Winner: Junior Chef Academy, ESS Defence
Sponsored by: Waste to Wonder Worldwide
In mid-2022, the parent company of ESS – Compass Group UK & I – launched its ‘Mission to a Million’ commitment, designed to enhance life opportunities for a million people by reducing inequalities that can restrict progress.
ESS provides catering and soft FM services for the Royal Navy at NHS Collingwood, and set about promoting the Junior Chef Academy (JCA), which had existed within Compass for a number of years. This takes the form of a 10-week cookery course for local schoolchildren, aiming to develop cooking as a life skill and encourage careers in hospitality. It also aligned strongly with ESS’s own operational priorities, particularly when it comes to tackling the skills shortages in the industry, by promoting its own apprenticeship scheme.
The initiative was spearheaded by Paul Downing, executive chef at HMS Collingwood, who had helped to extend the programme into a local college before the pandemic. He approached 10 schools in the local area and gave a number of presentations, outlining what was involved. The course itself was delivered as an after-school club, and featured 10 sessions of 90 minutes each, for up to 15 students. This was then followed by a graduation at HMS Collingwood, where children were presented with a chef’s jacket and gift bag, and demonstrated their skills to teachers and parents.
The scheme has now grown to the point where a business case has been put forward to bring in a dedicated role responsible for the JCA scheme, taking responsibility for increasing community engagement – over a wider geographic area – and recruiting new apprentices.
To date, 11 schools have taken part, including some for children with special educational needs and both behaviour and attendance issues. In all, eight courses have run, delivering sessions to 90 children from in and around the Portsmouth area.
At the end of each course, students, parents and the schools are asked to complete a survey to help shape future content and delivery. The results have been overwhelmingly positive: on a recent course 100 percent of children said they enjoyed participating, 83 percent said they had learned new skills and 100 percent have continued cooking in some form since the course has finished.
Promising students are also invited to undertake a work placement with the culinary team at HMS Collingwood, where they learn about food service and how a busy kitchen works. Those who are interested are encouraged to consider an apprenticeship with ESS, and six have currently started this after completing the programme.
Two from the first intake are now completing their apprenticeships, and will go on to fill vacancies at HMS Collingwood. Both won medals at the International Salon Culinaire 2023, and one finished in the top eight at the prestigious Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year.
Using the National TOMS Proxy Calculator, ESS puts the social value generated by JCA at £53,896.
Best practice learning point
Working closely with the apprenticeships team at Compass has been vital in delivering successful outcomes, and this learning has also been passed back to the UK-wide team at ESS. Finding out what works and what doesn’t from schools – particularly those where students need additional support – has also helped to shape both course delivery and the scheme as a whole.
“I found this a fantastic experience. I learnt so much about food preparation and enjoyed trying lots of different foods I hadn’t before. My family liked everything I made, especially the Katsu curry.” – Student
“Scott has grown in confidence and improved his skills. He likes experimenting and is always looking at new ideas on YouTube. Thank you very much for teaching him this valuable life skill.”- Parent