In Memory of Lesley MackleyFran
Lesley Mackley was one of the quiet heroes of both food education and food writing in the U.K. We were so sad to hear of her death in March this year and were extremely moved and grateful when Lesley’s family (Tilly, Mark and Henry) contacted us to say that instead of flowers at her funeral, they would like to have donations to TastEd. Tilly (Lesley’s daughter) wrote to say that Lesley was ‘a great supporter of your work’ as well as being deeply involved in food education projects herself.
For those who didn’t know Lesley and her work, here are some memories of her from among the many who loved her. The food writer Xanthe Clay, who knew her well, writes that
‘Lesley knew the importance of good food, insisting that it should be available and affordable to everyone. She treasured her local shops, farmers and producers, but knew that their survival was in peril. Educating children and adults so that they have both practical cooking skills and an appreciation of eating well was the key to her vision of a thriving future community.
Above all Lesley wanted to impart the joy of a good meal to the next generation. The last time I saw her was at a family supper round the table, an evening punctuated with wine, talk, and Lesley’s throaty chuckle. We ate slow-braised lamb cooked by her
son Henry, followed by crisp, almond-fragrant tart baked by Lesley. It was typical of her collaborative, unfussy, deeply nourishing approach’.
Lesley Mackley’s food education work centred around the ‘Cooking Buses’ which for several years toured around schools in England and Wales until the funding stopped in 2015. When they were stationary, these buses opened up into spectacular teaching kitchens. The Cooking Bus sessions gave children a chance to see that learning to cook could be exciting as well as resulting in delicious and healthy food.
One of Lesley’s colleagues on the Cooking Bus, Richard Shaw, wrote to her family after her death to say that ‘I have to say that the world has lost one of the most fun-loving, kind, happy, genuine and sometimes scatty (but in a good way!) people I know. It was an honour to call her my work colleague, but more importantly my friend. We had some great times together on the cooking bus, not only in Wales but all over the UK. It was always wonderful watching her teach so passionately about food’. Richard also remembers how Lesley’s joyous enthusiasm for life continued after the cooking sessions had ended, including one day when she encouraged him to join in Morris dancing with rolling pins in Scotland.
After the end of the Cooking Bus scheme, Lesley – who was a member of the Guild of Food Writers – continued her food education work in schools around Ludlow. She was also a huge supporter of local food in Ludlow and a welcoming and warm presence at the Ludlow Food Festival.
It is also a tribute to Lesley’s ability to make good food seem inspiring that both her children, Tilly and Henry, went into careers in food. Tilly is a chef who until the pandemic had her own café in Bristol but who now works as a freelance chef.
A great cookery teacher can change someone’s relationship with food for life. Lesley Mackley’s legacy will live on.
By Bee Wilson, Chair of TastEd