A meeting of the Casserole minds

Yesterday, we brought together a little meeting of the minds – a mix which included community leaders, a day centre manager, a Casserole Cook and a cluster of people interested in starting up Casserole in their area (coming from as near as London and as far as Glasgow and Swansea), and the Casserole team, to discuss what should go into our currently-being-designed Casserole DIY Starter Kit.

While the workshop had been in the diary for a while, it could not have happened at a better time, as ever since The Times article came out last week, more and more people have been approaching us, asking how they can get Casserole up and running near them! The energy and passion people have shown for kickstarting Casserole has been astounding, so we want to make sure we develop something that will support people in the best way possible to make that happen.

With trays of sandwiches set and a bowl of clementines in the corner (no Casserole event is complete without food!), we were ready to start. After a quick run through of the story of Casserole, Murtz talked to the group about a lot of the lessons, from the difficulty of finding Diners, to the importance of a community manager that we’ve picked up over the last year, and how we hope this toolkit will help people navigate some of the hurdles that we’ve encountered in the past.

Once we’d gotten all our learning off our chests, we got stuck into what everyone was really there for – the Casserole Starter Kit (name still up for improvement…). We wanted to know what people thought they might need in the kit, who should get one, what support structures need to be in place, what problems people expect might crop up, etc… easy right?

The conversation that followed offered some really great feedback for us – some things reaffirming what we’d already thought, as well as plenty of new ideas that hadn’t crossed our minds. While conversations initially started with tangible things that should be in the pack (posters, flyers, magnets, ect…) we soon moved the conversation into the more strategic side of things – just HOW people will go about starting Casserole. Lots of ideas buzzed around, so to help keep things organised, here are a few of the top trends –

  • Who gets a Casserole kit – This kit is designed for people who want to lead the way for Casserole in their local area – getting any project started is no easy task, and it will take some time and elbow grease to get things up and running. With this in mind, we all agreed that these kits will be given to people who are committed and willing to get stuck in – think in a similar way that Jamie Oliver’ Food Revolution’s campaign toolkits work. We are looking to outline different types of roles within this as well, depending on how much time people might be able or willing to contribute to getting things going.
  • Language and Tone – Murtz and I have had about a year’s worth of experience talking to different types of people and organisations, from local government to people out and about on the street. Along the way, we’ve learned how to talk about Casserole to these different groups and how to answer the tougher questions (particularly around things like security and health and safety). We’ve found that the key to all of this is having clean and simple language clearly describing what Casserole is and how it works. To help people who want to talk about Casserole and help spread the word we’re working on putting all of our experience into a clean and simple guide – “Talking about Casserole” – so it’s easy to get across the message and ethos of the service, whether you’re talking to a parent school group, a day centre or meeting with people from the local council.
  • Support Networks – Going it alone is never easy, and while the Casserole team will always be around to answer questions and help people as best we can, it is important that people feel they are part of a network they can call upon if they need it. Some thoughts revolved around having regional forums where people leading Casserole in towns and smaller areas can stay in touch and share lessons, experience, and contacts to help support one another. On a ultra-local level, there were discussions around whether or not someone leading an area should need to put together a team that’s willing to help out before they get started.
  • FAQ – You can get asked some pretty random questions when you are presenting a new service to people, and once again, after a year of talking to people, we’ve slowly built up a roster of answers to questions across the spectrum from what do people serve their meals on to why we don’t do CRB checks.
  • The Casserole Story – Casserole has a pretty cool story. It has an ethos that is so engrained in how communities work, and it’s one that nearly everyone can relate to and connect with almost immediately. The anecdotes and stories of our members exemplifies this and puts human faces to the service, and makes it that much easier for people to understand.

It was so useful for us to hear from people actually looking to use this toolkit, hear the questions they had and where the gaps where in what we’d original proposed for the kit. And having the voice of someone currently in the service, in the form of Maggie, one of our main Cooks, was absolutely brilliant and insightful. We have to give a huge thanks to everyone who came along to the workshop, from near and (very!) far, and for taking the time to let us pick their brains for a bit. The next step for us is to take all of these ideas forward, and create something useful. Our hope is to have a prototype of the kit ready for people to try out in the next few weeks so that we can start getting some feedback on what’s missing, what needs improving, and what works well.

If you are someone who is interested in receiving a kit, drop us an email at hello [at] casseroleclub.com and we’ll put you on the list!

A Reigate Meet Up

Come meet us and tell us your thoughts!

We spend a lot of time exchanging emails, phone calls, and texts with our members, but nothing beats face to face conversations. We’ve met many of our members face to face at events, talks, and market stalls when they were first introduced to Casserole, but there is such a huge value with continuing those real interactions as people discover and use the service – getting the feedback we need to improve. And unlike email, texting, and even sometimes phone calls, casual conversation often brings about realisations and comments that we could never grasp in a regular list of feedback questions – an opinion that was solidified with the conversations we had with the members who came to our Indian Cooking to Share cookery class the other week. These meets ups give us the opportunity to hear your thoughts and share our ideas for the future, but it also gets members together – more established members encouraging new members to get involved, telling the stories of why they joined, and meeting other keen home chefs in their area.

With this in mind, on Thursday, 9 August, Murtz and I (Rachel) will be settling into a table at Upstairs at  Urban Kitchen in Reigate from 6pm to 8pm to meet, and chat about your thoughts and opinions on Casserole.

Whether you can come for 15 minutes or an hour, if you are in the Reigate area this Thursday, it would be brilliant to see you!

Cooking up a Storm!

Well we had fun last night!

Despite flooded roads and heavy traffic, eight of our Casserole members made it to East Surrey College for a class on Indian Cooking to Share. We’ve had the idea to run a cookery class for our members for quite a while, so we were so excited to finally get the opportunity to bring some of our community together to do a bit of what they do best – cook!

Our menu was one of Indian curries made completely from scratch – no curry paste here! After a quick introduction, we got to work on our Chicken Curry and Potato and Pea Bhaji. The room quickly filled with the clattering of pans, smells of fried onions, cumin, chilli and ginger. The reason we chose to do a class on curries is not only that it’s something most people might not know how to make from scratch at home, but it’s an ideal dish to share with others!

One of the most wonderful things about bringing people together in a kitchen, especially in a situation like a cooking class, is that strangers become fast friends. Within minutes of getting started, we heard laughter and banter between Casserole members as though they were old chums – once again, we saw food creating a glorious bridge between people and breaking down those barriers that might make getting to know someone a challenge.

Murtz and I spend a lot of time seeing people’s names on the website, reading their emails and hearing their voices on the phone, but nothing beats meeting them in person. Getting the opportunity to hear people’s stories, find out why their signed up and what they hope to get out of the service, and see them bonding with other members straight away is so invaluable to us, and makes all the hard work very well worth it.

In no time, our collection of ingredients were transformed into some top notch dishes that would give any curry house a run for it’s money! There were no kitchen disasters (although I *may* have overdone it with the chilli…) and everyone’s food looked absolutely delicious!

This first cooking class was a bit of a test run to see if people would actually be interested in attending, find out if it was a good way to get feedback from members, and help get members together to meet and make connections beyond the people they cook for – we’re chuffed to say all of the above seemed to work! After the fun of last night, we’ll definitely be looking to do many more of these, particularly as part of the thank you rewards that will be part of our new Plates feature.

Thanks to all the Casserole members who came along last night – it was an absolute pleasure to put faces to names and hear your enthusiasm for the service. We look forward to many more shared meals to come!

Now I’m off to enjoy the rest of my curry 😉

Bag Packing!

Attention Redhill Shoppers!

The Casserole Crew will be packing your grocery bags tomorrow from lunchtime to 6pm at the Redhill Sainsbury’s. We will be loading up bags (heaviest items on the bottom, eggs on the top of course!), slipping in a flyer, and chatting to people about Casserole and our very nearly ready website!

So if you are doing your shopping tomorrow in Redhill, jump into our queue and say hello!

(We’ll be wearing the red and white aprons.)

And thank you to Sainsbury’s for letting us come in and spread the word about Casserole!

A Lunch Table Video!

As you may know, last week we staged a Lunch Table event in the centre of Redhill, handing out free lunches and talking to passersby about Casserole. Well, you’ve heard the story and seen the pictures, but now, thanks to our very clever project lead Murtz, you can watch the video as well!

Here’s a little peek at what we got up to:

(PS If any are wondering, the song is “Shuffle” by Bombay Bicycle Club)

A Food Filled RhymeTime

Who doesn’t like a good sing-along? And when you add songs about food into the mix, you can guarantee the Casserole Crew will be up for it! In the wake of our rainy but exhilarating Lunch Table in Redhill Town Centre, we organised a lovely little collaboration with Redhill Library, infiltrating their friday RhymeTime with a food-filled theme. We are really interested to see how young families can benefit from Casserole, both by cooking and receiving meals, and through building up a community within their own neighbourhood, and thought what better place to find young families than at a RhymeTime!

So friday morning, we headed to the library with flyers, magnets, and some very special Casserole stickers to join in on some sing-along fun. We spoke for a couple of minutes at the start, aware that there were babies and toddlers antsy to get rhyming, and thanked the library for letting us take over their RhymeTime for the morning, and explained Casserole in a nutshell – and then the singing began! “Oranges and Lemons,” “Patty Cakes,” “Hot Cross Buns,” and our personal favourite, “Bananas in Pajamas” were all quite big hits amongst the crowd of tots, and certainly made us pretty hungry in the process…

After a half hour of songs and a raucous rendition of the Hokey Cokey, we got to hand out our Casserole stickers to some very shy and some very jovial little guys, and chat to their adults about how Casserole could work for them. One of the most exciting moments for me was when one of the mom’s said she’d already heard about us from a friend – the word is spreading!

We want to thank the library again for letting us come in and commandeer their RhymeTime (the staff there are brilliant by the way, so if you are ever in Redhill, stop in and say hi)!

What a Day!

Well! What a day we had yesterday in Redhill, handing our free lunch in the town centre at our Lunch Table, spreading the ethos and word about Casserole to anyone and everyone willing to chat and eat with us.

Waking up to tempestuous winds and icy droplets of rain falling from the sky, we bundled up our Casserole gear and headed to Redhill – not even this weather was going to keep us from our mission! We’d barely arrived when the guys from Furnistore rocked up with our borrowed dining sets for the day. Lucky for us, there is a big covered area in Redhill, so we shuffled the tables under some shelter and started to set up shop.

Setting up began after the delivery of our furniture from Furnistore!

We’d barely set our chairs down when Chris from Chalk Hills Bakery turned up with two of the most lovely bags of freshly baked bread you’ve ever seen!

The Bread Man himself! Chris from Chalk Hills Bakery delivering our wonderful bread

With our tables set and our bread arrived, we could start to create a bit of ambiance, adding in a splash of gingham and a few Casserole leaflets for good measure.

The last piece of the puzzle was the food, cooked and served up by Munch in Marylebone, who soon arrived with colourful salads galore!

Naomi from Munch sets out the salad spread

With everything in place, it was time to start serving! We’d been getting some funny looks all throughout our set up – after all, who wouldn’t stare at a group of people setting up a picnic dining area in the middle of a town centre…. in the pouring rain no less!

Wouldn't you do a double take if you saw this set up in your town square?

We soon had the curious, the bemused, and the hungry stopping by to see what all the hullabaloo was about, and enjoy some tasty lunch, while finding out who on earth would be crazy enough to give out free lunch to anyone and everyone, especially in this weather…

We were chuffed to have several people recognise the Casserole name, with plenty more telling us stories about how they cook and share food already, and would be interested in a project like this. We met Ron, a man who used to do the cooking for his army troop of 100 men in World War II and still makes an “army casserole” every week, Roy, who runs a youth project in Merstham where one of their activities is food growing (we are excited to see where that link might go!), and several others who live right around the corner from existing Casserole members!

Digging into the feast!

 Our goal for the day had been to serve 50 meals and speak to as many people as we could. Over the course of lunchtime, we ended up serving well over 75 meals for hungry passersby, and chatted to even more about the project. The Surrey Mirror picked up the story as well, sending down a photographer and reporter to cover the Lunch Table and write a little feature about Casserole (you’ll be able to see the story in next week’s paper!).

Most had a really positive response to Casserole, and many were asking when the next Lunch Table might be…ideally with nicer weather next time. By 2pm, our friends at Furnistore were back to collect their tables and our experiment in disrupting the daily lives of Redhill citizens with some nice free food was complete.

Once again, we have to thank Furnistore and Chalk Hills Bakery for their wonderful contributions, and Munch in Marylebone for making such a delicious lunch spread!

And finally, the best bit of the whole day? We hadn’t even crossed Tower Bridge on our drive back when we had a new Cook signed up!

If you missed us yesterday, don’t forget that we’ll be at Redhill Library tomorrow morning for a food themed Rhyme Time, so stop on by and say hello! 

Lunch Table and Rhyme Time!

What a week we have in store here at Casserole HQ! We hope some of you got to enjoy a Doorstep Cake on friday, and are revved up for the week to come. We are in the crux of getting everything set and ready to go for this wednesday’s Lunch Table in Redhill town centre (we’ve just gotten the menu through from Munch in Marylebone and it’s a good’un! I’m getting hungry already….). Our fingers are crossed for the weather to stay in our favour, but we will be out, rain or shine, in the centre of town with tables borrowed from the brilliant Furnistore and bread donated by the Reigate’s own Chalk Hills Bakery, offering up a free lunch from 11:30 to 1:30. So, when your stomach starts to rumble, come on out and join us for a bite and a chat about Casserole.

It'll look a bit like this, but outside...

Also in the works this week is a fun little collaboration with Redhill Library this Friday, 20 April, from 10:30-11! Casserole has infiltrated the regular friday Rhyme Time, making this week’s food themed. Expect ‘Patty Cakes’, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and plenty more rhymes to make you hungry, while hearing a bit about Casserole and hopefully getting local Redhill families signed up and sharing meals in no time.

So stop by our Lunch Table on wednesday or come along to sing some food songs at the library on friday and don’t forget to sign up to cook and eat local, homemade food with Casserole!

Doorstep Cakes and a FREE Lunch Table

Today was another day spent hitting the streets of Redhill, spreading the word and food-filled goodness that Casserole can bring.The reason for all this pavement hitting? Apart from spreading the message about Casserole in general, we are getting the word out about something rather exciting! This Wednesday, 18th of April from 11:30 to about 1:30, smack dab in the middle of Redhill’s town centre, we are setting up a Lunch Table feast for anyone and everyone to come along for a free meal and a chat about the project!

We’re setting up three dining room tables, generously on loan from Redhill’s very own Furnistore, set and ready for people to take a seat and dig into some delicious food prepared by Munch in Marylebone, and complimented with freshly made bread donated by Reigate’s top notch Chalk Hills Bakery – its sure to be quite the feast! We have 50 meals on offer, so if you are around in Redhill on wednesday, drop on by for a free tasty meal on us before they run out!

Right, back to today’s action filled day. After picking out the perfect tables from Furnistore, we hot-tailed it around Redhill’s office buildings, knowing they make up much of the lunchtime contingent in the town centre, chatting to receptionists and office managers, letting them know about the free lunch that’s on offer next week (on a side note, did you know that the guys who make all the crossword and sudoku books are based in Redhill??).

The wall of puzzles!

Next up was the highlight of the day, a little activity I’m going to dub Doorstep Cakes. Remember last week’s Cake to Door? Well, this week we were back in the neighbourhood, leaving little “Sorry we missed you” cake packages, letting people know about the upcoming Lunch Table and to remind them to check what we are up to on the site.

The story of cakes from drawing to doorstep!

We “caked” 70 homes today, and hope to do many more in the future – we think its a nice little surprise and brings about a bit more curiosity and interest than your typical flyer, not to mention it means people get to eat cake! As another bonus, during our neighbourhood wanderings, we met a man named George. At 88, he served in the Navy in WWII, worked as a printer, taught printing, design, and woodworking in prison and schools, travelled the world, and now spends his days building wheelbarrows from pallets, tending to his beautiful garden, and most importantly, baking and cooking like a fiend! We had a brilliant chat with him and hope he’ll soon be cooking up some of his favourite pies for his nearby neighbours.

Listening to George's amazing tales and cider fruit bread recipe

So if you live in Redhill and found a cake on your doorstep, let us know either in the comments below, or on our twitter or facebook, and don’t forget to stop by for a free meal and a chat with the Casserole crew this wednesday!

Cake to Door

Have you ever opened your door to a pair of people asking, “Would you like some free cake?” Well if you live in certain neighbourhoods of Redhill, you may have experienced just that yesterday, as the Casserole Crew took to the streets, spreading the word and some free cake love to the people of Redhill.

Baskets of cakes (unfortunately not homemade…. THIS time…) and flyers in hand, two pairs of us wandered up and down neighbourhood lanes, knocking on doors, offering up cake and the opportunity to join a community-centred food project being born in their very own area.

While most of us might dread the knocking of a “door-to-door salesman,” we tried to approach things a bit differently, and that difference payed off. Expecting doors to be shut in our faces more often than not, our plot to lure people with free cakes turned out to be a brilliant way to break the initial barrier between strangers. Upon offering free cakes, people were so amused, bemused, and curious, that they couldn’t help but wonder “What’s the catch?” Even more brilliantly, when they discovered the catch wasn’t something we were selling, but in fact a plan to get ‘neighbours cooking for neighbours,” intrigue turned into nods of understanding and appreciation. Granted there was still a

handful of door slams and “Thanks but no thanks,” but in general, people we far more endeared rather than off put by our proposition (after all, how annoyed can you be with people offering free cake?), and because we targeted areas where there are already Casserole members present, as soon as our new recruits sign up, they’ll be able to get cooking and eating straight away!

Our Cake-to-Door experiment was a great test in just how meaningful person-to-person interaction is when you are trying to start something new. Taking that extra bit of time to talk to someone, offer them a little something nice, and show them just what the ethos of Casserole is all about. This was also the start of a whole string of community activities we’ve been plotting for the month of April, which I’ll go into more in the next post (HINT: rhymetime and free lunch are involved!), to continue to see how we can best spread to word and grow the Casserole community.

One final note, we had another top secret mission during our Cake-to-Door time. Katie Smith, quite possibly our most enthusiastic and supportive Casseroler, has been right along side us from the very beginning – spreading the word, cooking meals and referring members. As a thank you, we left her a little token of appreciation for believing in us from the very start.

Thanks for everything Katie!