Police officers dealing with an emergency need to be fed - and quickly. Eurest Criminal Justice aims to provide hot food within four hours of being called out, either from the local police station or in the field. Jane Baker reports.
It was 7pm on a hot July night when Nic Rowland, general manager for Eurest Criminal Justice (ECJ) North, received a call informing him that a disturbance had broken out in Bradford and emergency feeding for the police was needed.
What he didn't realise was that the emergency would last more than two weeks, and that he and his team would provide an extra 10,000 hot meals and more than 12,000 snack bag-meals to 12 police forces dealing with some of the worst rioting seen in Britain.
"Our main worry was bolstering supplies," says Rowland. Whereas his staff would normally make 100-150 sandwiches on site each day, soon they were making as many as 400 on site and bringing in a further 2,000 pre-prepared items every day.
He scoured the area for supplies, at one point clearing a warehouse of its entire stock of bottled water, but food never ran out. Initially, feeding was from local police stations in the Bradford area but, with the extra forces drafted in, numbers soon put these sites under pressure and the catering operation was relocated to a large warehouse at a police training centre. Cooked meals were provided from there, while packed meals were served from the central police station in Bradford.
Feeding the 500 Police officers came to eat in groups of 10 to 50, every two hours from 7.30am to 1.30am, but Rowland says there were times when the numbers were higher. "In this case, we'd have to get cooking," he says. "The first evening of the riots, we served 500 breakfasts at 1am."
It was the biggest emergency feeding operation ever carried out by ECJ, part of Compass Group's government services division, and followed the earlier headline-hitting Selby rail crash in February.
On this occasion, 24 hours after being called in to set up a full catering operation, Rowland and his team were serving steak-and-kidney pies in a marquee on farmland near the crash site. ECJ served 5,000 meals over 10 days with just three catering staff.
The contract specifies that, with off-site emergency feeding, the police provide the shelter, seating and generators, and ECJ provides the food equipment and disposables. "It was a bitterly cold day," Rowland recalls, "so food was a wholesome range of dishes such as hot pot, curries, sausage and mash, and roly poly pudding. Salads are served only in the summer."
Menus are already in place as part of the original contract. Catering in the field means no fryers, so chips are out, but Rowland always offers a range of potato dishes such as duchesse potatoes. Food is free to the officers, who also devour numerous chocolate bars to give them energy. Teas and coffees are provided, depending on the type of operation. Fizzy drinks used to be supplied but were found to be unsuitable for people exerting a lot of energy while wearing hot suits, and have been replaced with water.
Meals are not cooked on site. Food is prepared in the nearest appropriate police station and taken to the site in insulated stainless steel boxes that keep food hot for several hours. Meal times are agreed with the police. For Selby, breakfast was provided from midnight onwards, lunch from 11am to 3pm and evening meals from 6pm to midnight.
Although he works to an agreed budget, Rowland tries to ensure that the choice is right for the police. "The challenge is keeping everyone happy," he says. "Most are pleased to see us when we turn up on site, although a few complain because we cannot provide the same choice as in the staff cafeteria."
Catering staff are not given any training in how to deal with people who might be working under stressful circumstances, but at their job interview they are made aware of the environment. "We try and choose people who understand that a grumpy police officer might have been attending a traumatic incident, so they must make allowances," Rowland says. "Some people are good at recognising this, some aren't - we can't train this in."
The police also train catering staff in observational and attitudinal skills so that, should they be catering at the scene of an incident, such as a murder on the moors, they can deal with any questions from curious onlookers.
ECJ was set up by Compass Group 12 months ago to meet the demands of providing catering and support services for 21 police authorities across the country. "Up until then, all contracts in the police market were managed as part of our mix of business and industry," says Gerry Woods, director of Compass Group government services. "Now we've brought the authorities together and developed a best-value guide for the police to identify where best practice is occurring. And if, for example, an authority has financial restraints, we're able to look at an operation with similar budget levels."
ECJ's contract specifies that it must be ready to serve hot and cold beverages from the nearest available unit within two hours and provide a full meal service within four hours at the site of the emergency. To help meet these requirements, ECJ recently launched two unique vehicles, developed from the Chefmobile used for Compass's meals-on-wheels service.
"I was struck by the fact that the competition in the police authority marketplace was spending a lot of investment focusing on the staff cafeterias in stations, but not recognising the potential for the requirements of the front line," says Woods, who plans to have another four vehicles, called Re-energise vans, available by the end of the year.
Each van costs £35,000-£40,000 and has a 120-150 meal capacity, an enhanced hot-and-cold-beverage facility, and a lift-up tailgate complete with awning so that meals can be served under cover in a field operation. This means that, instead of a packed lunch, officers dealing with emergencies are now offered as many as five choices of hot main meal, such as breast of chicken curry and rice, and five desserts.
"Feedback from the client has been positive, and the impact on officers is huge," says Woods. "This is the first time they've come across something that has been tailored to their needs. It's a matter of finding out what's important to the police, and this means making sure that front-line forces are properly fed and looked after."
Dial 999 and ask for the chef
Last year was a busy one for ECJ, which is responsible for feeding police on emergency call-outs in all but three of its contracts.
In February, its West Yorkshire operation served 5,000 meals over 10 days to officers attending the Selby rail crash, and in the summer it provided more than 10,000 meals to officers from 12 police forces dealing with the Bradford riots.
ECJ was also called in by Merseyside police authority to provide 800 meals a day for soldiers and standby fire crews during the two-week strike by firefighters last summer. The operation was launched within three days of the request, and was run out of kitchens at two local police stations with help from the catering operation run by Compass subsidiary Letheby & Christopher at Haydock Park Racecourse.
All of this was in addition to calendar events such as pop festivals and horse racing.
Eurest Criminal Justice
Bede House, St Cuthberts Way, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham DL5 6UA
Tel: 01325 321734
Contracts: 21 police authorities