IT has been a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable people and just the thought of having a home-cooked meal delivered to them has been a comfort during these times.

However, award-winning charity Food Train's Meal Makers has become much more than that, it is helping to combat loneliness and keep people connected.

Now the project, which pairs volunteer cooks with older people across Scotland, is celebrating an important milestone an has delivered its 30,000th meal.

The target was reached by Meal Makers, an innovative scheme credited with not only ensuring older Scots enjoy a good meal but in tackling loneliness.

Read more: Scottish tourism leaders unite to grow industry with climate change commitment

It has been celebrated by one pairing for whom food has brought friendship and enriched both of their lives, as well as being congratulated by Scotland’s Public Health Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick.

Meal Makers, established in 2014 with support including that from the Scottish Government, is part of Food Train, the organisation best known for improving the lives of older people living at home through its shopping delivery service.

It connects people who love cooking and are happy to share an extra portion of home-cooked food with an older person living nearby who appreciates a freshly-prepared meal and a chat.

Across Scotland about 1,000 people in 22 council regions are currently being supported by the project.

Alister Reid, service manager at Meal Makers, said: “That we have now topped 30,000 meals made and delivered is a remarkable achievement. We can’t thank all of our volunteer cooks enough.

“The difference that they help make to older peoples’ lives is remarkable. By bringing people together through food, we’re not only helping with their physical diet and health, but their mental wellbeing.

“A chat for a few minutes - even socially distanced in the current climate - as a nutritious home-cooked meal is delivered can really lift the spirit of an older person who may see very few people.

“And it has to be said that our volunteers are not just hugely committed but tremendously talented. Many of their meals are amazing.”

Read more: Coronavirus Scotland: Celebrity chef questions lockdown timing as areas enter level four restrictions

By turning the everyday activity of cooking into a volunteering opportunity, Meal Makers not only provides people a chance to share their time and skills flexibly, but strengthens community connections.

One of the friendships which Meal Makers has helped to form is that of Karen Alford and Agnes Burnside, both from Glasgow.

Mum-of-three Karen, 57, from Scotstoun, was partnered with great-grandmother Agnes, 72, who lives in a retirement home in nearby Jordanhill, since she started volunteering in 2018.

Every week, Karen takes Agnes a main meal and dessert, but they have become firm friends and they chat every couple of days.

Mrs Alford, who baked a special cake to mark Meal Makers’ 30,000th meal, said: “Cooking’s my thing, so Meal Makers is the ideal fit for me - using food to help older people feel less isolated.

“It’s so rewarding. I get more out of it than Agnes does, I think, because it's nice to develop a relationship with someone new. We’re very similar, which is lovely, and we’ve certainly become friends.”

Retired office and supermarket worker Mrs Burnside first had Food Train recommended to her by a nurse and became involved with Meal Makers from there.

She said: “I liked the idea of the company - and I don’t like microwave meals. I’ve always been a great baker and cook, but can’t do that any more, so thought that one home-cooked meal a week would make all the difference.

“Karen and I get on so well. She asks me about the cooking I used to do, all my old favourites - and sometimes uses me as her guinea pig when trying out new recipes for people and asks me what I think. She makes some fantastic ones.”

Mrs Burnside has even looked out some of her old cookbooks to go through with Mrs Alford.

“Karen makes me feel better about myself,” she added. “She makes me feel part of it, as though I am still able to cook. It’s so nice to feel involved.

“Apart from the friendship and homemade meals, Karen has helped me in so many ways. She’s a calming influence and if I’ve a problem she’ll always try her best to help me. I’ve got an iPad so I can keep in-touch with my children and grandchildren through Facetime during coronavirus. She helped me with that.

“Meal Makers makes a difference to so many people like this.”

Since being paired with the great-grandmother, Mrs Alfords’s support for older people with food has extended to, outwith Covid-19 restrictions, joining forces with a friend to create a monthly meal for others who live in her complex, which has turned into a fundraiser for Meal Makers. Since March she has even managed to deliver some desserts to them.

Mrs Alford added: “From my experience, food is the conduit to everything else. Food gives an avenue to form a relationship. It’s a way with which to engage with people - Agnes has given me recipes that she used to cook. Meal Makers is a great way to tackle isolation and give someone a meal.”

Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick congratulated the charity on their milestone meals target. He said: “We are delighted to learn that the Meal Makers project has reached, and now exceeded, an astounding 30,000 meals delivered in Scotland. This is an incredible milestone, and has been achieved under the unprecedented challenges faced through the coronavirus pandemic. We strongly value the work of Meal Makers and are proud to support them in their commitment to work with older people to eat well and age well.”

To find out how you can support its work go to