These adults with learning difficulties are feeding Notts Fire and Rescue Service staff

Staff at Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service HQ were without a canteen for four years but a takeover involving a kitchen crew of adults with learning difficulties means they can now look forward to a healthy, hot meal every lunchtime.

Their chopping skills aren’t as mesmerisingly fast as professional chefs but there’s no doubting the enthusiasm and enjoyment that goes into making lunch for up to 25 employees a day.

The kitchen set-up has just celebrated the first anniversary of the venture that benefits everyone.

The senior management team and office workers at the Arnold headquarters, in Bestwood Lodge Drive, get a hot meal each day – something they’d missed out on for four years after funding cuts led to the canteen’s closure.

The adults with learning difficulties… well, you only have to see them beavering away, to realise how hard-working, efficient and keen they are.

Thirdly, all the fruit, vegetables, meat and other ingredients comes via Fareshare, a scheme which donated surplus supermarket food that would otherwise be thrown away.

This is why there’s no set menu as the meals revolve around whatever they have in front of them. The operation is run by Pulp Friction, a social enterprise which helps adults with learning difficulties get work experience and gain confidence.

Some of their dishes have become so popular that staff now ask for Joey’s jackets, Gary’s curry and Raissa’s risotto.

Today they’re busy making sweet chilli chicken and noodles and chocolate cake with banana ice cream. Everything is made from scratch, even the ice cream.

Ben Dodd, who works in the procurement department, eats there nearly every day and said he can’t sing their praises highly enough.

Dan Hogan serves Ben Dodd in the canteen at Notts Fire and Rescue Service's HQ.

Dan Hogan serves Ben Dodd in the canteen at Notts Fire and Rescue Service’s HQ.

“It’s brilliant. The people working here are great, really friendly and make us laugh on a daily basis. And the food is amazing.

“You’re always welcomed every time you come in and they ask you how you are and you ask how they are. In a normal canteen you come in and sit down and eat but the culture that has been created is really positive.”

Joey Dodds, 23, from West Bridgford, (pictured below) is the man behind Joey’s Jackets – his twice-baked potatoes filled with cheese, onions and tomatoes.

fire joey web

He said: “It’s really good. I enjoy coming here. I look forward to what we are doing and I’ve got some good skills out of it. I like keeping the pantry tidy but the worst job is the dishwasher.”

Cooking curry, making coleslaw and helping others out are Daniel Hill’s favourite tasks. Like the other 11, who take it in turns to man the canteen Monday to Friday, his role is voluntary but the 27-year-old, who lives in Eastwood, has ambitions to gain paid work in a kitchen.

Clare Crawford, 28, of West Bridgford (below) – a whiz at flatbreads and grating carrots – is happy in her work. “It’s like having a second family,” she said.

Fire claire web

Overseeing the canteen is Jill Carter, the founder of Pulp Friction. The scheme started as a smoothie bike business that could be hired out for events to help her daughter, who has learning difficulties, pick up useful skills.

Asked how the kitchen differs from any other, Jill said: “I don’t think it does. It’s a proper working environment. People have to work to a deadline – the meals have to be ready by 12pm.

“The quality of the food has got to be good and everyone is so professional and friendly.”

All the volunteers have mastered the basics when it comes to cooking and have qualifications in food safety and hygiene. In fact, the kitchen has a five star hygiene rating – something not every food business serving the public achieves.

By using Fareshare produce, the kitchen has saved 2.5 tonnes of food from going to landfill sites.

Jill said: “Over Christmas Waitrose had a surplus of sprouts and parsnips so we made 32 pints of spicy parsnip soup and sprout scones, roasted sprouts and sprout coleslaw.”

Jill Carter, founder of Pulp Friction.

Jill Carter, founder of Pulp Friction.

Guest chefs have been invited in to share their expertise. Beccy Spurr, who runs Beccy’s Global Kitchen, has been teaching the chefs how to get creative with veggie dishes.

She said: “You need more patience but for the effort you expend you are rewarded with the richness and joy of working with them. They are really eager to learn and are so enthusiastic about working here.”

Over Christmas the chief fire officer and senior management team joined the team for a stint behind the counter. Craig Parkin, assistant chief fire officer, said: “We are really proud as a service that Pulp Friction have set up at our HQ, and over the course of the past year, we have all learnt a lot from them and their members.

“I certainly enjoyed my time in the kitchen serving Christmas dinner, and I was amazed at how the kitchen ran like clockwork, even with so many people doing so many different jobs.”