School Meals Manager wins first Food Hero award of 2018

Susie Haworth is the new winner of the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership’s Food Hero award for helping to transform the school meals service in our city.

by Chloe Clarke, Project Manager, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership

Susie works for Brighton & Hove City Council as the School Meals Team Manager. Each morning primary school children across the city get to choose from two or three hot options, which are then cooked from scratch in the school kitchens for lunchtime service. There’s no frozen ready-meal delivery in our city’s schools, our school cooks actually get to cook!

Since 2011, Susie and her dedicated team have been steadily replacing key ingredients, introducing Fairtrade bananas, local free-range eggs, sustainable MSC fish, removing trans-fats, GMOs and artificial additives – helping them to achieve the Soil Association’s Silver Food for Life Catering Mark. They’ve also reduced the quantities of meat they serve, increased the fibre and reduced sugar in desserts by 40%.

In the summer we worked with Susie and her team on a 3-week food waste audit in two schools (kids prefer carrot sticks not rounds by the way), the recommendations from which have started to influence changes on the school menu. They’ve created 118 new jobs since 2011 with no zero-hours contracts. Susie was also key in establishing a new partnership between the council and Chomp, providing a school holiday lunch club for families that rely on free school meals during term time.

We know providing school meals can sometimes be a thankless task, so we just wanted to say a big thank you to Susie and her hard-working team.

Our Food Partnership Food Heroes is a series celebrating the wonderful folk in our city who go above and beyond the call of duty to improve our food system and support others to access healthy sustainable food.

Susie won a delicious hamper of goodies kindly donated by Infinity Foods.

You can read our interview below and for a more in-depth look read our case study ‘More than a meal’ which shines a spotlight on our city’s school meals service.

Tell us about the work you do in the city

We provide support and management to schools to deliver their school lunches. Working in partnership with the council, our contract caterer, Autograph, serves around 11,500 hot meals within 90 minutes on 190 days of the year across the city.

What is the best part of your job?

I love working with people to deliver a good service.

What are your biggest challenges?

Balancing what parents want and taking on board pupil preference whilst managing a contract with a fixed cost per meal and still being able to commit to actions in the citywide food strategy e.g. around being Sugar Smart or taking the Peas Please pledge. There’s a lot of juggling that goes on, but we always manage to tackle it head on. When the government announced their plans for free school meals for all infant school children we had to work out the logistics of how to feed an extra 3,000 children every day, where they would sit and what additional equipment and storage was needed. But we did it and the feedback from the schools was really positive.

What are you most proud of?

Committing to paying the Living Wage for all our 338 employees – this will be a reality from April 2018 and that will be a great achievement. I manage a service that’s still valued across the city – that makes me proud too. We’re also a key member of the citywide Good Food Procurement Group.

What are you planning for the future?

Retirement? No ok not yet. I’m going to be focussing on maintaining and growing partnerships. People underestimate the difference we have made working together with our key partners (our contractor, Autograph, and other key partners including the Food Partnership). Together, we have achieved a lot over the years and for that I am really proud.