Cook2Learn – a Library Lab Journey

January 17, 2017

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by Frances Tout, Community Librarian, North Somerset Library Service

In May last year my Library Lab journey kicked off with our first Carnegie Partners’ meeting at Manchester Central Library. Since then my Library Lab Cook2Learn project has grown and developed from an idea into a reality.

Cook2Learn was inspired by a trip to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Culinary Literacy Centre, which I was fortunate enough to visit on a US study tour of public libraries as the recipient of the 2015 Travelling Librarian Award.

Cook2Learn aims to help improve the health and wellbeing of people, in areas of North Somerset, where obesity rates are high and literacy levels are low. A series of free cookery workshops, held in libraries, will help people gain new skills around food and healthy eating choices, while enabling them to gain confidence in numeracy and literacy by learning how to follow and prepare simple recipes. The project is supported by new collections of cookery and healthy eating books available at all North Somerset libraries in addition to online resources and new eMagazine titles.

To deliver Cook2Learn I am working with library staff, Public Health, health trainers, the community learning team and library volunteers. We have a team of over 20 people who will work together in groups of four or five to deliver the workshops. Much of the project development time has been spent bringing this team together, building working relationships, and drawing on everyone’s areas of expertise to gain their input into developing the sessions. To do this we have held project development workshops, devised bespoke team training days with a specialist food educator, undertaken food hygiene training and delivered a series of four pilot workshops to test equipment, venues, session plans and practicalities.

Alongside the workshop development I have collaborated with the Council’s graphics team to create Cook2Learn branding and marketing. I have worked with our stock librarians to choose over 250 new titles of cookery, specialist diet and healthy eating books. I have developed a WordPress Cook2Learn website to promote the project and provide a platform for a Cook2Learn blog, online workshop bookings and resources. Additionally, I have researched and purchased a lot of lightweight portable kitchen equipment that can be moved from library to library in plastic storage boxes.

There have been a number of challenges along the way, not least the concerns of the health and safety team, which were very real and had to be addressed, including: heat and fire; sprinklers; first aid; knife safety; food hygiene; refrigeration; food allergies – the list of potential serious problems was long.

All of the concerns were tackled with a long risk assessment and adjustments to the project were made, in some libraries this meant no-cook cooking. This would not impact on the value of the project, keeping it simple makes sense, by providing good quality advice and information about food, health, resources and services through hands-on, fun, practical two-hour workshops we would be succeeding. Practically speaking, if food preparation is kept simple and risks are low, Cook2Learn sessions can be replicated in many spaces, enabling us to reach far more people. Not cooking still allows us to make dips, wraps, healthy drinks, various ways with fruit and salads, breakfast and lunch box options etc. Although it seemed challenging, the process of writing the risk assessment at the early stages helped inform the development of the project and enabled me to be much clearer about the project needs and decision making.

Throughout the process my Carnegie mentor, Andy Wright, Libraries Manager at Wakefield Libraries has listened to me and been supportive through the challenges, offered advice, pointed me in the right direction and reminded me about my work-life balance.

The past eight months have been hard work but immensely rewarding. I have learnt a great deal, my project management skills have improved, I have formed new working relationships with council partners and I have learnt that most obstacles can be overcome with good communication, remaining calm, problem solving, some compromising and perseverance.

The Cook2Learn project was launched at the beginning of January 2017 with an information event at Weston-super-Mare Library, displays in all North Somerset libraries and the launch of the Cook2Learn website and workshop bookings. Within the first week 25 workshop places have already been booked and we are looking forward to the delivery phase of the project and getting our first workshops underway over the next few weeks.

I have been blogging about my Library Lab journey as a Carnegie Partner at: