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Supporting families with healthy food through lockdown

Tony Gibbons and volunteers preparing his 'Cookboxs' to deliver to vulnerable families as England goes into a second lockdown

The National Lottery

3 min read Partner content

Thanks to funding from The National Lottery, the Friendly Food Club has helped thousands of struggling families in Dorset learn to cook affordable, nutritious meals and make new friends. 

When most people look at a plate of home cooked food they see a tasty meal. For Tony Gibbons a bowl of pasta or fillet of fish is also a way of bringing people together, starting a conversation and changing lives. 

The 81-year-old retired restaurateur has devoted the past 15 years to The Friendly Food Club, a charity that has helped thousands of struggling families in Dorset learn to cook affordable, nutritious meals and make new friends. 

Tony’s unflagging efforts to change lives one recipe at a time saw him named winner of the Education category at the 2020 National Lottery Awards. 2020’s winners – selected from 5000 nominated projects from across the UK – recognised the ‘Lockdown Legends’ who have worked tirelessly to help others during this extraordinary year. 

Tony, an indefatigable octogenarian who had a stroke two years ago and was recuperating after an operation on his knee, said he was astonished to win the award. 

He said, “I’m gobsmacked. It came as a total surprise.” 

When the first lockdown began in March, Tony was busy running a National Lottery-funded project called Meet, Cook and Eat. The scheme provided free cookery workshops to isolated older people and people with learning disabilities. 

Determined to stay connected with the vulnerable people who had attended the workshops, Tony asked The National Lottery if he could repurpose the funding. This was readily agreed and the result was the Cookbox, a parcel containing all the ingredients to make healthy meals as well as quizzes, games and activities to support home learning. 

The Cookbox proved more popular than an ice cream van on a hot summer’s day. From 16 boxes a week for families on low incomes at the start of the lockdown, the tutors and volunteers at the Friendly Food Club were soon delivering 250 a week to families in 6 Dorset communities. 

Tony said, “We had no idea it would take off the way it did. We ended up delivering about 4,500 Cookboxes during the summer and we’re still going.” 

The second lockdown meant the Cookbox was back in demand. Tony said, “We’re now doing variants of the box for people with learning disabilities and the BAME community.” 

Tony’s belief in the life-changing qualities of good grub is undiminished. He said, “Food is a brilliant way of getting people to talk to each other. Getting together and eating is just about the only thing we don’t fight about. We fight about oil, land, politics and just about everything else, but if you get together to eat you don’t fight about the food.” 

Thanks to players of The National Lottery, £30 million is raised for Good Causes every week, providing funding to charities like The Friendly Food Club and helping communities come together across the UK.  

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Partner content
Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

Find out more