didn’t like under its wooden lip. You might be wondering by now why I am recounting these memories of eating. Well, it was these memories that last night’s launch of Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together campaign evoked; memories of our family coming together to share food.

For those of us who are happily coupled up or living with family and friends, loneliness may not bear much consideration. If we eat the odd meal alone while our other half is at work or have an empty house for the weekend, it probably doesn’t faze us (it might even be a welcome break for some ‘me time’!). These instances do not compare to the “chronic loneliness” that Age UK Exeter’s Chief Executive, Martyn Rogers, described.

Referring to loneliness as if it were a disease might seem strange, but at last night’s Eat Together launch Fundraising Manager Jacqui Cornish revealed some startling statistics of the negative impact that loneliness can have on your health. Did you know that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day? Or that loneliness can increase your risk of death by 29%? For Jacqui and the team at Age UK Exeter, this is the battle they are fighting:

“At Age UK Exeter, we tackle loneliness in our city.”

Guests sharing food at Age UK Exeter's Eat Together campaign launch
Guests sharing food and stories at Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together campaign launch

The birth of Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together Campaign

Gathered in the The Devon and Exeter Institution, a stunning dome-ceilinged room filled wall-to-wall with tomes from throughout the ages, it seemed only right that Fundraising Manager Jacqui should begin her speech with a book.

The book in question, The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People, was the inspiration for the Eat Together campaign.

This little book of happiness, or lykke, contains a section about food and fire and the capacity that these rituals have in bringing people together. Jacqui shared with us her favourite quote from the book and the one that led to the genesis of Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together campaign:

“Sharing food nurtures more than our physical body. It feeds our friendships, bolsters our bonds and nourishes our sense of community – those factors are vital to our happiness.”

This led Jacqui to consider the work of Age UK Exeter, saying:

“With so many of the older people that we work with, the thing they miss the most is sharing food with other people.

“More and more elderly people are skipping meals to avoid eating alone.”

Thus, the idea of Eat Together was born; an initiative based around coming together and sharing food to combat loneliness.

Jacqui Cornish, Fundraising Manager at Age UK Exeter
Jacqui Cornish, Fundraising Manager at Age UK Exeter

So what is eat together for Age UK Exeter?

Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together Campaign is a local fundraising initiative that can involve anything from a dinner with friends to a bake sale.

The campaign centres around sharing food; whether it is in your office, in your home or in a public space, and raising money in the process to combat loneliness in our city.

Caroline Aird, Services Manager for Age UK Exeter, explained:

“This is about celebrating people coming together.

“We have a lot of people we support who eat alone every day. It’s not just about the chit chat, it’s about someone noticing that you’re not okay today.”

Age UK Exeter run a number of social support projects that bring people together to share the company of others. These activities range from one-to-one voluntary visiting to social groups across the city and at Age UK Exeter’s four day centres across the city, sitting down for the lunchtime meal is a key part of the day for elderly guests who may otherwise be eating alone.

Caroline continued:

“We’ve really glamorised food, but it’s a basic thing really.”

Martyn Rogers, Chief Executive of Age UK Exeter, explained:

“The great thing about this campaign is that it plays so well into what we’re about.

“Over 1000 older people in Exeter every week are supported by the things we do.”

Martyn Rogers, Chief Executive of Age UK Exeter
Martyn Rogers, Chief Executive of Age UK Exeter

Food is love

Local businesses including Coffee on the corner, Apple Blossom Café, Tara’s Kitchen, and Tozers LLP had gathered in the Devon and Exeter Institution for the launch of Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together campaign.

We were gathered to do exactly what the campaign is all about; eat together, get to know each other and find out how to spread the word.

With Tea on the Green attentively delivering a range of mouth-watering canapés, including a separate plate for my gluten-free colleague, whilst guests mingled, the ethos of the campaign could not have been better delivered.

Chorizo and Red Onion Quiches at Age UK Exeter's Eat Together campaign
Chorizo and Red Onion Quiches as part of the canapé selection provided by Tea on the Green

The guest speaker for the night, Exeter Cookery School’s Head Chef Jim Fisher, had us all giggling away as he recalled childhood stories of sharing food and learning to cook, as well as several overt advertisements of his cookery school “just down on Exeter Quay”.

He described his food memories growing up as “special”, continuing:

“We ate around the table for every meal. These were humble times.”

Jim recalled moving to France with his family and how every evening, he would sit down to dinner with his family and friends. He explained:

“They know how to do it out there. We’re losing it here.”

He used examples of teenagers eating in their bedrooms, families eating around the television and the prevalence of ready meals and microwave dinners for working families struggling to find the time to cook or parents whose parents have not passed on the tradition of cooking to them.

Referring to Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together initiative, he said:

“It’s things like this that give me encouragement. There is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Eating together, chatting together, it keeps families together.

“Eating together doesn’t only benefit the old and lonely, it benefits everybody. That’s why we are helping to support Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together Campaign.”

Exeter Cookery School's Head Chef, Jim Fisher
Exeter Cookery School’s Head Chef, Jim Fisher

How can you get involved in Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together Campaign?

The great thing about the Eat Together campaign is its ordinariness; as Caroline had said earlier, food really is a “basic thing”. There are no dressing up requirements, no months of forward planning involved in sitting down to eat with friends, family or co-workers and asking each of them to donate a couple of quid.

Martyn urged the guests:

“Let’s have a dinner, let’s have a barbie and invite people to make a donation. Make friendships, have a good time and others who are less fortunate will benefit.

“Push this out to others; give it energy, give it enthusiasm.”

As Martyn succinctly explained:

“Breaking bread and sharing bread can make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Local businesses in Exeter are already taking up the initiative; Jason Turton, owner of Apple Blossom Café in St Thomas, is running a special burger evening every Friday and donating £1 from every burger sold on these evenings.

Guests enjoying canapés provided by Tea on the Green
Guests enjoying canapés provided by Tea on the Green

Age UK Exeter will soon be publishing a range of resources to inspire and support individuals and businesses on their website, but in the meantime, here are a few ideas from their A-Z of Eating Together:

  • Brunch Munch – get the full English going on and invite family or friends to attend, and of course, donate
  • Games and Grub – ask all of your guests to bring their favourite game and favourite dish
  • Historical Foods and Figures – Dress up as your favourite person from a time long passed and bring along a dish from the era
  • Musical Meal – bring a whole new meaning to ‘sing for your supper’ and get your guests to involved in a jam session before eating
  • Recipe Swap – get your guests to bring a dish, along with the recipe, and have a swap. You could even create a recipe book to sell for Age UK Exeter!
  • Street Party – get to know your neighbours and bring the whole community together in true Eat Together spirit!
  • Under the Stars – a night time picnic or evening barbie with plenty of ghost stories and toasted marshmallows!
  • World Food Evening – this could be the perfect one for Eurovision; get everyone to bring a dish from a different country (and perhaps even a costume too!)
  • Zero Waste Party – demonstrate just how green you are and throw a party with no landfill rubbish and no leftovers! And, of course, no one is left out!

To find out more about the campaign and what you can do to get involved, click here. Share your experiences of Age UK Exeter’s Eat Together campaign by using the hashtag #EatTogetherExeter

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