In February 2014, the Government confirmed that in September 2014, all schools would be required to provide universal free meals for all Reception and Key Stage 1 children. As a head teacher of a one form entry school, in Aldridge, that left me with a dilemma, on many fronts:
I needed to provide a nutritious, value for money meal to all children in my school, in line with changes to statutory law.
I also needed to create an efficient, small working kitchen with limited space available, where meals could be cooked on premises, in keeping with the findings from parents’ questionnaires.
I also needed to appoint and train suitable staff to run and maintain the kitchen on behalf of the school.
All of this on a shoe string budget in approximately 4 months – that’s when I heard of Mike.
I had several options, including enlisting support from very well established catering companies, but, myself and the Governors, after much discussion, decided to speak with Mike at Unity Catering.
It became very apparent, after reading Mike’s paperwork and speaking with him both personally and at Governing body level, that he was the person we needed because:
his consultancy business offered value for money, whilst maintaining a sufficiently close level of supervision to enable me to delegate responsibility to him.
he also had a first class track record of experience of both managing and overseeing successful catering ventures.
he also offered a calm, bespoke confident package, which delivered every step of the way.
his professional, thorough “no nonsense” attitude to the venture, was a huge relief to a busy head teacher with limited knowledge of food hygiene or catering requirements.
his sense of humour was a welcome bonus in the face of an uphill challenge.
In September 2014, the kitchen was ready- it opened one week after the start of the new school year- exactly as we had planned. It now serves a minimum of 110 meals daily and this, we know, will continue to grow as the new academic year unfolds. It is a hub of activity which has become an asset to our school.
Here are some of the many areas Unity Catering supported us with.
Mike was able to:
• offer recommended suppliers
• oversee and support delivery of and installation of the kitchen, planned to his specification, within the space available
• organise the appointment and induction of new catering staff.
• arrange and deliver level 2 food hygiene,
• monitor and organise regular check up visits,
• set up nutritious menus to launch the kitchens and advise on all food and hygiene levels
• order and resource the kitchen, on a very tight budget, effectively
• implement changes to statutory law, in December 2014 in line with the 12 food allergens
His ability as a chef was also clearly visible when he assisted and coached in the early stages of food
service- thus presenting him to the kitchen staff as an excellent role model
Why Mike and Unity Catering- why not someone else?
1. Mike is great to have around school- he is professional with staff, respectful and patient around children, always supportive, whilst challenging people under his jurisdiction to improve and better the delivery in place- something I strongly admire.
2. He is able to communicate on many levels- from sharing complex systems to delivering simple, well expressed explanations to novices; from delivering to a group of Governors to putting people at their ease during interview.
3. His recommendations and early advice proved to be excellent- school received the highest recommendation from Environmental Health when they visited the kitchen premises, to ensure good practice. His layout of the kitchens was commented on as highly efficient and an excellent use of space for the users.
4. Children and visiting parents have openly valued and supported the various menus and recipes recommended and prepared by Mike- he continues to support their evolving amendments, in line with the needs and preferences of our children in our school.
5. Costings and estimations proved to be accurate and thorough.
6. Advice given to Governors instilled confidence- his personal approach and openness invited candid questioning and allayed fears.
In short, to summarise the venture, Mike made what seemed like the impossible, possible! He gave concrete advice and support in a calm and efficient manner. He has always offered a “Plan B” when a crisis is brewing. For example, when the school freezer tripped, Mike was on hand, quickly, to support and within 24hrs, had secured a temporary freezer for our use. He also supported the cooks in making safe the frozen goods and reducing the cost implications to the school. The school was unaffected and the service to children was delivered on time.
I would recommend Mike, unreservedly, as an expert in his field, a supportive colleague, a level headed business man and a much respected member of our team. My only reservation is that he openly supports “Villa”- something we intend to work on in the future!
Head teacher St Mary of the Angels Catholic Primary School