Sketch: The Minister for the Third Sector plays sous-chef in the lead-up to Volunteers' Week

"This needs some seasoning," declared Phil Hope as he stirred a pan full of vegetables at Newark Mind in Nottinghamshire last week.

Hope was there to help prepare lunch for people attending the charity's resource centre and, in advance of Volunteers' Week (1-7 June), see first hand the contribution volunteers make to supporting people with mental health problems.

For all Hope's show of culinary expertise, it didn't take a restaurant critic to note that the third sector minister is no Gordon Ramsay. Then again, as Nic Roberts, business manager at the mental health charity, pointed out, the potty-mouthed celebrity chef would not be welcome in an establishment that maintains a strict no-swearing policy.

For his part, Hope handled the heat in the charity's kitchen with admirable decorum, despite being required to pose for photos and conduct several interviews while making sure he didn't burn the onions for a pasta bake.

True, this intrepid reporter had to step into the breach and stir the mushrooms when the minister was dragged away to the games room to speak to a local radio station; but the service user and Captain Birdseye lookalike in charge of the galley seemed to think Hope had done his bit by then anyway.

The captain - also known as Stuart Critchley - was a graduate of Newark Mind's men-only cookery group. However, Hope rather spoiled the idyll of male domestic servitude by confessing that his wife did the cooking at home. There was also the revelation that gardening duties chez Hope were strictly divided between vegetables (his) and flowers (hers). "It's a stereotype, but I'm afraid it's true," the minister lamented.

The dozen or so assembled service users and councillors were complimentary about the finished dish. However, awe in the presence of power was certainly not in evidence.

"We decided to do what we normally do and let them take us as they found us," said Roberts after Hope had left.

Captain Birdseye chipped in that he had left his best clothes in his wardrobe. But he was grateful for the minister's visit nonetheless. "Mental health has a bit of a stigma, so it's been good to show we're not all mad axemen," he said.

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