Catering with Care

By Rebecca Bridgement, managing director at Radish

Care homes and assisted living environments across the country have been on the frontline of this pandemic and they have survived the unimaginable. Covid-19 has changed life as we know it, particularly so for the vulnerable. In the darkest days of lockdown, residents weren’t always able to leave their rooms. Visits from loved ones have been and remain restricted and, for many, social activities have either been paused or moved online.

Across the sector, there has been a big change in behaviour and, five months on, in habits too. The experience of those in assisted living or care environments has changed dramatically, and leadership teams have been forced to find new ways to get through these troubled times – from entertaining residents and facilitating video calls with family members, to ensuring social distancing while promoting health and wellbe- ing.

Nutritional health remains as important as ever but catering for care homes and assisted living environments during a pandemic isn’t without its challenges. For Radish, the catering arm of Churchill Group, a typical day is a lot busier than pre-Covid19. In fact, it’s flat out. The team have had to think on their feet and adapt quickly. It has always been important to protect food from harmful bacteria, viruses and allergens that could be spread by other activities, but this understandably has had to step up a gear since the outbreak.

From taking extra care when preparing food and cleaning storage areas, to running training on everything from handwashing best practice to operational transformation to reduce human-to- human contact, all while adhering to ever-changing government guidelines – it’s fair to say the new normal has taken some getting used to. As you can imagine, our business has had to transform since the outbreak first hit. The operations team at Radish are no longer allowed into the environments that are catered for; they are having to manage their teams remotely which is a completely different style of management. We have really upped our communications efforts to support our teams throughout this time.

Other changes are afoot, too. For example, the onsite teams at assisted living sites have had to pair up in bubbles in order to work safely and effectively. Food is prepared in the kitchen, then packaged in disposables and delivered to the doors of residents. We are really proud to have fully recyclable and compostable disposable products so having to react quickly has not had any additional impact on our sustainability efforts.

Instead of eating within a restaurant, residents are eating within their own apart- ments – and are therefore stripped of the social element that makes mealtimes so enjoyable. To make up for that, our teams are always thinking of the little things they can do to make people smile, to make these moments more memorable. On Victory in Europe Day, for example, we delivered a special afternoon tea. We’ve come up with other ideas to help boost morale on non-celebratory days, too, including the introduction of a cupcake competition across all developments, where the residents got to taste their delicious creations.

Needless to say there are ongoing challenges and risks, but let’s take some time to appreciate what the care sector has managed to achieve. Despite everything it has had to deal with, there are many examples of how working practices within the sector have transformed to keep everyone safe and well, staff and residents alike.

Coronavirus hasn’t gone away and we still need to do our bit to protect each other and the vulnerable, but I believe this pandemic is bringing out people’s caring sides. And since catering is about tapping into the little things that give people joy, we believe this is our chance to shine and to truly make a positive difference to residents in care and assisted living environments.

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