Cost of living crisis: Community Cook Club celebrates Burns Night in style

January 31, 2023

On Burns Night, a Scottish Episcopal Church helped to turn a cost of living crisis ‘cook club’ initiative into a Burns Night celebration for the vulnerable in the community. The Musselburgh Cook Club, a joint venture of Musselburgh Churches Together, hosted a Burns Night celebration in St Peter’s Scottish Episcopal Church hall.

Members of the Musselburgh community descended on St Peter’s, grabbed their aprons, turned on the music and got stuck in to preparing, serving, and eating their haggis, neeps, tatties and veggie options.

“It was around winter last year that churches in Musselburgh began to notice the uptick in homeless population in the area,” writes the Rev Aaron Moffat-Jackman, Priest-in-Charge at St Peter’s.  “We foresaw to an extent the coming cost of living crisis and were actively thinking about how we might address this in Musselburgh.

“We had spotted a cook club in Meadowhall, run by the Cyrenians and immediately saw the need for this kind of project in Musselburgh.  A bit of research led us to the conclusion that St Peter’s, our Scottish Episcopal Church, was the most appropriate place, with a recently refurbished hall and kitchen facilities.

“Along with members of St Andrew’s High Kirk and Our Lady of Loretto we applied for funding from Musselburgh Area Partnership and Cyrenians which was successful, as was an agreement with FareShare, the charity fighting food waste in our communities.  So, in summer 2022 the cook club began, with a mission for providing food and company for anyone vulnerable. The aim is to offer community to those who are lonely or struggling and, as a bonus, deal with food waste and hone people’s resilience via improved cooking skills.

“Over the months we have begun to build a community of people who show up and get stuck in. The idea is that if you turn up, there is no obvious difference between volunteers and service users. It has already proved quite popular – we get a really mixed bunch, people learning to live independently, people with learning difficulties, elderly people learning to integrate again after the Covid loneliness. We’re aiming to provide safe space for those people to eat a meal together, to serve one another, and to share in a social experience.

“For me it’s mission – seeing what God is doing and joining in. It’s about loving people. There is nothing more fundamental about human interaction than sitting down to a meal together. It’s an extension of biblical practice to serve each other, and, whilst the liturgical elements are kept to a minimum, there is a clear physical connection between the cook club in the church hall, and our worship space, which is also open on Wednesdays as a warm space.

“This is a truly ecumenical venture, everyone works together.  Initially there was a group of volunteers managing the practical parts of the evenings, but now that more and more folks have come along everyone just gets stuck in, cooking serving, cleaning, story-telling, music, arts and crafts. In this way we are looking now to move towards a self sustaining model, by making best use of the strengths and talents of those who have come along to the cook club.

“Burns night was Gemma’s idea, my wife. She had realised that our regular Wednesday coincided with Burns night. We worked with all the organisers to attempt to get Burns night food. Many elements came together in time, so we had a full spread of haggis, neeps, tatties and veggie options. One of our members piped in the haggis by penny whistle before everyone tucked in. There’s always music in the background – this week was Scots folk music.

“For me, the Cook Club is an extension of the ethos our Sunday Holy Communion – it’s the great leveller to sit down together, serving each other, building community and sharing food with one another. We hope to do more of these special events marking important events in the calendar, as it’s a good way of sharing the work we do in the community more widely.”