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11 May 2020

The NHS Livery Kitchens Initiative

The ongoing health crisis caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to push the NHS to its limits. Members of staff, from porters and cleaners to consultants and anaesthetists, are adapting to work under conditions which they have rarely, if ever, worked before. The pressure on the healthcare system is at its sharpest point on each staff member's mental and physical health.

Barts Health NHS Trust is the biggest healthcare provider in the country and divides into four main hospitals: St Bartholomew's, The Royal London, Newham and Whipps Cross. The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel has the largest intensive care unit as well as the largest trauma unit in the country. Coronavirus has placed huge pressure on this hospital's resources in particular.

The hospital has around 1000 NHS staff working at any one time, many more than usual. Added to this social distancing requirements, the hospital canteen is stretched beyond its capacity and staff face long queues and wait-times, frustrating at a time when they need healthy, nutritious food quickly and safely.

The need was obvious, the pressure on hospitals and their staff was building and putting those already working tirelessly to keep us safe under great strain.

Beginning last month in April, the Merchant Taylors' Company and its Catering Company with the Drapers' and Grocers' Companies and events organiser Party Ingredients together established the NHS Livery Kitchens Initiative. The aim was simple: to feed NHS frontline workers each day with nutritious, individually-packed meals from our own kitchens in the City to help reduce the burden on hospital canteens and to provide a morale and immunity boost through a delicious meal.

The initiative started with 200 meals across a Halal and vegetarian split, prepared for staff at the Royal London Hospital. It soon grew as our kitchens adapted and built capacity to 500 meals a day. From next week we will be able to cater for 4000 members of NHS staff at the Royal London and St Bartholomew's hospitals.

The venture was cemented as truly pan-Livery as the Hackney Carriage Drivers' Company drive chefs to Livery kitchens so that they can avoid public transport.

The combined effort is not without cost and the Company has also made a generous contribution to overall spending across the project. A number of Livery Companies have already provided financial support to the costs thus far, but there remains some way to go. Any Company or individual who is interested in contributing is encouraged to contact the Clerk to the Drapers’ Company, coordinating the operation.

I am proud of our team for making this project happen. It is fantastic to work with other Livery Companies on this combined vital effort. When we heard that frontline NHS staff were working 12 hour shifts living on crisps and chocolate bars we knew we could help. Our team usually cater for large dinners of up 400 people so volume was no problem. Our entire kitchen team have volunteered from Executive Chef to our young apprentice. It is absolutely right to make use of our resources to help the NHS.

The initiative shall continue for some weeks before demand will reduce and we can turn our attention to being ready to welcome you back to the Hall.

Charlotte Close, Operations Director, Merchant Taylors' Catering Company

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