Evaluation of the Cyrenians 6 week cooking programme for students.
Background: Cyrenians are a charity which has been operating for 50 years, focused on helping the homeless and other vulnerable groups make positive changes and guiding them back to a more stable life. One of the ways Cyrenians achieve this is by focusing on providing people with knowledge and skills through cooking courses. In these courses, important topics are discussed such as budgeting, healthy eating and participants are shown how to make easy affordable meals as well as how to use up leftover ingredients. Recent evidence suggests that up to 35% of students may face food insecurity during their time at university (Morris et al. 2016). There has been a positive effect observed from cooking and budgeting interventions in students and other groups at risk of food insecurity (Levy and Auld 2004, Overcash et al. 2017; Thomas and Irwin 2011). This study, based at Queen Margaret University, examined the impact of the first six week student cooking programme undertaken by the Cyrenians charity. Aim: To evaluate the impact of a six week pilot student cooking class and explore the attitudes of the participants in relation to healthy eating, cooking skills and confidence. Design: Seven participants were recruited from health sciences courses by Cyrenians to take part in the cooking programme (aged 18-25, all female). Pre and post questionnaires, designed by Cyrenians using Likert scale based questions, were issued to the participants to assess confidence levels. A focus group was held with participants after completion of the course, as well as in-depth interviews carried out with the two cooking instructors to assess any perceived change in confidence and attitude. Results: Results from pre and post-questionnaires revealed a positive change. However, there is an inadequate amount of data to make any statements to say that this was a statistically significant change. A thematic analysis carried out on data from focus groups and interviews showed positive change in students’ attitudes to cooking, confidence in cooking and budgeting skills and indicated that they have gained a sense of community through social aspects of the course. Conclusion: Although it cannot be said to be significant, the six week cooking student programme did appear to have a positive effect on the students’ cooking and budgeting confidence. It also had a key social impact on the students, who felt a greater sense of community during the cooking classes and were able to get to know others that they would not have socialised with had it not been for the course for the course. Continuing to run courses like this one across universities would could reduce the risk of students becoming food insecure. Repeating this study with a larger sample size and follow-up the research after a period of time with the participants would provide and insight into the sustainability of the skills gained and impact of the cooking classes. Key Words: Cooking, Public Health, Students, Evaluation, Education.