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Meals on Wheels - respect, independence and community

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Lisa Edwards Lisa Edwards | 16:59 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

The Hairy Bikers

I remember very vividly the smell that used to greet me on entering my Grandma's house, the smell of traditional home cooking. A piece of meat roasting in the oven, potatoes dug up from the garden.

When my Grandma got too old to cook for herself (she steadfastedly refused to go into a home until she was 93!) she was eligible for the local Meals on Wheels, I know she relished the daily visit that this amazing service offered, a hot meal and a chat with someone from her local community and it took the pressure off my own busy Mum.

So when the idea for Hairy Bikers' Meals on Wheels landed on my desk I was instantly drawn to it. I knew it could be a series that would resonate and address some of the big issues of an ageing population in hard economic times. It absolutely felt like a public service programme, but the big challenge lay in how this might translate into the Reithian values of educational and entertaining television.

The thing that made this a really distinctive proposition, for me, was The Hairy Bikers. They are home cooks who have an amazing affinity with people. They also had personal experience of some of the issues in the series - both Dave & Si had cooked for their mothers through illness and old age so they knew the importance good fresh food could make. I knew they would bring real value to the subject and that this was going to be much more than a chop-and-cook style TV show; this idea would have a real emotional investment.

This commission was never about badgering cash-strapped councils or taking on big businesses We all agreed what this series was about was showing love and heart through food and time and really making a difference.

The Hairy Bikers know food - this was the easy part. However, this series needed to be about so much more than food. It was about rallying a volunteer force to cook and deliver the food and to change its old-fashioned profile to appeal to a whole new generation and inspire them to come forward to help the elderly people in their community. A lot of the under 35s we talked to didn't even know what Meals on Wheels was!

We focused on two different models, a council in Elmbridge that had an existing MOW service but one that was on the brink of collapse due to ever-tighter budgets and an ageing volunteer force. And an area in Yorkshire - Slaithwaite - where there was no existing MOW at all. What we tried to achieve was to show that if people care enough, have the passion, the enthusiasm and the drive to make a difference, they really can, whether that's improving on an existing service or starting one from scratch.

We managed to get a leading ad agency on board to rebrand the service which gave the series a real boost, as did support from a number of celebrities. Making a difference is really what's at the heart of this series. Meals on Wheels is about respect, independence and community, whether that's giving an hour of your time to drive meals to those that need them once a fortnight, or fundraising to start a brand new service like our amazing ladies in Slaithwaite.

We knew it was important for this series to have a life after it had transmitted. BBC Online and BBC Learning both invested in the project and managed to get the UK's leading volunteering website Do-it involved in the series, so if people were inspired to do something after watching the programmes they could simply click on the website and find out how they could help in their local area.

It's amazing how many different opportunities are out there over and above Meals on Wheels and details of all these are on the website. Dave and Si say in one of the episodes; "we don't want to be those two blokes who do something for the telly then walk away and it all falls apart." We all wanted this series to have a legacy. After the first episode transmitted last Tuesday, the BBC and Optomen were almost over-whelmed with people offering to volunteer. We hope it's struck a chord with people across the country and that you enjoy the rest of the series.

Lisa Edwards is Commissioning Executive for Hairy Bikers Meals on Wheels

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