BLOG: Dining with a difference

The kitchen is often referred to as the heart of the home and at our specialist unit at Turnchapel, there’s no less thought and attention given to the nutritious meals and tasty snacks prepared for our patients nearing end of life. At breakfast and throughout the day, they enjoy everything from smoked salmon to freshly baked croissants.

The talent and tireless work of Catering Manager Lesley Henderson and her team – two cooks, six catering assistants, plus four ‘bank’ assistants and 30-plus big-hearted volunteers – is all part of our charity’s mission to help people live well to the end of their lives, focussing on what matters to them and making them as comfortable as possible.

But members of this busy team are not permanently confined to the kitchen in the basement – for some of them, their role includes seeing our patients on the ward on a daily basis. Every morning, they make their visit to chat to those in our care about that day’s menu, taking on board any special requests. And, if the food they really want that day is not on the menu, it’s not a problem. Lesley makes it a priority to ensure their wishes are met wherever possible, jumping in her car if necessary to visit the local supermarket.

Lesley first joined St Luke’s nearly 20 years ago as a catering assistant, having worked at the then Seaton Barracks military base in the city. She said: “From a full cooked breakfast to a three-course lunch, our patients enjoy our freshly prepared soups and meals every day.

“We put a lot of thought into our menus and we listen to their wishes – we will always try to give them whatever they want. We also work closely with our nurses so we’re up to speed on any allergies or intolerances patients might have, or whether their food needs to be liquidised to help them digest it. If it does, we still ensure it’s served up to look like a meal rather than one ‘drink’. Presentation matters.

“It’s crucial that we help make their last days comfortable as well as memorable for the right reasons. It’s also important for the families because naturally they want to see their loved ones eating well and enjoying their food.”

Lesley gets satisfaction knowing she and her colleagues have done all they can to enhance people’s experience at the unit.

She said: “What we do goes way beyond sourcing ingredients and preparing, cooking and serving food. We’ll help in any way we can and some of our most rewarding times have been decorating gazebos for weddings and baking cakes for special anniversaries.

“I’m proud to manage such a dedicated team that’s sometimes a bit of a ‘hidden army’ because they’re busily working away in the kitchen. They are a big-hearted bunch and often want to help even when they’re officially off duty, as they did at the recent barbecue we put on for the fireworks.

“We might not have as much face-to-face contact with patients as our nurses, but we know what we do makes a big contribution to the quality of St Luke’s service and it’s always appreciated when we hear how – by adding those thoughtful, special touches – we have brought a smile to a patient or their wife or grandson.

“It’s a difference we all feel privileged to make.”

Of course, the Catering Team are also the hardworking folk ensuring staff at the specialist unit are a well-fed workforce, who can enjoy delicious home-style meals to give them energy for a shift, or a tasty snack from the busy Driftwood Café, where the generously sized scones are now legendary! So famous, in fact, that members of the local ambulance crew are often seen popping in just to pick one up!

As well as thanking the Catering Team for all they do for St Luke’s we’ll close with a final word from Lesley. Any particularly memorable moments from the (almost) two decades she has given to St Luke’s?

She said: “The Tanner brothers once came here to cook for our patients as a special treat and wouldn’t leave without my recipes for vegetable cake and millionaire’s shortcake, so that was lovely!

“But what I treasure most is the laughter here – there’s sadness, of course, because it’s such a difficult time for families, but there are so many lighter moments, too, because St Luke’s is uplifting and we all support each other and enjoy what we do.”

If you want to get involved with this talented team, you can find out about volunteering opportunities here.