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Cooking Skills Blog 15 – Researcher guest blog: developing sustainable cooking courses in partnership with people using a mental health support centre

In this guest blog, Michelle Estradé, research consultant at the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) explores how the idea of ‘ownership’ might help develop cooking courses within a mental health support centre that can be sustained in the longer term.

‘Over at SCPHRP we love partnering with community-based organisations to learn more about how health programmes and interventions work. We’ve got a keen interest in how food-related activities like cooking can impact mental health and wellbeing, and throughout the past year we’ve been exploring this topic through in-depth interviews with people attending a community-based mental health centre in Edinburgh.

From these interviews, we’ve begun to understand the complex pathways through which mental health is impacted when participating in food-related activities. But we’ve also been reminded about the importance of some broader concepts that often go overlooked in public health intervention planning. The idea of “ownership” is one of those things, and we’ve been invited by CFHS to share some thoughts on that:

Ownership, as it relates to cooking programmes, is simply the sense of control that participants feel they have over what goes on. This could include deciding where and when the activities take place, which skills or recipes are taught (and by whom), and having a voice in feedback that will be used to improve the programme.

When participants feel a sense of ownership, they are more likely to engage with the activities and follow through to the end of a programme. Think about it this way: when you put your own mark on something, you feel more attached to it. The more influence participants have in a cooking course, the more they care about what is going on. This has enormous potential for increasing the impact of a programme, but also for increasing sustainability. Participants who had a hand in shaping a cooking course will want to see it flourish and continue.

In our work as public health researchers who design and implement interventions, ensuring sustainability of a programme is one of the biggest challenges we face. So often interventions which have shown promise in achieving their goals, suddenly come to an abrupt end as soon as the researchers step back, and a big part of this is due to the participants not feeling that they have the ownership which is so important for the intervention to thrive. As we develop our food-centred intervention to improve mental health, we are doing our best to instil a sense of ownership amongst the participants in the hope that the programme will continue to operate and be of benefit long after we have taken that step back. After all, we’ve certainly put our own mark on this program, and we want to see it flourish and continue as well!’

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