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Youth Club Cooking at Cactus Kitchens

Elizabeth Lloyd-Owen08 April 2016

Baking bread and making butter, cooking a fajita dinner, stirring up a soaring soufflé and a cool banana ice cream were all on the menu for youngsters from Providence House Youth Club in Clapham when they joined us at Cactus Kitchens this spring for a series of cooking classes. They also visited our friendly local butcher, Moens, for a lesson in jointing and skinning a chicken (something many adults can’t do). And for a few, there was even a surprise encounter with Michel Roux Jr preparing for his turn on Saturday Kitchen...

The young people have all been taking part in a programme teaching essential life skills. Cookery School director Anna Ratcliffe is keen to build on the success of the 2015 Battersea Summer Scheme when local youngsters took over the cookery school kitchen and dining room to gain a taste of the hospitality industry. The school is eager to go on sharing its fabulous resources with the local community.

So when Esther Clevely, Senior Youth Worker at Providence House invited Michel Roux Jr Cookery School to participate in two of the youth club’s latest initiatives for 11-16 year-olds, the Little Miss and the Wise Guys projects, “We were delighted to throw open the kitchen again and the kids were thrilled to return.”

For children and families worker, Nina Dei, it has been “an excellent opportunity for young people who have a passion for cooking.”

Besides offering a great day out and some tasty creations to take home, the cooking experience days have a serious purpose. Designed to teach valuable life skills, and emotional and physical wellbeing, both Little Miss and Wise Guys challenge stereotypes and discourage anti-social behaviour and isolation. And judging from the comments of the young cooks, the time in the kitchen fosters confidence and a sense of achievement.

“I felt independent because I was doing it on my own.”
“I wasn’t getting bossed around.”
“I liked it because I got my own space to cook and had to sort out my own ingredients.”


Providence House has been serving the community around Clapham Junction for over 50 years and is an invaluable resource for young people and most importantly a safe space that is not school or home. Many of today’s volunteers found a haven at the youth club when they were growing up and are eager to pass on the benefits they received to a new generation. Carpenter and youth club volunteer Phil Dorman who first learnt his trade as a teenager at Providence House was with the Wise Guys in the kitchen kneading bread.

There is a waiting list to join the Little Miss programme. Says Clevely, “it gives the girls an opportunity to talk about their feelings and exposes them to new ideas, experiences and perspectives in a creative way”. 

The girls enrolled on the Little Miss project take part in a wide range of structured activities over a sustained period, dealing with fitness, healthy eating, inner and outer beauty, self-esteem and confidence. The length of the project means the participants really appreciate the benefits and rewards of consistent effort and perseverance and it can raise expectations and ambitions.

Esther has no doubt about the impact on the girls and boys of their visits to Cactus Kitchens, “The young people have been completely engaged and attended several times which show just how much they have enjoyed the cooking experience…There is a real sense that Cactus Kitchens is committed to the wider community for which we are so grateful.”

On Saturday afternoon, it was Providence House’s turn to play host. Anna and Home Economist Harriet were invited to a celebration for the girls who had successfully completed the Little Miss Project. It was also an opportunity for the participants to show off their culinary skills when Harriet and the girls set to work making cheese straws to share with proud parents and guests.


Anna hopes that all girls and boys who visit Cactus Kitchens will be inspired by the experience and will see that cooking can be far more than an essential life skill and can open the door to rewarding career opportunities.

The Battersea Summer Scheme returns to Cactus Kitchens later this year and we hope to continue supporting the Little Miss and Wise Guys projects with Providence House.