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New Year's Honours: London Fields philanthropist Alicia Weston wins BEM for teaching people to cook and budget with Bags of Taste

PUBLISHED: 22:30 28 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:21 31 December 2018

Alicia Weston leads a cooking class with her non-profit organisation Bags of Taste. Picture: Mehul Derodra

Alicia Weston leads a cooking class with her non-profit organisation Bags of Taste. Picture: Mehul Derodra

© Mehul Derodra 2016

Alicia Weston, who has won a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year's Honours list, has so far helped teach 1,500 vulnerable and disadvantaged people to cook and budget - and counting.

Alicia Weston leads a cooking class with her non-profit organisation Bags of Taste. Picture: Mehul Derodra Alicia Weston leads a cooking class with her non-profit organisation Bags of Taste. Picture: Mehul Derodra

After moving to Hackney in the early 2000s, Alicia founded her non-profit organisation Bags of Taste in 2014, quitting an 18-year career as an investment banker in the process. She focused on the area to trial the cooking courses as a way of giving back to the community around her.

“I’ve taught over 1,000 people in Hackney,” she said, “and what’s fantastic is that a lot of them go on to volunteer with us.”

Alicia, now 48, moved to the UK as a child. She now lives near London Fields.

“I was born in Malaysia and grew up in Indonesia in the ’70s,” she said, “and these were real developing countries.

“I’ve seen in my lifetime these countries develop and I’ve seen people’s lives get better. I know if you do something, things can improve.”

She set up Bags of Taste in 2010 after teaching some “disappointing” cooking classes at Crisis. “Although people enjoyed the lessons,” she said, “they weren’t going home and cooking.

“So I went away and thought about it for about three years.

“I did the pilot in March 2014 and by lesson three, people were coming up to me and telling me we had changed their lives.”

Unlike other cooking courses, Bags of Taste provides courses that use both cooking and budgeting skills to prepare healthy and affordable meals, with more than 60 recipes averaging out at just £1 a portion.

In the last three years, Bags of Taste has delivered more than 200 courses to 1,500 students, and sold 30,000 affordable cooking bags.

“It’s not your typical cooking class,” said Alicia. “We change people’s diets for good and the impacts will hopefully stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

Reflecting on winning the award, she added: “It makes me very happy because somebody has noticed that we are making a difference here. And that means it’s not just for me, but it’s for everyone involved.”

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