When Caroline Clark spoke to children in Shoreditch about food, prior to setting up a new healthy living initiative in the area, she was shocked by their limited diets. "They would turn up after school starving," she said, "and one boy confessed that the only food he had at home was white bread." As a result, the Shoreditch Trust - the local provider of the government's New Deal for Communities initiative - for whom Clark works, ploughed resources into a new project. The Shoreditch Spa Healthy Eating Programme, has now been running for two years.
At the Prospect Centre in Hoxton Square, where the programme is based, a fully equipped kitchen is used by Kye Lockwood to help local people learn about cooking healthy nutritious food. The centre offers "cook and eat" sessions, Sure Start drop-ins, short cookery courses and also puts on cookery demonstrations in local schools and community centres. The aim is to bring people together, while helping them to overcome a range of obstacles that make it difficult to eat nutritiously.
Many of the events are aimed at vulnerable members of society such as young parents or mental health groups. Lockwood recalls one pregnant 15-year-old girl, who was feeding herself on £10 a week. She owned only a microwave - no oven or pots and pans - and was living off microwave meals. A lack of access to decent ingredients is a major problem facing these people, who often rely on corner shops for their supplies. Faced with a selection of processed junk such as spaghetti hoops and pasties, it is near impossible to cook healthy, tasty meals. The programme helps people locate local, fresh produce, and also teaches parents how to make their own baby food.
The ethos of the centre - to provide a counter-voice to the food industry's advertising and help people realise that they are not alone in struggling to create healthy and cheap meals, without lecturing to them - has been the key to its success. Jesse, who has two sons aged four and ten says: "It's very personal, because you're in a kitchen and everyone's helping and sharing knowledge. We all want to be healthy, and I, as a mum, can't afford to be ill."
Lockwood admits that working on the project can be challenging - there have been times when he has held up an aubergine to be confronted by bewildered expressions. "But," he says, "cooking is a great way of connecting with people and communicating the importance of healthy eating."