Bossy by nature, I guess I’ve always wanted to get stuck in and improve matters! And because for years I ran my own business, and so could take time out to sit on charity boards etc, I have involved myself with a lot of organisations, mostly to do with food or education: The ones that still interest me most are:
Slow Food UK
When Cat Gazzolli, the then recently appointed, super-powered, American-Italian CEO of Slow Food, came to see me I was reluctant to get involved. I thought the world of Carlo Petrini, the Italian founder of Slow Food International. I thought the Slow Food campaigns to save rare breeds, forgotten varieties of fruit and veg, to promote good (ie delicious) clean (ie safe and healthy) fair (ie produced without harm to humans, animals and the planet) were brilliant and effective. I also admired what Slow Food had done, not just in Italy, but in India, in the US, in Australia. But I confess to having got the impression that Slow Food in the UK was a bit too slow, more interested in eating than promoting great food.
But no-one resists Cat, and I became deeply involved and was delighted that we set up several education projects which between them provide something for everyone: First of all there was Slow Food Baby, (which is now run as a separate charity by Cat Gazzolli who left the top job at Slow food in 2013 to launch it with the National Childberth Trust) It is a a program to helpMums feed their babies really well, We also set up The Taste Experience which is is an educational game involving all the senses in identifying food. This goes to schools, museums, food festivals and the like and, though aimed at children, it is a huge success with grown ups too. And then there is Slow Food Campus can’t keep up with the demand from Universities. It helps students form groups to improve the food offer on campus, to teach each other to cook, to eat together and save money. And of course we support the Slow Food International programmes with Freedom Foods, about saving traditional products, produce or rare breeds, and we have a Chef Alliance of top restaurant chefs who promote these foods in their restaurants. And we do our best to lobby and campaign to improve the UK's food and access to good food.
Today I am no longer a trustee of Slow Food, though am still a keen member.
All inspiring stuff, and fun for me. I belong to the Cotswold Group, and we are fortunate to have the remarkable Juliet Harbutt, “the cheese lady” as our Chair, and the astonishing Dayelsford Farm shop as supporters.
The School Food Trust
See under School Meals for more info. It is hugely important I think – getting children to like food that’s good for them. But the truth is it is going to take a while: After all it has taken 45 years to degrade the school meals system from one where caterers saw their job as looking after children’s health and welfare, to the one we had in 2006 where they are expected to make money out of selling junk to children – either money for the outsourced catering company, or money for the school. But, largely due to the School Food Trust, Jamie Oliver and Government intervention we are steadily get back to a culture of good wholesome food being the right of every child, I’d like to see us go further, so that good food is seen as part of education. We should be teaching and encouraging children to like what is good for them in the same way as we teach them to like literature, maths or football.
I’m endlessly banging on about school food, but since I resigned from the School Food Trust (when I turned seventy five years ago) maybe I should do it less. But it’s unlikely! If you are interested, click here for some of my speeches or articles, and have a look at the school food trust website. They have done and are doing do wonderful things, including setting up 5,000 Let’s Get Cooking after-school clubs.
The best news is that Henry Dimbleby, owner of the excellent restaurant chain Leon, (which by he way serves healthy, made-on-the-premises inexpensive and delicious food for families) has done a terrific job with his School Food Plan, which has been accepted by the Government. This means that every child in state education will learn to cook, that 5 - 7 year olds at primary school will get free school dinners, and that far more food education is happening in all schools. It's not perfect, but it's going in the right direction.
The website is www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk
Focus on Food
Focus on Food, is a charity which I initiated when I was Chair of the Royal Society of Arts (the RSA) to teach children to cook in schools. Today the charity has four pantechnicon buses that travel the country teaching classes of children in schools, training teachers, and (in the holidays) cooking with families in the community. Each bus expands to enable 20 students to cook at wonderfully equipped work stations with stoves, sinks and etc – you would never know you were in a bus!
Focus on Food is one of the partners of the Food for Life program, led by the Soil Association, which has been hugely important in leading the revolution n food education in schools, teaching children to cook, grow, and understand food.
The Hoxton Apprentice
The Hoxton Apprentice was a not-for-profit restaurant, a bit like Jamie’s Fifteen, that I helped set up for the charity Training for Life which worked to get really disadvantaged people off the streets and into work. It’s in Hoxton Square in Hackney, London. It took 15 young people every six months, most of them convinced they will never achieve anything, with backgrounds of homelessness, drugs, prison or just unable to engage in school or training.
The restaurant did a terrific job, with 75% of the trainees able to get, and more importantly, keep jobs. Most of them want to be chefs, but some become waiters, barmen or coffee-shop staff.
A second Apprentice restaurant, in Dartmouth, opened in 2008. Sadly, like many a good charity before it, Hoxton Apprentice's parent, Training for Life, went bust in 2013. But I am still very proud of the ten years of good work they did, and there are hundreds of young people who are grateful for the help it gave them to make a life for themselves when all looked really bleak for them.
The Great British Kitchen
The Great British Kitchen was an enterprise dreamt up by The British Food Trust and led by the most determined and dedicated of men Scott Antony, which I chaired for many year. The aim was to promote good food in all its forms: production, buying, cooking, eating, education, the lot. We set out to build a National Centre for the Culinary Arts with a food museum, library and archive, catering college, hotel, farmers’ market, chef’s demonstration kitchens, TV studio, food-related retail, et al.. We never quite achieved it, but bits of the grand plan are happening in various parts of the country, and we did achieve a new practical exam-based qualification for chefs, the Applied Ability Award, which is increasingly accepted as the most reliable assurance of culinary ability.
The website is www.greatbritishkitchen.co.uk
3E’s (for “Education, Education, Education” – or for Enterprise, Energy and Excellence if I’m talking to the Tories) was set up as a not-for profit enerprise, and was a subsidiary of Kingshurst City Technology College, (now an Academy) one of the best comprehensives in the country. I was on the board of the CTC and we decided, since Kingshurst had done so well, to go into turning round failing state schools. I chaired the fledgling company and our first contract was to take over and manage a state school -- the disastrous Kings Manor School in Guildford, which had been in special measures (ie was officially a failing school) with only a handful of children getting even average results at GCSE, and had no sixth form at all. Ten years later it had 85% of childen getting 5 A* to C grades at GCSE, and is a very good school indeed. It has a thriving sixth form and is a model of school improvement. 3 E’s went on to win the contract for the government’s first flagship City Academy, the Bexley Business Academy, and went on to win contracts to design and manage a dozen academies and schools. 3E’s is now part of Faber Maunsell plc., Valerie Bragg, our first CEO and the original head teacher at Kingshurst has turned round more schools than you could believe. She has finally retired, but that she has not been made a peeress in the House of Lords is astonishing. Well, perhaps not so astonishing -- she did have a way of ruffling the feathers of the Department of Eduction, mainly by showing them so clearly that good education can be achieved.
Ashridge Business School
I confess that when the late Sir Michael Angus, then Chairman of Unilever, Whitbread and Boots (who was also the Chairman of Ashridge) asked me to join his Board I was so flattered I said Yes without a thought that as my only qualification was the 25 yards swimming certificate, I perhaps wasn’t the most suitable candidate. However, I love the place and I ended up succeeding Michael as Chair. What I like about Ashridge is that they relate all their management education to the real world, with a proper mix of the practical and the academic. When I resigned after 12 years they gave me, instead of an academic tome, a set of French dinner knives! Very nice indeed.
The website is www.ashridge.org.uk
Forum for the Future
I’m a huge admirer of Jonathan Porritt and Sara Parkin who started this, the first organisation devoted to helping business go green. Having set up and run Friends of the Earth, Jonathan decided in the late nineties that the world had got the message – we were polluting the earth. So he decided to help find solutions. I chaired Forum for several years, and though I resigned in order to make more time for writing and to do the School Food Trust job, I still follow their tracks with fascination
The website is www.forumforthefuture.org.uk