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Upward Mobility – cookery and growing projects

This case study is kept here for record. Upward Mobility has changed and re-named ‘UpMo’ and the information is not up-to-date.

Based in Edinburgh, Upward Mobility runs workshops for students with a learning disability, covering a wide range of subjects that includes cooking and community gardening.

Cooking skills session


Upward Mobility started as a summer project in 2006, in response to a gap in day services and activities available for adults with learning difficulties in Edinburgh.

Today, the project runs over 50 workshops per week for over 130 students in creative arts and health and wellbeing. The workshops encourage and enable the development of physical and practical learning. The rapidly-expanding health and wellbeing programme includes cooking and community gardening.

All workshops are structured using the Curriculum for Excellence with set aims and objectives that ensure that personal development, greater levels of confidence and independence can be achieved.

How it works

Cookery workshops

In-house cookery workshops have been a major boost to students planning towards independent living. Safety, awareness of healthy options, making personal choices and experimenting with different foods and textures all form part of the sessions.

The cookery workshops run six times per week, with one group of more experienced students piloting the cooking task for the rest of the sessions in order to identify and iron out any issues. The workshops ensure that basic food skills are explored, and allow students to work with a wide variety of ingredients and methods. The project is planning a cookery book, using the recipes from the workshops.

Green Seeds community garden project

This project was launched as a community enterprise to encourage links between the local community in Musselburgh and students from Upward Mobility. The project now has two gardens, in Musselburgh and North Berwick. These include polytunnels, a permanent cabin, and a variety of bespoke garden installations.

The addition of a new landscaping workshop has allowed the project to take place in an urban setting, encouraging students to think about inner city growing and responsibility for the immediate environment.


Upward Mobility has had to address some major obstacles to continue the cookery courses and the garden project.

These have included securing sufficient funding to comply with health and safety regulations for the cookery workshops. Funding was secured from a variety of sources, including Sainsbury’s, Starbucks and Greggs to complete work on the existing kitchen. Due to the nature of the funding process, it took over a year to ensure that the kitchen was fully accessible to all students.

The Green Seeds project also required considerable funding to ensure access for wheelchair users, raised beds, health and safety training, and for continued management of the garden.


Feedback from families, carers and social work departments has shown that students continue to develop awareness of responsibility and healthy choices through both the Green Seeds project and the cookery sessions. Here are some student stories:


Megan recently moved into independent supported accommodation. She took a year to transition, with support from Upward Mobility and her family. She has a passion for creating food, enjoys interacting with a variety of people and requires consistency in the structure of activities. She had been part of the cooking workshop for almost two years.

Megan has changed her approach to food, now linking sweets and chocolate with a ‘treat’ and not for everyday consumption. She has started to regularly attend the gym and swims twice a week. This is a huge change and reflects her involvement with the healthy eating programme, which runs through each of the cookery workshops. Her confidence and ownership of her diet has led to a huge improvement in her personal knowledge and ability to make independent choices.


Sarah lives at home with her parents. She is part of the group that pilots the cooking task for the rest of the sessions. Sarah has been attending Upward Mobility for over two years, and enjoys taking part in a wide variety of activities.

Sarah’s confidence in herself has grown considerably, due in no small part to the application she put forward to Starbucks to request funds for kitchen equipment and utensils. Sarah worked hard with facilitators to create a presentation, which she then pitched to the Starbucks committee. This bid was successful, allowing Sarah a personal stake in the new kitchen. Feedback from home confirms that Sarah is more outgoing, vocal and confident with new challenges.

Future plans

Upward Mobility aims to create a self-sufficient café, run entirely by students for students, and supported by staff. This will operate as a ‘tuck shop’, eventually developing into a hot food provider for daily lunches, working towards catering for larger events.

The café will link to the Green Seeds project by using the fresh produce grown by the students, and aims to generate a small amount of revenue to help to pay for ingredients in the future. Interim funding is required to ensure the continuation and realisation of this project.

The Green Seeds project group will be working on a yearly growing schedule, creating opportunities for individuals to sow, tend and harvest even more independently. A wider selection of vegetables and fruit will be introduced, and the team are looking forward to the next harvest.

Quotes from students

“I like it because it helps me with cooking in my own flat. I can make cakes, but I think about healthy food and don’t have treats all the time. It’s fab and awesome!” – Megan

“It is the best cooking class – I’m happy that I’m better at cutting onions with a sharp knife.” – Sarah

Published: February 9, 2015