Sodexo will continue to provide meals to Oasis students!
Sodexo have been working with Oasis Community Learning (OCL) for almost 12 years, and have been providing breakfast, morning break and lunch for all our students and staff. We spoke to Sodexo’s newly recruited Social Responsibility and Engagement Manager for OCL, Elizabeth Axon.
Elizabeth has a portfolio of 52 primary and secondary academy schools across England. Here she talks about how her 20-year teaching career helped to prepare her for the role, and outlines some of the Sodexo engagement programmes on her agenda for the new academic year.
There are a number of pressures and responsibilities that our schools, parents and pupils will be facing, and where Sodexo’s support as school meal providers will perhaps be more fundamental than ever. The cost-of-living crisis is dominating the headlines, school budgets are under intense pressure following energy price hikes and parents will be relying on schools to provide their children with meals that continue to be varied, value for money, tasty and nutritious.
“Having come to Sodexo in June 2022 following a 20-year teaching career, I understand the responsibilities well. I’ve been on the academic side and have seen the challenges first hand – the time pressure that school heads and staff are under, the need for a holistic approach to food that goes beyond a meal on a plate and advocates overall mental and physical health, and the importance of engaging with more parents about the benefits of a daily hot school meal.”
Why did Sodexo invest in a role like this? It's hard to believe it’s almost 20 years since Jamie Oliver launched his school meals campaign and yet there is still work to be done to encourage more parents and pupils to see school meals as the fantastic, healthy option they are. Sodexo has already kick started a number of programmes, activities, and initiatives across the OCL academies to boost engagement with pupils, parents, teaching staff and local communities, and they’ve created Elizabeth’s role to help maximise the impact we can have.
One initiative that is already embedded and has huge further potential is Sodexo’s ‘Agents for Change’ programme. This invites pupils to sit on an advisory panel and help Sodexo shape the improvements they want to see at their own school. Last year, the Agents took the lead in designing dining room makeovers at 49 academies. More than 600 pupils took part in fun, interactive workshops at their schools and designed food counters, tills and walls using Sodexo’s Food & Co brand toolkit. The spaces have been transformed with colourful graphics and the project has undoubtedly helped the pupils build a more positive relationship with school meals.
“It’s one of my top priorities to build on this network and tap into the imaginations of our Agents more often. The Sodexo OCL team has run tasting sessions on an ad-hoc basic, where pupils, staff and parents can try new dishes and flavours, and this is something we could expand with our Agents’ input. We know children have favourite foods that don’t always tick all the nutritional boxes – with their feedback for example, can we create a version that looks and tastes as good but is a healthier option? It’s all about generating the enthusiasm to try new things, something that we also do through regular food ‘theme’ days.
These celebrate cultural, religious and social events – such as Diwali or The Queen’s Jubilee – and the country cuisines that go with them. We should encourage our pupils to make the link between food and their future and excite them about the joys it can bring in life, travelling to other countries and experiencing different tastes and cultures.”
How will Sodexo ensure what they do adds value and doesn’t add to an already stressful workload? Supporting heads and teaching staff is going to be another focus for Social Responsibility and Engagement Manager for OCL, Elizabeth.
“I would like to build more direct links with food technology departments across the academies and work together to provide content for the classroom around healthy food or sustainable meal choices. A recent trial across our secondary schools with partners Klimato encouraged young diners to think about the power they have to make climate conscious choices at mealtimes.”
“Through CO2e labelling, pupils could see the impact of the meals they choose and how opting for low impact dishes more often can help minimise damage to the planet. This could have a much wider impact if we can work with teaching staff to dovetail it into the lesson plans.”
“I’m looking forward to the new academic year and seeing what we can achieve in partnership with OCL. It’s going to be a period with challenges, but also one of promise and opportunity.”