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We all love a hot dinner, served with a smile. Leeds City Council funds around 80 lunch clubs for older people in the city. The clubs offer good, affordable food and a friendly welcome. Eating a nutritious meal in a social atmosphere is a good for your physical and mental health.

 

We visit one such club in Chapeltown to uncover the stories

behind the plate.

FEB/MAR 2023 ISSUE

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Every Wednesday morning, Anne goes to her kitchen and thinks about the friends she’ll meet at lunchtime. “I get up in the morning,” she says. “And I think, what can I make to bring to this lot?” Anne is member of the Fusion Extra lunch club, who meet in the Reginald Centre in Chapeltown. She’s known as a bit of a star baker. “I bake cakes – johnnycakes, that sort of thing.” Today, it’s saltfish fritters. Anne hands them out to her fellow diners, who respond enthusiastically. The fritters, wrapped in kitchen paper, are soft and delicious. Audrey laughs and confides, “I like the company here. I come every week. They pick me up. I like the crowd. We talk and laugh.” Laughter is one of the key elements of Fusion Extra. The women – and it is mainly women – are friendly, welcom- ing and have an infectious sense of humour. Fusion Extra was set up by Black Health Initiative (BHI) to provide a lunch club specifically to older people from a Caribbean origin. “We started the luncheon club because the generation of people that came over at about the time of the Windrush were ageing,” says Heather Nelson, CEO at Black Health Initiative. “There didn’t seem to be a club that they felt they’d be included in. Most of them came from the Caribbean, so they were looking for somewhere they could get Caribbean food, hear Caribbean music and speak to people of a similar background. So, rather than them staying at home being isolated, we applied and received some money to 

Walter makes fresh meals from scratch every week for the Fusion Extra Lunch Club

run a club in Chapeltown. We started at the church hall at the Church of God of Prophecy. We started with five people but word of mouth meant that three months later, there were about forty people, which was huge.”

Fusion Extra now meet at the Reginald Centre, which is a community hub in LS7. There’s a library, health services, council services and a pharmacy. It’s a busy place, with lots of people coming in and out. Towards the back, Fusion Extra takes over the café space (also run by Black Health Initiative) every Wednesday afternoon to welcome the elders.

Freddy is one of the elders. She was born in the Caribbean but came to the UK in her twenties. “I was 24,” she recalls. “It was November 1959.” Now in her eighties, Freddy is a big fan of Fusion Extra: “I live just down the road. Every Wednesday we come and socialise. Meet friends and see new faces. Have a bit of a chat and a laugh. Something to eat. And if we feel like it, we’ll have a little music and a little shake and a dance. We do exercises too. It’s something I look forward to. If I’m poorly I can’t make it, I miss it. I enjoy coming, it gets me out of the house.” Freddy comes with her daughter Berity. “It gets me out too,” she laughs. Freddy poses for a photo, but Berity can’t resist getting in on the act, so she joins her mother and they embrace.

There’s a real family atmosphere at Fusion Extra. Sashelle is the sessional worker who runs the club and supports the members. “I come here every Wednesday and look after these ladies,” Sashelle says “They like socialising and getting out of the house. They’re a lively bunch. They give me life and purpose. The majority of them are my grandma’s friends. Sadly, I lost my grandma, so it’s nice to be around them. I’ve grown up with a lot of them. They’re still enjoying life!” But it’s not just her grandma; Sashelle has another family connection. “My uncle and my mum cook the food!” she reveals. “It’s a family thing!”

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The food is based on Caribbean cooking,” says Heather Nelson. “It’s what we call hard food: yams, green bananas, dasheen, plantain, cho cho.” Hard food are mainly root vegetables, grown in the ground. Often, they are simply boiled in salted water or fried. Hard foods might be served with chicken, fish or curry. Sometimes they’ll be made into soups. “All the foods they would have had at home, before they came over to the UK. Or when they first came over here, when foods began to be imported.” The food is prepared down the road in another building, St Martin’s Institute. As, Sashelle said, it’s currently a family team.
 
Every Wednesday and Friday, brother and sister Walter and Madief are found in the kitchen, preparing meals for the group. They both give up their time to do this; it’s their way of giving some- thing back. “The elders have done a lot for our community,” says Walter. “When we were kids, they looked after us. When my mum was at work, her friends would help out. When we came over we all lived in the same house, in the Windrush era. A lot of them don’t have their own family left, so we cook for them.” Today the pair have prepared a vegetable soup and a chilli, which is bubbling in a huge pot on the stove. It’s important that the food they serve is healthy and nutritious. “We make sure they get their 5-a-day,” says Walter. “Fruits like apples. Make sure they get their veg. A nice healthy option as a meal every time we provide. Everything’s fresh, all the ingredients and everything freshly cooked on the day. BHI provide a healthy menu that’s seasonal too. Sweet chilli chicken with roast potatoes. Or fish with rice and fresh vegetables.” It’s key that the food served keeps the elders healthy. It’s one of the reasons BHI set up the club. “It’s cooked the way they are used to, but with a healthier twist,” says Heather. “It doesn’t always go down well! Some of them say, “This isn’t jerk!” Because we’ve taken out half the sugar and salt! Part of what we do at Fusion is to educate them about their diet. Certain health issues disproportionally affect black people: diabetes, hypertension. They’ve got to know about these things. About cutting down salt, making your own seasonings rather than buying the ones in the packets, which are full of sodium - which is actually just salt.” The team make sure there’s a variety of food on offer – as well as the occasional sweet treat. “It’s a different meal every week,” says Sashelle at the Reginald Centre. “A mix of traditional English food and traditional Caribbean dishes.” She points to a tray of cakes: “Each week I bake for them too. I do a variety of bakes – and the ladies come with their own treats too.” Freddy seems to approve of the menu. “I enjoy the food,” she says. “Rice and chicken. Bangers and mash. West Indian Soup.” Freddy is a dab hand in the kitchen herself. “I love to cook, but I cannot stand up for a long time. I have a bad leg. So I don’t cook too much now. On a Wednesday I don’t have to cook. I used to cook all sorts. I used to bake, but I don’t anymore. I’ll cook rice and chicken, dumplings, yam.”

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Brother and sister Walter and Madief in the kitchen 

Heather is focused on making sure people who work in health services understand what life is like for the elders of Caribbean background. “We work closely with the primary care networks,” she says. “GPs will ring us and say, we have somebody in the surgery and she’s talking about sugar.” This confuses them, they’re not sure what to do. Heather explains: “What it is, is that she’s diabetic and she’s trying to tell them that. It’s about GPs understanding the language so they don’t misdiagnose.” BHI have also worked with Diabetes UK, around adapting their “healthy food plates”, that are used to educate people about what foods are good for you. “The food plates used to have the white indigenous foods on it,” says Heather. “But that didn’t mean anything to the black and south Asian community.”
 

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Sashelle (who runs the club) with Freddy (one of the members)

Fusion Extra is not just a lunch club, it’s so much more. Yes, the food is a vital element. But so is the social element. “At the Reginald Centre, people are coming in and out – it’s a hub,” says Heather. “So the elders see people they might not have seen for years.” Post-Covid, the club is doing great work to encourage the elders to socialise more. For Heather, it is a way to bring together all the work of BHI: “It’s a full circle of all the work we do, which is equality, equity and education in health and social care. People are sometimes accidentally excluded, we want them to be intentionally included.”
 
As the afternoon wears on, the elders start to pack up and leave. Most travel in the access bus, which drops them off to their door. Many of them choose to take their food home so they’ll have a hot meal later. As Freddy says, “On a Wednesday I don’t have to cook!” The elders love the club and they’ll be back next week to laugh, exercise, chat, share their news – and sample whatever delicious treats Anne has made in her kitchen.

The Fusion Extra lunch club is at the Reginald Centre every Wednesday.

To find out more about Black Health Initiative contact 0113 3070300 or admin@bhileeds.org.uk - or look online www.blackhealthinitiative.org.

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