The catering department at St Catherine’s Hospice, West Sussex, is a truly special place to work. For 35 years, the hospice has offered both physical and emotional support to those living with a terminal illness and their families. This includes patients in the 18-bed hospice, as well as caring for patients in their own homes. It costs around £10m a year to run the hospice and around one third comes from NHS funding. The rest is raised by the local community through fundraising, legacies, 14 charity shops, the lottery and volunteering. Building work is currently underway for a larger, modern 24 bed hospice, which is part of the Woodgate development, due to open later this year.

Gemma Pearce, Kitchen Lead has worked at the hospice for virtually ten years, although recently re-joined after a brief
stint cooking at a local school. The most rewarding part of her job at the hospice is making a difference for patients and their loved ones.

St Catherine’s Hospice was known to Gemma prior to working there as three of her grandparents received care there. Her department consists of three full-time chefs, four senior catering assistants and three bank catering assistants who fill in as necessary, as well as 20 volunteer kitchen assistants. The team cater for the catchment areas of Sussex and East Surrey, supplying meals for all in-patients, visitors, family members and 170 staff.

Menus are on a four-week cycle and are changed twice a year in summer and winter. “We retain popular dishes and look at what we need to change. In winter we have the most demand for roast dinners and home-cooked meals such as lasagne, fishfinger wraps, curries, soup and chicken pie. Rice pudding is a favourite in the winter. We pride ourselves on cooking from fresh each day,” she says.

When a patient is admitted on the ward, a member of the In-Patient Unit (IPU) will discuss any special food needs they may have, and this is passed to the kitchen. “If a patient makes a special request for a certain food they want to share with their family, we’ll make sure that happens,” enthuses Gemma.

The catering team also support various occasions such as weddings, vow renewals and blessings. “It all depends on what the patient and loved ones want,” notes Gemma. “We’ve catered for the entire event including a buffet, drinks and wedding cake and decorated the garden with bunting across the trees to make it look really lovely for the couple.”

Birthdays and anniversaries are also celebrated. “If we discover it’s a patient’s birthday, a cake will be made and sent to them on a decorated trolley with a bottle of prosecco and orange juice,” she says. “If it’s a big birthday, we go the extra mile – it depends on the patient and what they like. We’ve also organised ‘end of life’ parties for patients who want to celebrate their life with their loved ones.”