Withington Girls’ School has become the first independent school in the North West of England to have achieved a national Food for Life Served Here award.Pictured here (second from right, front row) is head of catering, Mrs Sheena Cartledge, and the WGS catering team with Soil Association development manager, David Persaud.
The certification programme is run by the Soil Association – the UK’s leading food and farming charity and organic certification body – and recognises commitment to providing pupils and staff with healthy, nutritionally-balanced meals using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Having taken 18 months of planning and preparation work, assessments and a rigorous inspection, 88% of all WGS meals now conform to best-practice guidelines around fresh preparation, avoidance of preservatives, additives and genetically modified foods, a minimum use of sugar and the use of seasonal ingredients.
The catering team has been trained about the importance of fresh locally sourced produce and the sources of ingredients are being communicated on posters that are on display close to the School’s dining areas.
Head of catering, Sheena Cartledge, who has a degree in catering and hospitality management and has been in post for the past 26 years, said she had been drawn to the Food for Life Served Here scheme during a visit to a Food Exhibition in 2015 but the process had taken some time to complete. “It has been quite an eye-opener,” she said. “We’ve been doing much of this anyway – but we have had to cover a lot of ground and also had to revisit our contracts with all our suppliers to ensure they comply too.”
Paying tribute to pupils, she praised them for their participation. “The school’s Eco Society already works hard to ensure that Withington, in keeping with its Green Flag status, is as environmentally-friendly as possible,” said Mrs Cartledge, adding that commercial ovens and dishwashers purchased over the past few years all meet stringent eco standards. WGS class representatives meet regularly with the catering team to feed back thoughts and propose ideas on school breakfast, break-time snacks and lunches, and vegetables grown by Withington Juniors are used in the preparation of healthy meals.
“Our pupils are very aware of what is healthy and what’s not. Their input is always constructive and we’ve had very positive comments so far on the changes we’ve made,” she said.
Headmistress, Sarah Haslam, added: “We are delighted that we have been recognised in the Food for Life Served Here awards and would like to thank the catering team for the many months of hard work they have put into this. Nutritious eating makes a positive contribution to pupil health and wellbeing and it’s also important that they question where their food comes from, its provenance and what is added to it. We hope we can inspire and encourage our pupils in adopting good habits for life.”
Soil Association ‘Food for Life Served Here’ development manager, David Persaud said, “It has been a pleasure to work with Sheena and the team at Withington Girls’ School over the past year and I’d like to congratulate them on being awarded the Bronze Food for Life Served Here award. They’ve shown great commitment to serving local, fresh and honest food, which is free from controversial additives and better for animal welfare, and were willing to open themselves up to a rigorous on-site inspection. Although not a requirement for independent schools, Sheena and the team have ensured that the menus do meet the Government’s School Food Standards as well. The pupils at Withington are lucky to have such a dedicated catering team who really do care about every aspect of the food they serve to them.”
In addition to the Food for Life award, Withington has once again been awarded a 5-star Hygiene rating in its latest inspection by Manchester City Council.