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Healthy Happy Communities – food projects for young families

The Healthy Happy Communities Project (HHCP) has now closed but we have kept this case study here for its historical value.

HHCP ran in disadvantaged areas of Angus, focusing on food and health, particularly for women of childbearing age, pregnant women and the under-fives. It had Healthy Start cafés and community gardening and cooking projects.

Young children digging with trowels with two young mums


HHCP was a partnership between NHS Tayside and Angus Council, collaborating with local communities.

Collaboration between community members and local service providers was central to the project. Learning workshops with community members allowed the professionals to learn more about local experiences of health inequalities (particularly maternal and infant nutrition) and together they worked out how to put ideas into action.

This approach was influenced by the successful use of an ‘assets based approach’, which uses existing community knowledge and skills, taken by the Falls Project in Perth & Kinross and Focus on Alcohol in Angus.

Initial local interest and involvement in the project was created through an International Women’s Day event held in Arbroath over two days in spring 2010. HHCP also engaged with local groups to attract and recruit volunteers to support and deliver some project activities.

How it worked

HHCP had Healthy Start cafés in Forfar and Brechin, and Cooking Together and Community Allotment projects in Arbroath.

Healthy Start cafés

The first Healthy Start café was set up in Forfar. It was aimed at new mums and mums-to-be. It provided a place where they could meet other mums and receive support and advice on nutrition, health and lifestyle – including breastfeeding and weaning.

Providing peer support was a significant aim of the project. An early years worker and other workers (e.g. breastfeeding support) also supported the women.

Mums were closely involved with planning activities such as child first aid and baby massage. Healthy snacks were provided at the café and the mums contributed by making healthy dips and bringing new foods to try.

Brechin Healthy Start café was launched in June 2012, with local parents keen to be involved in how the café might work. Activities there included cooking, baby massage, nursery rhyme time, information for pregnant women, family food advice and talks from various organisations. A healthy snack was provided.

A core group of mums were active in drawing in other parents through word of mouth. As with Forfar, peer support was identified as particularly valuable.

The ‘Healthy Start’ scheme was promoted at both cafes and parents were given support to access the vouchers. Both cafés met at a community venue.

Community Allotment Project

The Community Allotment Project in Arbroath was aimed at generating more interest in fresh food, making it more affordable and incorporating exercise.

A large part of the allotment was dedicated to growing vegetables and fruit planted by local children and families. Children from local nurseries also have their own growing beds, as do others referred to the project. Parents were encouraged to get involved through their children’s participation at nursery.

Local volunteers supported HHCP staff, and many family members joined the volunteer team.

The allotment activity followed an annual cycle from early spring, for preparing the land and planting, to late August and September for harvesting produce and cooking and eating what has been grown. A harvest celebration was the highlight of the allotment calendar – an opportunity to reflect on the growing year and celebrate what has been nurtured and thrived in the ground. The children particularly liked to show what they have successfully grown themselves.

Poor weather conditions were a challenge to the success of the allotment, so staff have explored indoor growing, for example children could plant seeds in class to bring to the allotment later on.

Cooking Together Project

The Cooking Together Project in Arbroath was a peer support programme for young parents and children to learn how to cook together. The project provided a relaxed environment for mums and children to try cooking healthy recipes. It actively promoted healthy food choices for young families. The idea for the project came from discussions with local parents.

Peer educators were recruited and trained to co-deliver ‘Cooking Together’ sessions. The sessions involved older children (aged 2 to 5) preparing and cooking a healthy snack with parents, while younger children played or watched. The older children enjoyed some playtime too while parents cooked a main meal together which could be taken home to feed the family.

Some child-minders took part in the project, and took recipes and food home to give to parents.

Referrals to the project were taken from health visitors and family support centres. There was a core group of parents who attended with others dropping into sessions as and when they choose.

Cooking Together used produce grown in the allotment.


Engagement with and involvement of the community was key to the success of HHCP. Peer support was also an important factor.

Parents gained confidence in designing a programme that worked well, using their own contacts for new members. Being able to participate and influence the activities of the cafés has increased the confidence of participants.

Mums developed relationships with other mums that continued outwith the group, and young mums made contact with other toddler groups which they may have lacked the confidence to attend in the past.

Families grew their own vegetables which they could cook at home. Children and parents learned new skills and gained knowledge around cooking and nutrition, and young mums learned that their babies and children would eat a variety of different foods, especially when weaning.

Published: February 9, 2015