HORTON Housing Association has come a long way since it started life as a day shelter, serving hot meals for the homeless.

Thirty years on, the specialist housing service supports diverse communities, and a key element is helping people into employment.

Feedback from users has led to a new cookery course, equipping people with a range job skills. Called Cooking up Skills, it has been designed as a result of consultation with service users who wanted a structured course to develop skills and get into the habit of working, either for the first time or going back into work.

It has been developed with £9,980 Lottery funding awarded to b@se, a social enterprise helping people who have been unemployed gain work experience. Set up in conjunction with its catering business, Chef’s Kitchen, Cooking up Skills allows clients from Horton Housing Training Centre to learn job skills in a busy kitchen, under the guidance of chef Robert Black who has worked in fine dining across the world.

The 12-week programme is for people who are ready for employment but may be struggling to get a job. They are trained to produce a range of food suitable for catering orders, lunch and afternoon tea.

Supervised by professional catering staff, trainees learn about food production and presentation, food hygiene and safety and how to cook healthy, tasty meals. As well as learning basic skills such as making pastry, bread, cakes, desserts and various meals, including casseroles, dumplings, fish pie, hummus, soufflés and broth, the training will develop skills such as team-working, budgeting, computer skills and time-keeping. It is aimed at being a pathway to employment, and participants will leave, via a graduation ceremony, with a portfolio, accredited training and a reference.

“Working in a busy kitchen requires a lot of demanding skills," says Robert. “I will expect the same professional standards in this kitchen as I would in any kitchen I have worked in. I expect people to turn up on time, work hard, dress and act appropriately and work together to produce excellent food and meet orders.”

Trainees also have chance to learn other skills such as English, numeracy and literacy and help with preparing CVs and interviews.

Horton Housing is currently renovating two disused allotments and developing a horticultural course, enabling trainees to grow fresh produce for the kitchen, as well as flowers and plants.

he scheme is run by Horton Housing Association, which marks its 30th anniversary this year. As well as helping homeless and vulnerable people into accommodation, it provides services such as drugs and alcohol recovery and reaches out to diverse communities including older people, teenage parents, refugees, people with learning disabilities, people coming out of prison and the armed forces, and gypsy and traveller communities.

Lisa Whelan, Acting Head of Training Services, said: “Our first course has been run as a pilot at the training centre and we have had six trainees who have been with us since day one.

“So far they have been working on catering orders for Horton Housing’s Board of Directors and on staff lunches. We're also happy to take orders from local businesses for events and meetings.

“In addition to practical work in the kitchen, the trainees have passed their Level Two Food Safety Qualification and a one-day first aid course, organised through Horton Housing’s Training Centre.

“They have been learning about the hospitality business and customer service, and will also be understanding more about healthy eating, food preparation and nutrition.

“The feedback has been great and the trainees are really enthusiastic and are supporting each other in the course. There seems to be a great camaraderie within the team and they're working hard."

Lizzi Duffield was one of the first trainees on the Cooking Up Skills course.

“I signed up because I wanted to get more career skills, particularly in food catering," she says. "My support worker encouraged me onto the course and it’s going brilliantly so far. Rob is great and I'm getting on with the other trainees.

"In the first couple of weeks we made wholemeal bread, white bread and some fancy bread. It tasted good!

"When I finish this course I'm hoping to find a job in a kitchen in a care home. One day I hope to make my way up to head chef.”

* For more about Chef's Kitchen call (01274) 739926 or email hortontraining@hortonhousing.co.uk