skip to main content

Cooking up a storm: celebrating three years of partnership with Cyrenians

26 February 2019

Caroline E. GibsonSue O’Neill-Berest and Jan Dewing discuss a reciprocal arrangement between Queen Margaret University and Cyrenians that has stimulated scholarly work, enhanced teaching and research links and provided opportunities for students and staff.

We are approaching the third anniversary of the partnership agreement between Queen Margaret University (QMU) and Cyrenians.

Cyrenians is a Scottish charitable organisation that supports the health and wellbeing of individuals and families who live with poverty, homelessness and social exclusion.

Both organisations celebrate commitment to social justice and share core values of innovation, creative working practices, and a willingness to challenge convention.

Caroline E Gibson
Caroline E Gibson

Within the Division of Nursing a unique clinical academy has facilitated creative partnership working with Cyrenians. The clinical academy aims to: ‘“tune-in” to the practice context, to work and collaborate with practitioners and to normalise the work of academics and practitioners in each other’s’ usual setting’ 1 .

This reciprocal arrangement has stimulated scholarly work, enhanced teaching and research links and provided opportunities for students and staff to participate in Cyrenians ‘Good food programme’2.

The Good Food programme is designed to enhance participants’ coping skills, self-agency and resilience through development of independent living skills including healthy cooking, menu planning and budgeting.  Furthermore the classes offer participants the opportunity to share a meal together to develop and enhance social connections.

As part of clinical academic practice Caroline Gibson, a senior lecturer in nursing, QMU and Sue O’Neill-Berest, food education manager at Cyrenians and current postgraduate student on the MSc Professional and Higher Education programme, have worked collaboratively to design and deliver cookery classes for year 1 QMU students. These classes respond to recent evidence that UK students may be at risk of food poverty 3,4  and our learning gained from joint  teaching sessions with year 1 nursing students.

While nutrition is known to be significant for brain development in utero, childhood and adolescence 5,6  there is now increasing recognition  that the brain continues to develop between ages 18-25, a period known as  late adolescence 7,8.

Many of the young people transitioning to university are in late adolescence and effective nutrition continues to be important at this stage. However, university students are at risk of making unhealthy food choices due to cost, competing spending priorities, availability of healthy foodstuff and unfamiliarity with food utilization 3.

There appears to be particular vulnerability of food insecurity amongst school leavers, thoseliving out with the parental home and at examination periods whichhas potential to influence health, wellbeing and academic performance  9,10,11.  For many, university is where long lasting health behaviours are developed 12and so inadequate nutrition at this stage  can also have important long-term consequences for individual and societal health and wellbeing.   Moreover, food and eating with others has social and cultural significance and ‘successful’ transition to university includes both academic achievement and integration into social aspects of university life 13.

Our project draws on the knowledge, skills and materials developed by Cyrenians for their Food Education Programme. To our knowledge, the partnership between QMU and Cyrenians is the first Scottish initiative where these teaching and learning approaches have been applied to a HE student cohort. The classes have been attended and commended by chancellor and healthy eating campaigner Prue Leith, who recently opened Cyrenians purpose-built upgraded cook school.

To date we have jointly delivered two cohorts of cooking classes supported by funding from Santander Universities and WISeR (Widening participation and Student Retention).

In our workshop we aim to provide an overview of our project and discuss our interim results and student feedback. We will discuss the links between healthy eating and wellbeing in late adolescence, debate the contention that young persons at university in the UK constitute a food insecure group and demonstrate some of the approaches used to engage the student cook.


  1. Division of Nursing 2015. Strategic Plan 2015-18. Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
  2. Cyrenians 2019. Food education [online] [viewed 20 Feb 2019]
  3. HUGHES, R., SEREBRYANIKOVA, I., DONALDSON, K. and LEVERITT, M., 2011. Student food insecurity: The skeleton in the university closet. Nutrition & Dietetics, vol 68, no 1, pp.27-32.
  4. GURNEY-READ, J., 2016. Students ‘going without food’ to meet costs of university. Telegraph [online][viewed 05 Feb 2019] Available from:
  5. DAS, J.K et al 2017. Nutrition in adolescents: physiology, metabolism and nutritional needs. Annals of the new York Academy of Science,Vol 1393, No 1, pp 21-33 [online] [viewed 20 Feb 2019]
  1. CUSICK, S.E., & GEORGIEFF, M.K., 2016. The role of Nutrition in brain development: the golden opportunity of the first 1000 days. Journal of Pediatrics. Vol175, pp 16-21 [online] [viewed 20 Feb 2019]
  2. WALLIS, L., 2013. Is 25 the new cut off point for adulthood. [online] [viewed 20 Feb 2019]
  1. ARNONE, J.M., 2014. Adolescents may be older than we think: Today 25 is the new 18, or is it?  International Journal of Celiac disease. Vol 2, no 2 [online] [viewed 20 Feb 2019]
  1. GAINES, A., ROBB, C.A., KNOL, L.L. and SICKLER, S., 2014. Examining the role of financial factors, resources and skills in predicting food security status among college students. International Journal of Consumer Studies,Vol 38, no 4, pp.374-384.
  2. GLIK, D. and MARTINEZ, S., 2017. College students identify university support for basic needs and life skills as key ingredient in addressing food insecurity on campus. California Agriculture, Vol 71, no 3, pp.130-138.
  3. HENRY, L., 2017. Understanding Food Insecurity Among College Students: Experience, motivation, and local solutions.Annals of Anthropological Practice,Vol 41, no1, pp.6-19.
  4. DOHERTY, S., CAWOOD, J. and DOORIS, M., 2011. Applying the whole-system settings approach to food within universities. Perspectives in Public Health,Vol 131, no 5, pp.217-224.
  5. THOMAS, L., HILL, M., O’MAHONEY, J., YORKE, M.  What works? Student retention and success. Supporting student success: strategies for institutional change. Final report. [online] [viewed 05 Feb 2019] Available from:

The national food conference, Biting Back: transforming food experiences for Scotland's children will take place on 20 March in Musselburgh, and is being held in partnership between Children in Scotland and Queen Margaret University.

The Learning Guide

Browse our range of upcoming training and events

Click here to download

Food, Families, Futures

Find out more about our food poverty and wellbeing project

Click to read more