In conversation with… Brookwood’s MD

Sponsored: Deborah Homshaw has led Brookwood for six months. Here she outlines her plans for the business and the future of education catering

What has your experience of education catering been so far?

What’s really struck me across the sector is the rigid focus on ‘school food’. We shouldn’t label it in such a fashion and it shouldn’t be treated any differently to food served anywhere else. We should be talking about great food and memorable experiences that just happen to be eaten and enjoyed at school. Dropping the label is liberating. It immediately broadens the horizon and the palate.

What’s your current focus? 

At present, it’s deepening our understanding of our customers. It’s the first generation to completely grow up in the digital age – ‘Gen Z’.  Information is quite literally at their fingertips. They are aware of the connection between food and health, they have a positive sustainability mindset and want to know where their food comes from. They’ve also grown up eating out regularly with family and friends and know what a great food experience looks like. They’re a savvy bunch and they can’t be patronised. We must include them in the process and understand what’s important to them and what excites them.

How do schools benefit?

Quite simply, by creating food experiences and dining environments that pupils would expect to see on the high street. By making the dining hall a destination of choice, it increases pupil satisfaction as well as the confidence and engagement of their parents. The power of positive dining experiences must never be underestimated.

Health – both physical and mental – is high on the public agenda. How are you helping schools address this?

Our food is implicitly and intrinsically nutritious. We champion ‘clean’ food and communal eating experiences that promote health, happiness and wellbeing.  With support from our nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, we address issues such as the growing vegan trend and the nutritional challenges for both children and adults. Our focus is on the big picture of wellbeing and how diet impacts on academic and physical performance, and how we feel about ourselves and our surroundings. Eating correctly can improve a child’s results by a whole grade – that is how important food in schools is!

Sustainability is a key area for schools and the public in general. What are you doing here?

We’re very proud of our top level, three-star Food Made Good rating which encompasses sourcing, society and environment. We won’t rest on our laurels, though, as we have a crucial role to play in protecting the planet for future generations. Our current focus is the removal of single-use plastics from our schools. This won’t happen overnight, but our immediate goal is a reduction of 25% in 2018/19 academic year.

Deborah Homshaw

If you had a magic wand, what legislation would you bring to schools?

I’d legislate that all school meals must contain a minimum of 40% of a child’s nutritional intake per day for day pupils and, of course, 100% for boarders. We aim for that in the dishes and menus we develop but it would be great if everyone did it as standard.

I’d also make it statutory that food technology and science play a bigger role in education to highlight how food impacts all elements of life. Eating the right food supports learning but food can also bring enjoyment and experimentation to lessons. It is relevant to all subjects, from geography, biology and chemistry to languages, history, maths and using it across the curriculum is such a positive message.

Anything else you want to add?

We love what we do, and we believe that we have the best job in the world. Children and food are such positive forces of nature – what could be better?! If anyone wants to know more, I’ll be at ISBA this month so pop by and see what else we’re up to at Brookwood.

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