Following on from Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve school food, the Government asked the co-founders of LEON restaurant chain, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, to make further progress and examine school food across the country. They were asked to create an action plan to accelerate improvement in school food and determine the role of food more broadly in school life.
As part of this review, they wanted an opportunity to visit schools and deliver seven special events across the regions bringing teachers, cooks, business managers, caterers, parents and pupils together for an interactive event encouraging them to talk to one another, share experiences and be inspired by the New School Food Plan. The main aim of these events were to: create ambassadors, generate media coverage and share best practice that was already in place.
Although the events were to take place in school halls, the Reviewers had quite definite opinions on what style they didn’t want the events to follow – not corporate, not traditional presentation rich and not predictable. “Experiential” best described what they wanted to achieve. As well as meeting the Reviewers creative expectations, the DfE also wanted to achieve best value and provide healthy refreshments and catering, indicative of what could be achieved in schools and still within the budget.
everything is possible
Our first challenge was finding venues, a job that proved much more difficult than it would initially appear. Hosting events is not the primary function for schools in general and identifying schools with appropriate space, access and availability on the given dates without conflicting exams, holidays etc proved challenging. More than 180 schools were contacted and followed up with 31 site visits. We acted as the main point of contact for all the venues and secured the facilities at minimal or no charge. Audience numbers ranged from 50 to 200 with events taking place after normal school hours between 4-7pm. This meant our creative solutions for styling the event spaces had to be flexible, scaleable and quick to assemble.
To avoid the traditional presentation route, we provided facilitated interactive sessions which engaged, involved and provided ample opportunity for attendees to feedback, identify issues, suggest solutions and share best practice.
We developed a style and theming for the events that delivered the vision expressed by the Reviewers. All in-situ furniture was removed and replaced with vintage chairs and trestle tables. Each table was dressed with fresh herbs and aromatic spices to provide a sensory experience. A stage was constructed to appear as if it were sat on pallets and topped with reclaimed floorboards. Old apple crates were used to create a lectern, a washing line carried backdrop branding and vintage props added to provide a rustic feel.
Gone were the traditional screen and projectors, and instead replaced with a 65” plasma screen set in a surround of old apple crates filled with cookery books, props and fresh produce. Additional features such as a fingerpost sign mounted in a planter filled with fresh cress displaying key objectives. We created a natural environment with echoes of a country fair feel and lots of visual and sensory stimulation providing a relaxed and productive environment for the engagement and facilitation exercises.
We took a creative approach when it came to saving the DfE money and delivering best value. By researching the school catering industry and identifying a company, Green Gourmet, which was already working to improve standards and options for schools, we were able to approach them and persuade their Chief Executive to support the events and provide all food, refreshments and catering staff free of charge. We worked with them, the DfE and Reviewers to devise a menu that was healthy, nutritious and looked and tasted good. We also liaised with the catering providers at each school to make their facilities available for preparation and cooking ensuring that all refreshments were made available to the DfE at zero cost.
In response to a need to increase uptake at the events, we undertook the task of contacting potential delegates via telephone, email and other channels such as the National School Governors’ Association and the Local Authority Caterers Association to boost attendance numbers significantly. Feedback from all involved was exemplary and highlighted our efficiency and ability to react to any situation.
What did our client say?
“Henry and John were both very keen to keep you on the project and again said how much they loved the work you did on the regional events (and I very much agree with them!). You have done a brilliant job at making them such a success, thank you for all your hard work on them.”
Katharina MacDowall, Communications Adviser, Department For Education