Margate theatre owner branches out to share ‘Bags of Taste’ cooking skills

Sara now heads up the Bags of Taste scheme

By Jodie Nesling

The owner of one of Britain’s smallest theatres has branched out from programming shows to cooking on stoves-  teaching free classes to those on a budget.

Sara Ratcliffe, who runs the Tom Thumb Theatre with husband Alex, took on the role at Bags of Taste, after initially volunteering for the scheme.

The national charity provides four week cooking courses while also teaching attendees how to shop wisely to save money. Participants can then take home bags of ingredients to create the same meal at home for their families. All meals dish out at £1 a portion.

She said: I have always loved cooking. It’s always been a massive part of my life – I used to run a cafe. We had chefs working for us but I was the head of the kitchen – It was my responsibility. It’s teaching people how to cook but it’s a long-term change – that’s what we are striving for.

Sara and Alex

“The people who come in are spending a fortune on takeaways and we teach recipes that are a fraction of the price, taste better and, more importantly, are far healthier. It’s really rewarding to see people gain confidence as they learn – we have those who are  proud to return home and cook a meal for their families.”

Before the session Sara trawls the shops looking for the best prices for ingredients and advises where to buy frozen goods or bulk buy items such as spices to save cash.

Those who attend the sessions are shown how to cook a healthy meal at their own gas stove with help from volunteers.

The group then all eat lunch together and have the opportunity to take home a bag of ingredients to recreate the dish. The charity also offers subsidised cooking utensils for participants to take home. 

Sara, Alex and their two children moved from east London to Margate four years ago. The couple ran popular Hackney cafe, Cooper and Wolf before taking on Cliftonville’s, Tom Thumb Theatre.

Sara said: “It was perfect timing. Alex is an actor and comes from a theatre family.  We have a real community here and working with people is something I did at the cafe.”

Bags of Taste was initially set up in Thanet by food writer and cook, Annie Nichols who now runs Hot Meals Now canteen at Margate art school, Open School East.  

For details on sessions email [email protected] or call Sara on 07950246485.

About Bags of Taste

Bags of Taste is an award-winning not for profit scheme that works with vulnerable adults on low incomes, such as recovering addicts, people with disabilities, mental or long-term health conditions, and the long-term unemployed, to improve their diets and finances.

Launched in 2014 after several successful pilot projects, Bags of Taste works with people in poverty, many of whom are facing multiple further disadvantages, to improve their diets. This stems from their experience that those in poverty have much worse diets because they face many more challenges, ranging from the psychological to the economic to the structural and practical.

Recognising that this is not simply a case of people in poverty “needing to learn to cook” or needing to be “more motivated”, Bags of Taste runs comprehensive courses designed to help them overcome all of these barriers. These also often transform their lives in much wider ways, with typical outcomes including a 40% increase in vegetable consumption, an 85% drop in takeaway consumption, and large financial savings of £1,350 per year. 54% of participants report improved health by the end of the course and 10% going on to volunteer with the organisation to mentor other participants.