After fifteen years of loyal service, Lucy Coombs has seen it all at Lilian Faithfull Care and believes it’s the charity’s ‘People First’ mentality that has made it the success it is today and enabled them to navigate their way through the recent COVID-19 crisis.

Lilian Faithfull Care is a charity providing care, support and a ‘home for life’ to the elderly in Gloucestershire. Lilian Mary Faithfull CBE was born in 1865 and until her death in 1952, she was an English teacher, headmistress, women’s rights advocate, magistrate, social worker, humanitarian and one of the “Steamboat ladies” who fought for women to gain access to a university education.

Established in 1946, the Lilian Faithfull charity came about after she famously declared “something must be done!” upon seeing Cheltenham’s population suffering in old age, despite having given so much during the war years. The charity has expanded greatly since its inception from twelve residents living in one home to 300 residents in five homes, three day centres and affordable flats. With quality dining vital for the resident’s health, social life and overall happiness, Lucy and her team have helped put the charity on the food map after they made the final three in the National Care Home Awards for ‘Best for Nutrition, Food & Dining Experience’.

Lucy’s passion for food and drink came from endless hours of baking with her gran and mum as a youngster. On leaving school there was only one plan Lucy had in mind and that was a career in catering.

“From a young age I loved food and drink, especially baking, so on finishing school I enrolled onto a Food Preparation course at my local college. This gave me a solid backbone in catering and enabled me to get a role at Lillian Faithfull as a Food Service Assistant. Thanks to the incredible training and development initiatives available to staff, I quickly progressed to evening cook, daytime cook and then relief chef. I’m now Deputy Group Catering Manager and Nutritional Adviser across all of the Lilian Faithful care homes and centres.”

While some things never change when it comes to favourite dishes, the menu development and focus on variety, quality and nutrition is unrecognisable from when Lucy started.

“Our menu development processes have improved hugely to ensure we can offer fresh, exciting and nutritious dishes whatever the season. The biggest change to how we worked was when catering was taken in-house in 2016, which for the first time gave us complete control over the creation and preparation of dishes and menus. It’s been great for the residents as we can be more flexible, provide more choice and react to their feedback, trends and also happenings in the world. From a staff development point of view, it is also hugely beneficial because the team can learn new skills, test themselves and be part of the creativity process.”

“When it comes to favourite dishes, the Sunday Roast and Friday Fish & Chips still rule the roost but many of our residents are well travelled so love to try different international dishes. The Country Range stocks, sauces and condiments play a huge role in being creative and maximising flavour. We have daily specials, run a sherry hour, have a cooking club, afternoon tea and we were even asked for some vegan dishes recently after a resident heard about the vegan craze in the newspaper. We created a selection of vegan cakes for everyone to try and they were incredibly well received. It’s this ‘People First’ approach that sets us apart from the rest.”

As much of the care sector continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Lilian Faithfull’s preparation, planning and team spirit helped them to be amongst the lucky care homes to come through fairly unscathed.

“A lot of credit has to go to our management team who reacted quickly, stopped all visitors and started preparations in advance. Our food team immediately started to prepare extra dishes to be frozen in case of food or staff shortages and we also looked at ways of fortifying meals, as when you lose the social aspect of meal times, the amount of food consumed is reduced. It’s been an incredibly worrying few months and there will be more difficult times ahead but our amazing team have showed they can and will stand up to any challenge. They are true heroes.”