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Cooking skills blog 11. Recruiting and retaining ‘vulnerable’ course participants

Our guest blog writer this week is CFHS cooking skills study group member Gail Hutchison. Gail (ANutr) has been running community cooking skills courses for Edinburgh Community Food since 2013 and has recently begun to run these for  NHS Forth Valley’s Nutrition and Dietetic Health Improvement Team on a part-time basis. In both areas, Gail aims to run the courses for people managing on a low income, or who are ‘vulnerable‘.

‘Recruitment and retention for cooking groups can be tricky, as vulnerable participants may lead chaotic lives and therefore attendance can vary. Participants will attend the first week, but many will drop out after a couple of weeks. A few of the things I’ve noticed which work in terms of recruiting higher numbers of people and keeping them are:

  • A face-to-face approach to recruitment – meeting people on a one-to-one basis is vital to getting them along to the cooking group as that initial engagement serves as reassurance about coming along. It also ensures that you are reaching the most vulnerable people as you can find out more about their background/motivations/skills level on a one-to-one basis before starting the cooking group.
  • Recruitment tends to be higher when members of staff from agencies referring participants:
    • are fully on-board with your work
    • have built up good relationships with participants; and
    • where food work is already ingrained within their practice
  • Participants tend to engage more if their interest stems from, or is a natural extension of a project they have already engaged with, e.g. getting parents involved in an NHS Forth Valley ‘Make & Taste’ one-off session before moving onto a cooking group.
  •  Getting and keeping participants involved also tends to be more successful if agencies work together to recruit participants, i.e. through a partnership approach rather than going alone.
  •  Attendance tends to be higher if participants have contact with the cooking course leader or support worker between sessions e.g. a reminder phone call, e-mail etc. This serves as a catalyst for participants to keep up their attendance. It also helps if they are supported to attend the group on a weekly basis by a support worker, particularly if they are very vulnerable.
  •  Attendance is higher if the course is not too rigid in structure, flexible to change and relevant (i.e. tailored and targeted) to the people who are attending. In particular, encouraging participants to be involved in the development of the course e.g. by picking recipes etc keeps them engaged. ‘

Gail will write another guest blog later in the summer to discuss her experience of developing and running cooking courses for both community sector and NHS organisations.


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