Written by volunteer Mike W

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If there’s one thing I know less about than cooking, it’s gardening. So it was with more than the usual measure of curiosity that I headed to Orb’s Grow, Cook and Eat class, which takes place fortnightly at the Chain Lane Community Centre.

The class does exactly as it says: John, Orb’s resident Monty Don, brings down a selection of his most recent bounty from the vegetable garden, while Becky is in charge of whipping it all up into something delicious.

If we’re continuing this analogy with BBC2 gardening and cookery presenters, then Becky is Orb’s resident Nigella. Although, since the emphasis is very much on healthy eating, trips to raid the fridge for puddings that ooze chocolate aren’t, alas, on the menu.

Just as they do at Nigella’s ‘house’, the climax comes when the guests gather round the dinner table. The difference, though, is that Becky involves her guests – the service users, of course – in the preparation. That’s because the point and purpose underlying Grow, Cook and Eat is the same as every class or event Orb runs: to help local people with mental health issues engage more fully and build confidence.

And, it almost goes without saying, to improve their cookery skills. I certainly learnt something on that score (although, frankly, that isn’t saying an awful lot): on the menu last week was chick pea curry served up with chapatis. The pot was simmering when I arrived, and I was soon pressed into rolling dough for the bread, which was cooked in a dry pan until each chapati bubbled up.

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Meanwhile, the chick peas were added to the pot and stirred as we laid the table. Minutes later, we were tucking in to a delicious lunch and Becky told me a little more about the aims of the class, which started last summer upon the realisation that, in spite of Orb having a garden that would put Tom and Barbara’s from The Good Life to shame, its produce wasn’t being used.

“People who come to Orb have got the opportunity to help themselves to the fresh fruit and vegetables that are being grown,” says Becky. “Not everyone knew what to do with them, so one of the purposes of this course was to show people how they can use this fantastic produce, giving them ideas and inspiration.

“Another objective is to show people the garden and how to use it. And then, like every activity at Orb, it’s all about us coming together.

“For some people, it’s quite hard being in a group. So we’re practicing those skills as well.

“Being out in the garden doing work is good for your mental wellbeing,” she adds. “Cooking is good for your mental wellbeing because it’s really mindful: when you’re cooking, you’re thinking about what you’re doing. For example, you might feel quite anxious, but it lifts your mood.

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“It takes your mind off stuff because you’re thinking about what you’re doing.

“And what we’re putting in our bodies is part of our wellbeing as well. So you’re getting your mental and physical wellbeing, because we’re eating stuff that’s at its freshest.”

As I said at the outset, I know next to nothing about gardening. I certainly didn’t know that the kale, chillis, onions and garlic that went into our curry are in-season. In truth, I didn’t think anything was in-season in Britain in January; if the men tending the allotment overlooking our back garden weren’t planting seeds, I’d assumed they were clearing weeds, burning rubbish or simply escaping their wives and families.

I guess this sort of knowledge falls by the wayside when everything we eat is pre-packaged and grabbed from supermarket shelves. Still, it’s good to learn – and it’s great to be a part of something as worthwhile as this…with a free lunch into the bargain!

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