Updated: Dec 3, 2018
I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
There was a suitably seasonal smidgen of snow in the air as we ascended the steep incline that leads to Northcliffe Nurseries in Shipley, West Yorkshire, last week.
We were heading there to meet our brilliant chef, Richard, and see some of the amazing work he does with Northcliffe Environmental Enterprises Team (NEET).
NEET has occupied a formerly neglected allotment site since 1992 and exists to provide real work opportunities in a real work setting for people with learning disabilities. The whole site has been impressively built from the ground up by the learners, staff and volunteers and encompasses workshops, polytunnels, growing sheds, a coffee shop and a fully equipped professional kitchen.
We were warmly greeted by Richard and the gregarious head of operations, Ian, who promptly and proudly gave us a tour of the various hives of activity dotted around this hilltop micro village. In one hut there was a group carving and painting ornamental fairy houses; another was wonderfully pine-scented as the occupants busily fashioned piles of beautiful Christmas wreaths and in the huge potting shed, others tended rows and rows of plants.
All of these products and more (including delectable Christmas hampers) were for sale through the nursery shop, local garden centres and other partners. And all around were freshly sown vegetable patches and boxes - not to mention an eye-watering array of chilli varieties. This is all part of NEET’s ‘seed to table’ programme which, as the name suggests, teaches participants everything you might wish to know about the fresh produce we eat, from sowing to sizzling to scoffing.
In the spotless, shiny steel kitchen, Richard revealed the first four potential Good Food Bag recipes, and we all helped with the finishing touches to ‘ones he had prepared earlier’. I can’t reveal just yet what the dishes were, but I can tell you that they were all delicious and perfectly met our brief on quality, costing, simplicity and nutrition whilst packing a punch on the all-important fronts of flavour, aroma and Instagramability.
As we retired to the cosy ‘Green Pod’ for lunch, these four dishes on the table were the perfect comfort and antidote to the freezing conditions outside. We quickly agreed we had four winners on our hands, and we will be market testing them in January.
We left satisfied, in more ways than one, and hugely impressed by the work of NEET. Their dedication, creativity and love for what they do was awe-inspiring. They are clearly transforming lives for the hundreds of people that pass through their various programmes by teaching valuable skills, building independence and creating spaces and experiences that let human potential flow.
Part of our mission at The Good Food Bag is to create healthy, thriving communities by connecting people to good food, the skills to cook it and opportunities to flourish. At NEET we saw those values in action, and it made us even more committed to achieve what we set out to do.
In the run-up to Christmas we will be running experiments around pricing, packaging and locations, then we will take a well-earned break for the festivities - although there’s no doubt that Good Food will continue to be our watchwords throughout. Follow us on Twitter for mini-updates, and we’ll be back with another blog here in the first week of January.
Until then, to all of you, thank you for your support over these past few incredible months and we wish you a very Merry Christmas.