Hi there, I’m Melissa.
Founder and Chief Executive of “Caring Cooks” Jersey
Melissa Nobrega was born in Derbyshire and lived in a mining town that was heavily impacted by the Thatcher government’s decision to close some of the UKs mining pits in the 1980s. This led to widespread unemployment in the town and during her school years, Melissa witnessed the impact of this first-hand, with some classmates wearing unwashed clothes or having no food to eat at school; this experience would prove influential in her later life.
Melissa had an interest in cooking, being taught by her grandmother from an early age and eventually she trained to become a chef and worked in the industry for around a year, before making a career change to banking which led her to Jersey. A 20-year career in financial marketing followed, but Melissa still had an interest in cooking and Caring Cooks of Jersey was founded in January 2014.
Caring Cooks is a charity that believes,
“good food and nutrition from birth and throughout a child’s life is crucial to successful development, in all areas of their lives”.
Their vision is to “positively empower and influence the future health of our Islands children and young people, now and for generations to come”. They do this by providing a variety of services, from a weekly meal service that allows families facing crisis or challenges, the opportunity to sit together and have a nutritious meal at least once a week, to the ‘Let’s Get Cooking Programme’, which teaches primary school students how to prepare simple meals from scratch along with the fundamentals of nutrition.
Melissa founded Caring Cooks after attending various playgroups in the Island with her children. Whilst attending these playgroups, Melissa spent time with a variety of different families and found many could not afford to feed their children or provide nutritious food due to their economic standing. Melissa offered to provide and cook food for some of the families, which morphed into the charities weekly meal service, which aims to help people regardless of affluence and believes every child deserves the right to access nutritious food.
At present, Caring Cooks mainly works with primary schools and are currently providing their services to 5 States run schools. Their work enables them to gain some important insights, for example, they have noted links between educational attainment and access to nutritious food, as it helps provide children the concentration levels that they need to learn. Moreover, in terms of those being supported by the charity, there is a large percentage who have English as an Additional language (EAL). There are several possible reasons for this, such as some of the support materials in the Island not being available in the correct language, so people are not aware of the support they could access. Moreover, cultural differences and concern around repercussions may prevent these people from asking for support in the first place, highlighting the importance of working and liaising with them.
In terms of improvement for the future to help improve social mobility in the island, and given links between nutrition and educational attainment, Melissa believes a change in the Jersey law regarding provision of food at school is critically important in not only enabling all children to access nutritious food each day at school, but also in providing a platform for children to learn. Furthermore, an Island wide fruit, vegetable and snack policy at school would support this, whilst sustaining the impact of schemes such as Caring Cooks. Lastly, the charity has found that the demographic they are supporting has changed in recent years, as they support the working poor as well as those that are on income support. This would suggest that a review of mechanisms such as the income support system in the island would be beneficial. Given the Children First plan alongside the Food and Nutrition Strategy has been in place for some time now, there needs to be further investment into these programmes to not only support the children of today, but to ensure they grow up to be valued and healthy adults of the future.
The charity aims to expand their services in order to support all pupils within government-maintained primary schools, as well as accessing secondary school students in future.