Personal story

Hepburn’s young people are cooking up a storm


The Cook, the Chef and Us is a mental wellbeing program designed to target young people who are at risk of disengagement from education. The program was an initiative of the Hepburn Local Drug Action Team, delivered through Hepburn Health in regional Victoria and funded by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

The Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) program empowers community organisations to form partnerships in their area and develop initiatives to prevent harms from alcohol and other drugs, using an evidence-based approach.

A group of sixteen Year 9 and 10 students from Daylesford Secondary College recently completed The Cook, The Chef and Us program, which used the hospitality industry as a platform to re-engage students in a different learning experience. This primary prevention approach aims to reach young people before they disengage from school completely, teach them new skills, build their confidence and show them they have other options for future job prospects.

Education and employment are key factors in primary prevention of alcohol and drug harms, especially for young people. The Hepburn LDAT partnered with Hepburn Shire Council, Highlands Local Learning and Employment Network, School Focused Youth Services and Spade to Blade Catering to implement the program.

During the program, the students spent one day a week for 19 weeks learning about the hospitality industry from mentors such as local businesses and employers. They learnt a wide range of skills including cooking, making coffee and serving food. Learning outside the classroom environment provided them with a break from school and the opportunity to learn life skills in an area they can be hands on and passionate about. The program participants received certificates to help them gain employment in the hospitality industry.

Parents of the students who attended The Cook, The Chef and Us reported that their teenagers came home with a completely changed attitude about learning and school, more confidence and a smile on their face. One student even asked his parents to reschedule the family holiday so he could attend all sessions, and they did!

The Cook, The Chef and Us showed these students that ‘book smart’ isn’t the only way to be intelligent, and that they have many options to find work that they love doing. Post-program evaluation has confirmed that many participants now have their sights set on a career in hospitality.

View the video to hear from participants themselves about their experience of The Cook, The Chef and Us program, and to find out more about this incredible community-led initiative.