Hospital caterers find common ground

Hospital caterers are being urged to find “common ground” with their service users and grow their own food. Scott Buckler, director of The Common Ground, explains…

Tell us about The Common Ground

The Common Ground Initiative was established by Elizabeth Harrison

from Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust. It is a multi-functional initiative designed to place emphasis on growing food. Elizabeth and her team who are based at Guild Park in Goosnargh have created a therapeutic outdoor space where service users can learn and develop their skills to support their recovery, whilst also benefitting the local environment by helping to grow and harvest organic seasonal food. All the fruit and vegetables produced are then used within the kitchens at Guild Lodge for both service users and staff meals.

Why is such an initiative important to catering?

With Common Ground we are placing a focus on growing and harvesting organic seasonal food. As we have seen in the past few years, patient meals have come under great scrutiny for lack of taste, nutrition and choice. By growing your own vegetables and fruit a hospital catering department can provide a higher standard of food service. It also allows the reduction in carbon footprints by sourcing food locally rather than importing from abroad. Many catering departments within hospitals are outsourced to private organisations so the key element is working closely with your partners on identifying produce sourced locally.

Tell us about the holistic impact The Common Ground is having?

From the beginning we were keen for service users and patients to be involved and it’s been amazing to watch how they have enjoyed learning new skills and how this in turned has helped improve their self-confidence and recovery giving them a positive outlook for the future. We have had a number of service users benefit from being involved in the initiative. One such example was a service user who joined us on the initiative and was expected to be in treatment for up to eight years. The initiative provided this service user with so much confidence and support they are now set to leave care around six years earlier than originally expected. They found the initiative to be life changing and Elizabeth and the team provided so much encouragement and support.

Is growing your own food within an NHS Trust possible given the lack of land?

Any NHS Trust can develop an area in which to grow food. In 2014 there was a campaign entitled 14:14 which encouraged the NHS  to create 14 square metres of space in which to grow food. Growing your own food using organic techniques is something many of us can do to build a sustainable food culture. New research shows significant differences in anti-oxidant levels between organic and non-organic crops. You can be safe in the knowledge that hydrogenated fats and controversial additives like aspartame, tartrazine and MSG are banned under organic standards. Organic farming reduces pollution and greenhouse gases released from food production by restricting the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Organic farms are havens for wildlife and provide homes for bees, birds and butterflies. In fact, plant, insect and bird life is up to 50% greater on organic farms. This supports the sustainability agenda of which can in turn provide much needed financial savings for the NHS as well as ensuring an environmentally friendly future for patients and staff.

How would an NHS Trust. hospital or organisation replicate such a model?

We are now looking to deliver Common Ground across the country. We have developed a 4-step plan in which an organisation can develop the initiative within their resources and budget. Along with these four steps we have provided a range of individual elements which organisations can select depending on their space, resources, time and budgets. These elements include:

• Community Action Days • Wetland Habitat

• Workforce apprenticeships • Kitchen Garden

• Honey Bee Hives