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Community kitchen connects Narrandera

Posted on : 20 December 2016

WORDS: Alexandra Malfroy

Article first appeared RAS Times November 2012

The community of Narrandera, in southern NSW, benefited from a community kitchen thanks to the initiative of resident Ashley Murphy and support of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation.

In 2011, 21 year-old Ashley Murphy, a farm labourer from Narrandera, had an idea.  Greatly involved with his community in the Riverina district, he had visions of restoring their town's community kitchen to create a healthy, positive environment for the people of Narrandera.

"Having grown up in the community and been involved with the local youth group for some years now, and more recently in a leadership role, I became aware of some of the needs in the community - especially for our youth and children," says Ashley.

Among some of the social problems facing Narrandera are a higher than average level of single parent families, financial hardship for many in the community and a lack of basic life skills among many of the youth, which Ashley says he has seen first-hand through his youth work.

"The Community Kitchen idea came about as a way to address poor nutrition and irregular meal patterns, while instilling positive family values," says Ashley. "Simple things like sharing a meal as a family, working together to prepare meals for one another and basic cooking skills are important for children and young people to learn."

Narrandera's old community kitchen, housed in the town's old cinema as part of the local Christian Community Church, was out-dated and not compliant with health and safety standards.

Demonstrating initiative beyond his years, Ashley applied for a Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation (RASF) Community Futures Grant. His application was successful and he was awarded $25,000 dollars to kick-start his project.

Then Ashley was dealt another positive surprise. Bunnings, the supplier of the 2012 Sydney Royal Easter Show exhibition kitchen in the Woolworths Fresh Food Dome, generously offered to donate the kitchen to a rural community. There was clearly no better home for it than the Narrandera Community Kitchen project.

"I was overwhelmed with Bunnings’ generous offer and the quality and size of the kitchen," says Ashley, who inspected the kitchen with his father Trevor, at the Show. The donated kitchen included all of the cabinetry; cook tops; a sink, oven and microwave; and a smaller outdoor kitchen.

Shortly after the 2012 Show, the kitchen was packed and freighted to Narrandera where it has been installed. "The kitchen, with its shiny red and grey exterior, has a modern and stylish look about it," says Ashley. "It's such an improvement of what we had before; it just looks so great."

With the kitchen in place, new lighting and the new floor in progress, the kitchen and hall are set to be officially opened later this year. With the RASF's $25,000 grant Ashley and his committee were able to replace the rusty roof on the hall that houses the kitchen, as well as re-line the walls and install lighting and a new floor.

Despite the project idea coming from Ashley, the humble man is quick to point out it has been a team effort. He says the project has brought many people from across the community together, from the youth group, local flooring company and electrician and the entire church community.

"So many people have lent a hand and hammered a few nails, painted a wall, wired in new lighting and maneuvered the new kitchen cupboards and appliances into place.  Everyone has donated their time," says Ashley.

Ashley has big plans for the kitchen, including a weekly 'soup night' to provide a healthy meal for families facing financial hardship, as well as cooking classes for young people to learn basic skills. He also says the community has plans to use the new facility for other events, such as functions, dance classes and art festivals.

"In a small rural community such as ours, to have programs and activities that provide safe, family-orientated activities is important," says Ashley. "I really hope some of the programs we can now run for our youth and children will develop skills so they can have a brighter future."

The project has also taught Ashley new skills and increased his self-confidence. "It's a really good feeling to do something for your community that you know will benefit so many people," he says. "I encourage other young rural people to think about what they could do for their community and have a go. It's amazing what can be achieved and the difference you can make."