The Ministry of Food in Bradford, launched by Jamie Oliver in 2009, has now closed due to budget cuts from the council.
The healthy cooking initiative was scrapped in November 2016 after eight years in operation.
Health cooking education
The Ministry of Food in Bradford is one of several such initiatives around the UK. Started in 2009 after Jamie Oliver’s television show of the same name, it aimed to tackle education in areas that were shown to be poor for healthy cooking.
Based on John Street, the Bradford branch was a place where people could find food jobs, learn how to cook at home, and get a start in cooking for the very first time with school visits.
The final sessions at the centre were finished with a party to celebrate the achievements made by the whole team over the eight years it has been in operation.
However, despite their efforts, statistics show that more than 40% of children in Bradford are either obese or overweight when they leave school. More than 700 children have visited the team to learn about healthy eating in the past year, but more work is clearly needed.
“That’s what’s so hard about walking away from this project,” says manager Soraya Overend. “We have seen so many people come through the doors. We know it works because we see so many success stories – people come back to ask us for more recipes and tell us what they have been cooking. We know that we have made an impact, the whole team is so dedicated. But we understand that there’s no money there. We are just the tip of the iceberg, lots of other organisations have lost their funding through the cuts too.”
The local council decided to make £82m in budget cuts in November 2016, and that meant many initiatives had to go.
“Due to the continuing government cuts to our district, we are having to find another £30.7m over the next two years,” said Councillor Val Slater, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing. “This is in addition to the £256m worth of cuts we have had to make since 2010. Meanwhile we have growing demands for vital services, for example in caring for the elderly and looking after vulnerable children, and we are also committed to maintaining other valued services which residents rightly expect to receive. Faced with competing priorities and a shrinking budget to fund them, the decision was taken that sadly we can no longer afford to fund the Ministry of Food scheme at this time. Helping people to live healthier lives remains of great importance to us which is why we have established the Healthy Bradford Plan. This plan is around delivering changes to make being healthy easier for everyone. This includes encouraging primary schools to take up the Daily Mile to help make schools in the district healthier, happier and great places to learn. It will help schools raise attainment levels, reduce childhood obesity and make a happy environment for them to learn in.”
There are three workers at the centre who will now be on the lookout for food recruitment opportunities, though Soraya has promised to seek out funding from the project from another source if possible.
She said: “It’s probably been our busiest year working with children and even if we only helped 200 of those 700 children learn more about healthy eating, our job is done. It’s the social aspect of it as well, not just learning how to cook. We eat the food together after we cook and we have a chat.”