Natalie Williams
Empowered for life

Last night, I started a ‘cooking from scratch’ basic cookery course. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m in my mid-30s yet have never learnt to cook. I wasn’t taught at home; I do remember some lessons at school but I think they pretty much involved spreading pre-cut toppings over a shop-bought pizza base, for the most part.
I’ve been thinking about learning to cook for a long time, but I was worried I wouldn’t be any good at it. I have some lovely friends who cook for me fairly often, but I always feel really uncomfortable during the food preparation. I’ll usually ask: “Is there anything I can do to help?” because I want to be polite, but on the inside I’m desperately hoping they won’t ask me to do anything remotely complicated... like chopping an onion!

I’m not joking: I realised as I drove home from my first cookery class that I have felt some pretty full-on anxiety and actually quite a lot of shame every time I’ve been in that situation. And though it’s a situation I’m in often, the feelings haven’t abated at all. If anything, they’ve increased. The anxiety is about looking stupid for doing it wrong – I did once almost put a whole bulb of garlic into a meal I was cooking for a friend because I thought it was a clove! The shame is in the fact that I feel that everyone else knows the ‘right’ way of doing things and I really should know by my age.
Lately a few factors have conspired to make me take the plunge and sign up for a course. Last night I had my first two-hour lesson and the best word to describe how I felt on the drive home is ‘empowered’.
The chef started the session by saying that he would explain literally everything because he was assuming no knowledge or experience at all. That plucked shame out of the equation straight away: because he had no expectations we couldn’t fail, and he levelled the playing field by putting everyone at the starting blocks. He then taught us how to chop onions, carrots, celery and garlic. I imagine this sounds ridiculously easy to most people reading this, but to me, seeing how ‘doing it right’ involves just a few simple techniques felt liberating – I actually said to someone else in the class: “It’s like magic!”
I was half-joking, but the serious side to it – and the reason I’m writing about it now even though it’s a bit embarrassing – is that I feel like I really grasped something tonight of what it’s like to feel that life skills you’ve always lacked are finally within your reach. When someone comes alongside you and instead of making you feel ashamed of what you can’t do, equips you with the skills you need, it is genuinely empowering.
Turns out I have “exceptional chopping skills” for a beginner, which has transformed my shame into pride and put a big grin on my face that feels thoroughly disproportionate to the reality of learning to chop an onion. But if something so small can make such a difference, then I can’t help but wonder how utterly life-changing it could be to teach general life skills to people in our towns and cities who lack them. It’s given me a fresh appreciation for budgeting courses, parenting courses, marriage courses, job clubs and all the other initiatives being run by churches all across Britain to empower people and equip them to change their lives for the better.
What could you or your church consider running to empower people in your communities?
You can still book in for this year’s Churches that Change Communities conference here.