St Werburghs Community Association – Raking, baking and wellbeing

St Werburghs Community Association (SWCA) was originally established in 1971 to co-manage the local community centre, before taking over its sole management from Bristol City Council in 1999. A successful £1m capital project followed in 2010, which transformed what was a dilapidated Victorian school building into the modern community hub that we see today.

As a membership organisation, SWCA supports local groups with a focus on community cohesion and inclusivity, and its social impact work specifically targets the local wards of Ashley, Easton and Lawrence Hill. The community centre welcomes over 80,000 visitors through its doors annually, representing all faiths, ethnicities, nationalities, age groups and disabilities, while 200 groups from across the city regularly use the centre for a range of events, meetings and classes.

The centre also hosts SWCA’s grant-funded services, such as its digital inclusion project – through which it offers free computer skills training to older people and helps unemployed people who are looking for work – and a Food Share programme, a weekly initiative where users pay a small donation and access a range of fresh and store cupboard foods, vegetables and toiletries.

Another of SWCA’s services is Raking & Baking, a free-to-attend seven-week course which aims to inspire and support people to grow their own fresh food in small spaces and learn to cook the fresh, organic, seasonal produce from scratch. While attendees are keen to benefit from the gardening and cooking skills promoted by the course, there are often other motivations for signing up, including counteracting isolation in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. The participants come from a variety of backgrounds: from recent university graduates to asylum seekers, people living with diverse mental and physical health challenges and people experiencing homelessness, amongst others.


‘I have no cooking facilities at my hostel. I look forward to Raking & Baking, knowing that I’m going to enjoy myself meeting new people and have a healthy meal this week.’

A Raking & Baking attendee



In January 2023, SWCA contacted SMV with a request for funding that would be used to continue organising the popular courses.

A grant of £3,000 enabled SWCA to run four Raking & Baking courses between February and September 2023, each with eight people learning how to grow vegetables and herbs, and cook them in delicious meals that they could repeat at home. In keeping with SWCA’s approach to bring communities together, the Project Coordinator also invited the attendees to bring to the group a bit of their own cuisine, which was incorporated into the course and helped to encourage greater understanding of other cultures.

‘Making dahl on the course was great. It’s delicious and healthy – I’ve made it at least once a week since. I’ve learnt it’s easier than I thought to make good food at home.’

A Raking & Baking attendee

The feedback from participants highlights the positive benefit of attending Raking & Baking: “Welcoming”, “life-changing”, “educational” and “hopeful” are some of the words typically used to describe their experience. As a result of the course, attendees have been motivated to grow their own vegetables; for many this was the first time they had ever cooked ingredients that they had grown themselves. They have also been inspired to try new recipes, with greater confidence that healthy and delicious homecooked food is achievable. After attending, 60% of attendees reported feeling physically healthier and more likely to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The feedback also shows that, for many, attending the course has significantly improved their wellbeing: four out of five attendees reported reduced levels of isolation, while a similar proportion reported that they felt happier and more confident after the course. Many resolved to make more time for physical activity such as gardening, having appreciated both the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outside in nature. The communal aspect of cooking and eating together was also recognised by the attendees as supporting their mental health, which was amplified by the opportunity for them to share and learn from people from all different walks of life, with whom they might never usually come into contact.

‘The course has been so inspiring. I’ve made new friends and I’m eating healthier. I’m now growing fresh herbs in my garden. My depression and anxiety have improved so much through this course and my confidence has grown.’

A Raking & Baking attendee

Jeanie’s story

Jeanie was initially an attendee on Raking & Baking but now she volunteers to help run the course and recently started a drop-in coffee morning for ex-project participants.

‘For me coming on Raking & Baking was about trying to shift the lockdown mentality. The first few weeks were touch and go, I found it so hard to get out and do something, but I was very glad I did. The course really helped my self-esteem; I was suddenly back involved with something again and connecting with people.

I seized the opportunity to volunteer with both hands, it felt like a lifeline. The volunteering has given me back a sense of place in the world, something just for me. Pretty much every week there is a moment with a participant that inspires me, makes me think differently. For example, I spent time with two Somalian women who told me all about their religion, culture and food. One week we supported them to prepare a Somalian feast.

After chatting with one participant I realised that people loved the course but needed something afterwards, some continuity. So we came up with the idea of a R&B drop-in coffee morning for ex-participants. We’ve had eight sessions so far and they are firmly established. It’s a really sociable group, I’ve made friends with new people who I would never have met.’

Rahma’s story

Rahma attended a Raking & Baking course and also uses the Food Share programme. During Raking & Baking she helped to make jams and chutneys, using leftover summer produce from the garden. At the Community Centre Christmas Fayre, Rahma and two of her children went around offering jam tasters to people attending. The jams and chutneys were sold out within two hours and raised £126 for the Food Share programme.

‘At Raking and Baking I’ve made new friends that I feel like I’ve known my whole life. After attending I even led a session at the community farm, teaching people how to make the dahl curry recipe that we made on the course. I felt so good doing it.

 My wellbeing has improved – it gives me time away just for me where I can talk to other people outside of my family, and I feel more confident.

 The kids are still talking about the Christmas fayre. The money we raised benefits me, my family and others in my community. We are so grateful to the Food Share.’