Cooking project provides education 'lifeline' for youngsters

A pilot programme is supporting youngsters who are unable to thrive in mainstream education.

A pilot programme in north-east Fife is looking to provide a lifeline for youngsters who are unable to thrive in mainstream education.

For the last ten weeks, teenagers and young adults have been learning new skills through the act of cooking at Craigtoun Country Park Café near St Andrews.

Those who took part said it had helped tackle isolation and improve their mental health.

“I’ve absolutely loved doing it, it’s been a relief to get out the house with friends,” said 20-year-old Andrew Russell, who has ADHD and autism.

“I’m mainly in the house, I don’t really go out much. This is like a stress relief, which I really love, but at the same time, it also gives my mum and dad a break.”

Another participant, 18-year-old Kieran Coull, has struggled with his mental health since he was 12.

Craigtoun Cafe

He admitted the project had taken him out of his comfort zone, but in a good way.

“The working as a team part, I find quite important,” he said. “I’m not used to doing that. The fact that I’m finally able to work as a team, with other people, means a lot and means I can pass those things on through my life.”

The project has been led by three groups: Friends of Craigtoun – which runs the café – and charities HELM Training and Families First, both of which specialise in supporting youngsters with additional needs.

“When they [the participants] first came in, they didn’t make eye contact,” said Michelle Dowdles, an instructor at HELM.

Michelle Dowdles said the young people had 'come out of their shell'.

“Heads down, hoods up. Gradually, as the weeks have gone by, they’ve come out their shell.

“Coming up to get cuddles, chatting to you… what a big difference it’s made.”

This week marked the end of the pilot programme, and now organisers and parents need funding to make it a permanent service.

“When it comes to adult services, there’s not really much about, this is the first thing he’s taken part in,” said Andrew’s mum Jillian Russell.

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