4th July 2019 saw the official release of the VIP Audio Cookery Book. This was the culmination of many months of dedicated work by a motivated group of people in the Luton area. The project has brought fun, education, increased confidence and team working to a local group of blind and partially-sighted Luton folk and made a great end product available to the wider community.
The VIP Group (Visually-Impaired Persons Group) is based in Luton and offers support, fellowship, group activities and a lot of fun to blind and partially-sighted people in the area. Last year they applied to Near Neighbours, an organisation promoting community cohesion and inter-faith relationships in Luton, for a small grant, to fund a very special project. Near Neighbours co-ordinator, Kim Greig, was most enthusiastic and able to provide funding to enable the project. Project Manager, Liz Aldous, was brought on board to facilitate the project, which involved booking and scheduling a number of professional chefs, arranging use of a suitable, well-equipped kitchen facility with suitable access, purchasing a wide array of utensils for up to 8 blind and partially-sighted cooks to use, handling all the paperwork, health and safety issues and finding a suitable sound engineer to record the sessions and produce a series of concise audio recipe episodes from around 20 hours of recordings. And that’s where I came in.
I met group organisers, Chris Randall, Phil Rutter and Simon Kanil-Jones, back in December of 2018. I was instantly inspired by their enthusiasm for getting VIP Group members involved in all manner of interesting and creative projects. The one in hand, to provide a series of cookery sessions, helping the partially-sighted community to gain culinary confidence and cook easy meals for themselves, really caught my attention. I am not only a sound engineer but am also partially-sighted, only recently having been forced to retire from my full-time work in the music, and latterly, audio forensic, industries. I am very aware of how loss of eyesight and career can cause loss of confidence in many aspects of life. The idea of recording the sessions in order to produce audio recipes which could easily be followed in real-time, in your own kitchen, was a brilliant one.
The sessions were booked throughout the months of January to May and generously hosted by St Margaret’s Church in Farley Hill, at their social club, where they have a large, newly-appointed kitchen. A number of local chefs came in, bringing their enthusiasm, expertise and a wealth of ingredients, in order to create the most appetising meals. Group members eagerly put their names down to cook (and eat, of course !) all manner of recipes from different cultures, catering for a wide range of tastes, cooking styles, complexities and dietary requirements. Included were, Lancashire Hot-pot, Vegetarian Lasagna, Chicken Stir-fry and Chicken Curry, a variety of Pizzas, Mixed Chicken and Seafood Paella, Gluten-free Sausage Risotto and Jerk Chicken, Macaroni Cheese and Fried Plantain. It is true to say that an excited buzz, not to mention a healthy appetite, developed within the group throughout the project.
Some group members were familiar with cooking in their own kitchens but interested to learn some new recipes and techniques, whilst some people had rarely attempted anything like this before. Many were surprised to find out how simple it could be to make tasty and interesting meals, being shown useful ways to safely chop, recognise when food is cooked and follow good kitchen hygiene. And everyone learned something, gained confidence, had great fun and came away well fed!
This project was always intended to benefit the wider community as well. The session recordings have been released on a 2 CD set called Audio Cookery Book. The instructional sessions have been edited to create eight concise productions which vary between around 15 and 25 minutes each and feature the chefs talking the participants through the preparation and cooking processes, answering questions and explaining methods. Each recipe is split into several short steps on the CDs, enabling the listener to carry out a few operations at a time and then pause the CD or easily skip back to hear the last set of instructions again. The CDs are presented in a durable plastic case with clear, black-on-yellow text and track listings. Diana Hurley of TwirlyPix generously gave of her time to devise and create the artwork for the project. Contents and track listings are also provided audibly on track 1 of each disc.
It has certainly been an inspiring and eye-opening experience for me to be part of such a motivated and positive group of people. I am proud to have been able to contribute to this project and hope it benefits many, many more people who are similarly inspired and encouraged by being able to cook along with the group.
By Tim Edwards