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Good Food Greater Manchester: Oldham School Catering

High quality food can be delivered without cost implications when there is both political support to do so and staff with a passion to achieve these standards.

No additional resources were made available to Oldham’s Education Catering Manager (Anne Burns) to achieve Bronze, Silver or Gold catering standard. However, the team did have the full support of the Council Leader (and this support has continued to date) as well as a dogged determination to source ingredients.

Food is prepared and cooked daily in each of the 86 school kitchens and served to the customers by the Catering Team on site.

The food is provided within the Greater Manchester Procurement framework with agreed suppliers acting as hubs to bring in food from smaller suppliers. By achieving this, Anne and her team have demonstrated that significant changes can be introduced within existing tendering/procurement arrangements. 

The organisation works with local suppliers where possible (Liveseys for fruit and vegetables, Brakes for grocery/Frozen and TC Meats for meat Oldham) and offers seasonal menus.

No price increase was necessary to deliver food to these high standards and the on plate cost did not change as they moved towards providing Gold Standard meals.

Without using terms like ‘sustainable food’ Oldham Education Catering provides a choice of 3 out of 5 meals a week that are meat free and one meal a week is badged as meat free.  Parents do not object to the menu choices offered and the food provided meets the school food plan standards.

The scale of Oldham Education Catering’s achievement is demonstrated by their success at the 2016 BOOM awards, where they were won the Public Sector Catering award. They were also Educatering Excellence Award Specialist of the year finalists in 2017

Why is this work important?

Public Sector procurement has the potential to drive change in food provision outside the home.

Through leading by example, local authorities, GMCA, and other large scale purchasers can provide food which will significantly impact positively on people’s health and wellbeing.

We hear much about the negative impact of unhealthy food in GM strategies. For example, the GM Population Health Plan talks about ‘food and obesity’ and ‘food and diabetes’. Yet there is no policy across Greater Manchester to provide healthier food in locations such as early years provision, schools, universities, care homes, hospitals or workplaces.

Cost is used as a reason for not providing food that can improve people’s health and wellbeing. Our case study of Oldham Education Catering demonstrates very clearly that cost is not a barrier. Political support to make it so is the main barrier. 

Through providing evidence of how Oldham Education Catering has achieved and sustained this high standard, we hope to influence policy makers to work with us to replicate the excellent work of Anne and her team in Oldham.

They have established a network of suppliers that can be used elsewhere across GM and are also happy to share the systems that they have developed to track where food comes from, should other organisations wish to achieve Food For Life Served Here

Food security and resilience are other important elements of the Food For Life framework which recognise the importance of supporting local supply and production. With the UK’s exit from the EU and potential food price increases if tariffs are imposed on food from Europe, it will become even more important to be able to provide food which can be grown locally.

Varied, seasonal menus are another feature of Food for Life, and Oldham’s cooks work with seasonal fruit and vegetables to produce meals in their schools.

Furthermore, there is a strong link between food cooked for children and integrating food into the curriculum, and commitment to work with parents on cooking healthy food. 

All of this work has a positive impact on the GM population’s health and wellbeing. Over time this work will contribute significantly to reducing demand for health services. But for this to happen there needs to be political support.

What Good Food Greater Manchester would like to see

There is no reason why this work cannot be scaled up across Greater Manchester. Other GM local authorities have achieved Bronze Food For Life (Manchester and Wigan) in schools.

Furthermore, the Food For Life offers a framework for other areas of public procurement, so over time Greater Manchester could be a leader in providing high quality, sustainable food in early years, universities, care homes, hospitals and workplaces.

This case study was written in the summer of 2017. Shortly after Oldham Council made the decision to not proceed with the inspection process for Food For Life Served here.

Oldham’s award remains active until the end of the 2017/18 financial year, but what happens after that is uncertain. The decision is related to budgetary constraints. Despite this development it is still the case that Oldham School Meals service has demonstrated that it is achievable to offer high quality, sustainable food at scale and Greater Manchester publically procured food providers can and should aspire to replicate this.