Cooking together brings seniors cheer

The Hour Glass Kitchen Programme provides a platform to reduce seniors’ risk of social isolation and improve their quality of life

Participants of The Hour Glass Kitchen Programme cook and share their favourite dishes with neighbours.

Cooking is always more fun when you do it together with neighbours.

For two seniors, Madam Alice Cheng and Madam Jamilah Binte Yaman, the pleasure of coming together with other seniors in the community to prepare and share their favourite dishes has not only made the food more enjoyable, it has also helped them bond with fellow silvers.

Madam Cheng and Madam Jamilah are both participants at The Hour Glass Kitchen Programme, conceptualised by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

The programme was launched in August this year by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Social and Family Development, at the Pacific Activity Centre (PAC) at Yishun Greenwalk.

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It encourages seniors who live alone to get together with other seniors on a regular basis and to find common interests.

The seniors can use two kitchenettes - one halal and one non-halal - to decide what to cook and make meals together in small groups.

By enabling seniors to participate in such programmes, NCSS provides a platform to reduce seniors' risk of social isolation and improve their quality of life.

The programme was made possible by a $2 million donation from The Hour Glass Limited to Community Chest with a matching grant of $2 million by the Care & Share Movement, launched in 2013 to celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

Under the Movement, eligible donations raised by Community Chest and 240 participating social service organisations between December 1, 2013 and March 31, 2016 were matched dollar-for-dollar by the Government. The matched amounts go towards building the capabilities and capacities of the social service sector to meet rising needs in the future.

Seniors' ideas

Seniors were roped in during the planning process for The Hour Glass Kitchen Programme even before it kicked off.

Before the kitchen was built, they were invited to share their aspirations and consider how the facility could best serve their needs.

To help NCSS understand what they hoped to see, they had a workshop, where the seniors came together with the project team from NCSS to discuss the kitchen's layout, colour and theme.

At the kitchen, seniors take part in a three-month programme with modules including getting to know one another at a "La Kopi session" facilitated by a social worker.

Activities organised for the kitchen usually last for an hour to 90 minutes, and the seniors who enrol in the programme usually participate in at least one activity per week.

They can also form interest groups with other like-minded seniors. Celebrity chefs, nutritionists and speakers popular with seniors will be invited to the kitchen to share their recipes and knowledge for healthy living.

Twenty volunteers from Hua Mei Training Academy also volunteered their time by carrying out extensive surveys in Yishun to identify seniors who are less socially connected.

Student interns from Nanyang Polytechnic, Nanyang Technological University and SIM University also provided suggestions and support to the programme.

"My life has become more meaningful and interesting ever since I participated in the kitchen programme," says Madam Cheng.

She likes to prepare her favourite dish, fried noodles, which both she and her husband enjoy. She is also particularly proud of her butter cake, which she made with her new friends in the community.

Also a noodle lover, Madam Jamilah likes experimenting with different ingredients to make her noodles even tastier.

"The kitchen is a comfortable place to socialise and make new friends," she says.

Cosy meeting place

Mr Sim Gim Guan, Chief Executive Officer of NCSS, notes: "The Hour Glass Kitchen Programme does not only engage seniors during the time they spend preparing ingredients, cooking and dining together, but also offers a platform where seniors make conscious choices to engage with the community."

Dr Henry Tay, Executive Chairman of The Hour Glass Limited, adds: "I am excited that the programme offers meaningful opportunities for the seniors to feel empowered and plan for activities that they and their peers can enjoy together."

Staff and volunteers have been reaching out to seniors staying around the centre. Those aged 50 and above, and who are assessed to be at risk of social isolation, are encouraged to join the programme. To date, over 200 seniors have been surveyed; and 30 of them benefited as part of the programme's first intake.

Four more kitchen programmes are expected to be launched over the next two years.

Its expansion is a sweet recipe for greater senior engagement in the community - they can cook up a storm together to bond with friends and their neighbours, right in a kitchen near their homes.

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