National School Meal Week 2022 – an interview with the Trust Catering manager


This week is National School Meals Week so we took the opportunity to speak with Trust Catering Lead, Dee Formby. LACA are focusing on ‘green issues’ with NSMW running at the same time as COP27.

LACA - the school food people; are focusing on ‘green issues’ with NSMW running at the same time as COP27. School caterers across the country are working hard to lessen the impact the industry has on the planet and that is certainly the case for REAchEat, our Academy Trust’s in house school food provision.

For #NSMW22 our CEO, Cathie Paine, caught up with Dee Formby, Trust catering Lead.

Dee Formby

I know you believe passionately that all children should be eating a healthy school meal – tell me a bit more about this and your vision for school food. What should all REAch2 schools be able to provide?

School meals are more than food on a plate. The advantages of our children having a healthy, satisfying meal at school are far reaching. Whether it be for their own health or their reaching their potential at school, we should be striving to show them and their families that the food served at school is tasty, exciting and a part of their school experience.

There’s no doubt about it, the tastes of children are not the same as ours. Food that we think is great / traditional does not always translate into empty plates and uptake figures. Careful analysis of current meal uptake helps shape future menus, collaboration with catering teams and our children ensures that each school, whilst part of our Trust, has a menu that meets the individual requirements of the school and their children.

girl at salad bar picking food to eat

You have been a real driving force behind community fridges. For those in the Trust who may not be aware of this scheme can you give us the highlights?

The community fridge scheme launched in 2019 at Unity Primary Academy along with another 4 schools who took part in the pilot. Working with Amica CDA, the generous sponsor of the scheme, 16 schools across the trust now benefit from a Community Fridge with a waiting list available for any school from the trust interested in taking part.

Locally, schools are working with supermarkets and Fare Share’s national network of charitable food redistributors alongside their own surplus of healthy portioned meals, direct from the school kitchen.

Fridges are positioned carefully in discreet areas away from crowded corridors and are free from any potential stigma or data collection. Beccles Academy is our flagship school, who took the mission of the Community Fridge and developed a robust support structure within the school, including second hand uniforms, toys, books, a swap shop and even a parent cafe twice a week.

a boy eating lunch at school

The theme for NSMW 2022 is ‘Go Green School Lunch’. Are there any schools that you can highlight that have introduced more sustainable practices in their school meal provision such as ‘Meat Free Mondays’?

Reach2Eat menus are produced twice a year, featuring Meat Free Mondays and plant-based meals. We also cater for Vegans, vegetarians, dietary requirements, and lifestyle choices. Schools have already reduced their reliance on plastic containers and pots, as well as changing to recyclable cling film and the aim is for all schools to recycle plastics, tins, and food waste. This supports the Trust’s 5-year strategy which includes Sustainability goals.

Unity Primary Academy are leading the way in school meals week and taking part each day and will be joined by the Mayor and Mayoress of Colchester on Friday.

An aim is to make our schools more energy efficient by upgrading their ovens, some of which require 40% less working time, use 18% less energy and reduce cost of goods by up to 15% compared to older models.

Even with rising food costs, Camulos, Sprites, Phoenix, Gunton and Beccles still use local producers of fruit and veg to supply their fruit and salad bars and the main supplier, Thomas Ridleye, are based in Suffolk.

Academy trust installs community fridges to feed hungry pupils

Teachers say they’re encountering more and more pupils coming to school hungry – prompting one academy trust to install community fridges to help feed youngsters and their parents.

The pilot scheme is being tried out at five primary schools in Suffolk and Essex which are part of the Reach2 Academy Trust.

If it proves to be a success, it could be rolled out to all 59 of its academies across the region.

An image of an open fridge showing fruit and vegetables inside.

Steve Lancashire, Chief Executive Officer of Reach2 Academy Trust, said during a recent visit to one of the trust’s schools, he was left “heartbroken” by one boy’s story.

I was in one of our schools on Monday and I sat next to a little boy to have a breakfast club. He said to me ‘I’m hungry because I didn’t eat last night‘.

I asked him why was that and he said ‘my mum didn’t have any food in and she didn’t have any money to buy any last night‘.

Of course that’s heartbreaking and to hear that, as an educationalist, we want to do something about it.”

– Sir Steve Lancashire, Chief Executive, REAch2 Academy Trust

Unity Primary Academy in Colchester is one of the five schools trialling the community fridges.

The community fridge at Unity Academy Primary in Colchester Credit: ITV News Anglia

(The community fridge at Unity Academy Primary in Colchester Credit: ITV News Anglia)

Its catering manager Chelsey Gardner says stories of hunger are becoming far too common – and no longer surprise her.

We have children that we know come from certain households that struggle a little bit. We recognise that and we tend to give those children a little bit of extra food, a little bit of extra attention – send them home with a full belly.

This is a vital scheme. With Universal Credit and the poverty rates, it’s needed even more than ever along with hunger clubs in the holidays.

It used to surprise me but maybe not so much anymore. We’re seeing it more and more of the time. I’m used to it now.”

– Chelsey Gardner, Catering Manager, Unity Primary Academy, Colchester

The community fridges are stocked using leftover food from the school kitchens and aim to provide nutritious food for families who need some extra help. They include fruit and vegetables, rice, milk and eggs.

Schools hope to be as discreet as possible, encouraging children to talk to a teacher and keeping the fridges in areas that will not attract attention from their peers.

According to charity the Trussell Trust, the use of food banks in the East is continuing to rise.

Last year 156,000 food parcels were handed over in this region.

Essex received the most, with around 16,000 parcels given to children alone. In Norfolk, more than 8,000 of the 15,000 food parcels went to young people, and in Suffolk, 6,200 emergency supplies were handed out – with around 3,800 of them going to children.

Reach2 Academies are not the first schools in the region to feel the need to feed pupils and their families.

Last year, headteacher Debbie Whiting revealed she had set up a food bank at North Denes Primary in Great Yarmouth for families in poverty.

Further Information

This story was first published on on 18th October 2019 at 6.31pm.