Hairy Bikers’ Meals on Wheels is at 9pm on BBC2
A great British tradition
The Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) started Meals on Wheels during the war. Some generous ladies in Welwyn Garden City pooled their rations and cooked meals to feed the elderly and vulnerable in their community. Every day they would deliver a hot meal, wrapped in a towel and — just as critically — stop for a chinwag with the beneficiaries.
Those women understood that no matter how old you are, you should be afforded the dignity of good food; the joy and comfort it provides. What we hadn’t anticipated was how much fun we would have making this series, hearing the wonderful stories of these 80- and 90-year-olds who were completely unfazed by the cameras and would tell it like it is.
It’s what the traditional Meals on Wheels service is all about: good food and social interaction. If we don’t do something now we’re going to lose it for ever.
Why are Meals on Wheels at risk?
Eight years ago Meals on Wheels delivered 34 million meals a year. Since then that number has been cut by a third. What’s always been a discretionary service is now more complicated than ever.
Some services are run by local councils, others by charities, volunteers and private companies. It’s a postcode lottery, with some local authorities failing to provide anything at all.
Many more have replaced Meals on Wheels with a frozen food service: once a fortnight 14 pre-cooked reheatable meals are delivered, depriving many people of the daily contact with a human. No account is taken if they’re sick, confused or simply dislike the food.
What if you have arthritis and find it tricky to open packets or work the microwave? We went on a diet of those frozen meals for a week and it was disgusting: frozen cabbage that dissolved to slurry and industrial mince. What kind of a society feeds that to its elders?
So why should we save it?
The fastest growing segment of the UK population is the over-85s. There are 1.5 million Brits over the age of 85 and that figure is very likely to double in the next 20 years. At that age, you may need a little help in the kitchen, but that little bit of help could keep you out of care, which is ultimately far more expensive.
Meals on Wheels saves so much money and provides so much happiness; we’ve seen how much it means to people who live alone, who otherwise might not see anybody for days on end — and that’s invaluable. It’s a great British culinary tradition and to destroy it is ridiculously short-sighted.
Hairy Bikers’ Meals on Wheels starts tonight at 9pm on BBC2