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Derbyshire County Council has a long history of serving healthy and nutritious school meals. All its primary schools have at least a silver award in the Soil Association’s Food For Life Served Here (previously known as the Catering Mark), while seven have gold.
In its 71st year of operation, the council’s school meals division – Derbyshire Catering Services (DCS) – is still looking for ways to improve, and has won the 2017 Innovation Award for its healthy lifestyle events. The initiative began in 2007 with school visits and has since progressed to a full day of activities, alternating each year between primary schools and secondary schools.
Last year was its biggest event to date, with year six pupils in DCS schools invited to attend two days of fun-focused healthy lifestyle activities at Lea Green, an education and adventurous activity centre owned by the council.
Formerly a stately home, Lea Geen is set in 25 acres of rolling countryside on the edge of the Peak District, and its staff provide outdoor activities for part of the day while workshops are delivered in the sports hall. Last year’s theme was the Rio 2016 Olympics, with sessions on Brazilian drumming and dancing, making meatballs and fruit kebabs, as well as a Love Food Hate Waste workshop.
The idea is to give children the chance to try new skills without worrying about failing or making a mess. The healthy lifestyle events do more than broaden horizons; they also challenge the perception of school catering providers as taking a service-only approach.
Many councils might view this speculateto- accumulate strategy as risky, but DCS takes the responsibility of spending public money seriously. It emphasises that its events ultimately contribute to a healthier lifestyle for children now and into the future.
The events are delivered on a shoestring budget, and benefit from the support and creativity of catering staff. DCS may have a 1,500-strong kitchen-based workforce and a £24m annual turnover, but its head office team is small, and just one person does all the marketing and business development.
DCS says a Challenge Anneka vibe develops when it comes to contacting suppliers and internal departments to call in favours and bag freebies for its events. Last year it managed to get the likes of bottled drinks donated, half-price salad and fruit, free chicken for lunches, and free use of a fridge and freezer to store food ahead of the event.
Feedback from the healthy lifestyle events has been overwhelmingly positive. One primary school teacher said her pupils were initially against the idea of attending but “the day was packed full of fun and learning. They enjoyed every single activity and buzzed about it all the way home”.
It is exactly the sort of response to an innovative approach to encouraging awareness of healthy food and lifestyles that the event organisers had hoped for.
What the judges said
“Kate Evans and her team at Derbyshire County Council defied the challenges of bureaucracy to deliver initiatives that were fully focused on improvements on many levels. Dealing with health, lifestyle and food waste issues, the team drove through initiatives with great outcomes.”
John Nugent, Green & Fortune
“Derbyshire County Council demonstrated real innovation in its approach to a fantastic eating campaign. It is good to see this kind of creativity coming through in a demanding economic sector.”
Chris Mitchell, the Genuine Dining Co
Derbyshire County Council
2016 ISS Food & Hospitality
2015 Andy Jones ISS Healthcare & the Hospital Caterers Association
2014 The Genuine Dining Co
2013 Manchester Fayre Manchester City Council