Officers from the Met’s Central South Command Unit joined forces with the chef and entrepreneur at the Ark Evelyn Grace Academy on Tuesday, 30 March for the event after packing and distributing 150 food parcels to children and their families.
The idea came from Lambeth schools officer, PC Nigel Pearce, who was inspired by similar community cooking events and was aware of the vulnerabilities of many local families and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Between the first and second lockdown alone, Ark Evelyn Grace Academy saw the number of students classed as being from a ‘vulnerable’ family increase from 70 to 150.
PC Pearce and his colleagues saw first-hand the true levels of deprivation being experienced by some families in the community when they paid homes visits to check on students during lockdown.
Some families had nothing to eat in their cupboards and were hugely appreciative of any support directing them to services that could assist.
These experiences led PC Pearce to come up with the idea of a community cook-along event that could be enjoyed by many of the school’s children and their families, whilst at the same time offering them a delicious home cooked meal.
Knowing he wanted the event to be led by someone who was not only a great cook but who also had connections to Brixton and could be a role model to the school’s children, PC Pearce reached out to Levi Roots – who immediately loved the idea.
PC Pearce explained: “The whole aim from the start was to provide a lovely nutritious meal that families could cook and then eat together – and I wanted to find a figure who had a genuine long-time connection with the local community and who had achieved great things. Someone who could be an inspiration to others and talk to them about what challenges they had overcome.”
“We are fully aware in our jobs that sometimes young people who don’t have lots of advantages face what can feel like overwhelming obstacles in their lives – which lockdown has only increased – so I was delighted when Levi agreed to help as I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and partner on the project.”
Speaking about his involvement, Levi said: “I was very happy to be involved in this great project that brings the community together. It was the idea of PC Pearce that grew into something much bigger than we could have hoped. It couldn’t have come at a better time as people in my local community are really struggling. I hope in my small way I can put some music in their food!”
Officers were up early on the morning of Tuesday, 30 March to prepare the food parcels for the cook along which contained all the ingredients needed for Levi’s Caribbean spiced cottage pie recipe, along with additional basic food supplies like pasta and rice for the families.
The contents of the food parcels were generously donated by Tesco, who provided £2000 worth of gift cards to support the community event.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon, a representative from each of the 150 chosen families attended Ark Evelyn Grace Academy to collect their food parcel, which also contained a recipe card and link to the virtual cook-along.
At 17:00hrs the fun really began when Levi went live from Ark Evelyn Grace Academy and entertained the families via Zoom as they collectively prepared their home cooked Caribbean spiced cottage pies. Levi was also joined by a teacher and selected pupils from the school in the cook-a-long. Once the cottage pies were in the oven, Levi took the opportunity to speak to the children about his journey of hard work and determination that ultimately led to his success.
PC Pearce said that the event would not have been the success it was without the significant contributions from everyone involved: “I’d like to thank everyone for the key part they have played in bringing this project together, as we couldn’t have done it without a huge team effort.”