Adult Learning

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

I, too, thank Colin Beattie for raising awareness of the digital kitchen workshop in Midlothian through his motion for the debate. It is a timely initiative that appears to suit the twin needs that we now have as a society that is technology driven and has problems with food. We are, of course, surrounded by technology in everything that we do, as has already been said. Whether we are looking to find out basic information, such as shop opening times, or applying for a job through an online portal, technology is there.

Not having the access or skills to use that technology self-evidently puts people at a basic disadvantage. Last year, a Citizens Advice Scotland survey of 1,200 of its clients found that 18 per cent never used the internet. That is almost one fifth of people, particularly adults, who are being left behind as younger generations take the technology that they use for granted, because they grow up with it all around them.

That one-fifth figure is also significant for other reasons. In 2016, only one fifth of adults in Scotland consumed the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables on the previous day—I confess that I do not think I have eaten my proper number of portions today—which was a significant decrease from 23 per cent in 2009. As a result of that, we are facing a worsening obesity and diabetes crisis.

For people who have the skills, cooking may feel like rather a simple exercise, allowing them to use healthy food in interesting and tasty ways. However, people who do not have the skills must resort to more unhealthy options—or feel that they must—which are often more expensive, even if they are easier to buy and more conveniently available. Bringing adults together in surroundings in which they can develop digital skills and learn how to cook healthy and affordable meals is, therefore, an excellent use of finite time and resources, and a model to be used elsewhere.

The workshop reminds me of a similar housing association initiative that I visited towards the beginning of my time as an MSP. The Clovie community garden in Clovenstone, which is run jointly by Prospect Community Housing and the edible estates initiative, brings together people in the community to grow an impressive variety of fruits and vegetables in the heart of Edinburgh. A series of cooking classes is organised, in which the produce is used to make tasty and cheap meals. I was treated to potatoes from the garden patch that I can from my first-hand experience were extremely good. What pleased me most, however, was the way in which the garden and the workshops clearly brought together people in the community and taught them valuable life skills. As Colin Beattie pointed out, those are especially important in areas of disadvantage.

I note that the Midlothian learning and development three-year plan for 2018 to 2021 highlights that an area for improvement is community empowerment related to food growing. Perhaps the next step for the digital kitchen workshop could be to replicate the Clovie community garden and grow the food, and I am sure that other parts of the country can learn from the good work being done in Midlothian.

Let me end by thanking everyone who gives their time to community-based adult learning. I hope that today’s debate shows how much that work is appreciated and how important it is.