Colleen’s Experience as a Kitchen Assistant at St Lukes

Having an opportunity to leave the laptop at home for a day and work a shift in a care home, I wanted to make the most of it and have a very ‘real’ experience. I asked a colleague who spends lots of time in our care homes what her thoughts were on the toughest roles, her immediate answer was “working in the kitchen, or domestic”.

I opted for the kitchen; being used to preparing, cooking, serving and clearing away for 7 people at home every day, I thought I was well-equipped for this challenge. Little did I know!

Kim, Home Manager, introduced me to the kitchen team at 8am, and I was to shadow Kirk – an employee of 15 years at St Lukes who had worked a number of roles in the home. Kirk is a whirlwind, I thought I was a fast walker but I struggled to keep up, trying to keep in his slip stream as he travelled from room to room to say good morning to the residents and enquire as to their breakfast preferences for the day.

After confirming who was ready for breakfast we went back to the kitchen where Chef was assembling the trays for us to deliver. In contrast to his speediness in the kitchen, Kirk deliberately slowed down in the corridors and took time with each resident to ensure all their breakfast requirements were met, and stayed to share some morning conversation with them all. We delivered breakfasts to most people in St Lukes, and Kirk knew each person in depth down to precisely which bowl to use and how much milk to pour on their cornflakes. This was highly personalised care.

Back to the kitchen after serving breakfast and we quickly prepared some salad. The ends of the tomatoes that couldn’t be used went into Chef’s marinade for his biryani for the next day. We then started what soon became the main theme of the day – washing up. Trolleys appeared from The Oaks and Lilac, as well as the trays from St Lukes. All were rinsed, loaded into the dishwasher, dried off and put away. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Once I’d gotten over the miracle of a 3-minute dishwasher cycle (instantly going on my wish list), I realised breakfast dishes for 76 people were going to take several loads and the whole process grinds to a halt if dishes are left in the dishwasher.

My job became unloading and restacking trolleys. All the crockery was colour coded for each area in the home. This was a military operation, in fact the whole operation in the kitchen was run like that. Kirk knew down to the minute what he should be doing and when. And we had to make all these deadlines or else the home would just not run smoothly.

Interspersed between washing up, we cleared out the pantry, made up milkshakes, had a quick coffee, laid tables for lunch, and my highlight – serving lunch to residents in 2 areas of the home. I also stayed in one area long enough to observe how much the residents enjoyed the food, which was lovely. Kirk clearly loved being with the residents, serving them drinks and enjoying banter (especially football related) with many of them.

The kitchen team at St Lukes is a strong and stable team, they work hard but get along together and all appeared to enjoy and really take pride in their work. This was a joy to see.

I was ready to hang up my apron and hair net after 6 hours of relentless work. Kirk was working a long shift so was only half way through. My colleague was right about Kitchen Assistant being a tough job, but with the atmosphere at St Lukes the morning had sped by and I felt energised as I left. I gained an insight into life in the kitchen of a care home. These people have a big responsibility to the staff and residents. In this kitchen, it was evident that they grasped that and did everything they could to support the Manager in making St Lukes a successful care home with a reputation for excellent care.

After this experience, I believe even more strongly that all of us in centralised office support roles should do this once a year at least, as all would benefit from seeing life through the lens of our care home team members.

Colleen Wood, Director of Organisational Culture