A project to support vulnerable adults in East Cleveland is continuing despite the coronavirus lockdown.

In February television MasterChef Matei Baran and Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation launched their second Kitchen Therapy programme which uses cooking to bring together and help people who struggle with their mental health.

Kitchen Therapy has been halted, but the people it was helping – many living in isolated communities – need support more than ever.

Over the Easter weekend 80 special food packages were delivered to homes in East Cleveland by Chef Matei and Lee Harding from the Foundation.

Each package contained delicious brownies, scones and cakes baked by Matei, who was a quarter-finalist in MasterChef: The Professionals.

“It was a massive task, not only because of the number of deliveries. We also had to be absolutely certain each time that everything was done safely,” said Lee, MFC Foundation’s Boro Bus coordinator. “But it was worth it to see people’s reaction.  They loved the food, but it was also crucial to show them that they weren’t forgotten.”

The first Kitchen Therapy took place last year at Middlesbrough College. “Everybody who took part said it was life-changing,” said Chef Matei.  “When they started many couldn’t even make eye-contact. After 12 weeks they were helping me prepare and serve a tasting menu for 50 paying guests.”

The latest 12-week project was being held at the Hunley Hotel and Golf Club in Brotton. More than 20 people from East Cleveland were taking part. “After just a few sessions, you could tell what a difference it was making,” said Matei. “We didn’t want coronavirus to spoil this. It was so important to keep the connection with those taking part in Kitchen Therapy, but also support lots of other people who live in the area and might be struggling.”

The launch of the second Kitchen Therapy programme reflected the MFC’s determination to make a difference in East Cleveland, where loneliness is a major problem.

“With many people living alone, one of the reasons we’re doing this programme is just to get people out and mixing and socialising again, making new friends and learning new cooking skills and sharing those skills,” said Gary Walton, the MFC Foundation’s community engagement officer. “Obviously we can’t do that right now, but what we can do is remind people we are still here and will still support in any way we can.

“We look forward to meeting up with our new friends, and some old faces, as soon as is possible to do that. Not just here in East Cleveland, but across all our projects in the Foundation and that includes the friends we made in the first Kitchen Therapy project.”

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