AN 81-YEAR-OLD food crusader and ex-restaurateur from Dorset has been awarded a 2020 National Lottery Award in the Education category.

Tony Gibbons, from Dorset, set up The Friendly Food Club in 2005 to address the lack of education and confidence among families about healthy and nutritious food in the Townsend area.

He started weekly cooking workshops to encourage families to cook together, have fun and learn about nutrition at the same time.

A believer in ‘pester power’, he set out to encourage children to persuade parents to shop smarter and embrace a healthier lifestyle.

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, families were no longer able to meet for Tony’s cooking classes. However, the 81-year-old cooked-up a complete restructure of the club’s free classes.

Tony said: “I am a strong believer that food is a catalyst for so many things – confidence, improved health and making friends.

“That is why, thanks to National Lottery funding, I have been able to continue my work with The Friendly Food Club and make a difference to the lives of families who need the club most.”

So, Tony and a team of volunteers created a Cookbox – each one containing all the ingredients to make healthy meals together, plus quizzes, games, facts about the food and activities to support home learning.

Cookboxes have been delivered to families across many parts of Dorset including Bournemouth, Weymouth, Swanage and Poole.

Tony encouraged recipients to share the meals they made via their social media channels in order to keep them engaged in healthy eating and nutrition, as well as socialising with other families.

Tony has been named winner of the Education category in the 2020 National Lottery Awards and he received a congratulatory message from BBC Saturday Kitchen star and celebrity chef Matt Tebbutt.

Matt Tebbutt said: “Tony’s Friendly Food Club is absolutely vital for educating and engaging so many families in the importance of healthy eating.

“It’s also an incredible organisation for getting vulnerable people together to support one another – especially through these challenging times.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, they have made a massive difference to the lives of so many families – well done Tony!”

In November 2016, The Friendly Food Club received £10,000 of National Lottery funding. In February 2020 the project received a National Lottery grant of £14,736, followed by a grant of £11,800 in May 2020 allowing the project to continue delivering Cookboxes throughout lockdown.

National Lottery players raise around £30 million to good causes every week. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, The National Lottery has distributed support packages of up to £600 million across arts, sports, heritage, education and the environment.