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Passion and Potato People: How ellenor’s Team Puts the Care in Catering

Cooking skills. Catering knowhow. Years of experience in the hospitality industry. For Amanda’s role – Coordinator of ellenor’s Catering and Housekeeping team – there are plenty of capabilities required.

Yet there’s one other – softer – skill that Amanda also brings to her role. Something vital to what she does; something you won’t find on most job descriptions of this sort. But ellenor is no ordinary workplace, and Amanda is no ordinary woman.

Because Amanda doesn’t simply cater. She cares.

Amanda began her role with ellenor – a hospice charity that provides care and support for patients with life-limited illnesses and their families in the Kent and Bexley area – six months ago. But her history with the organisation goes back to 15 years ago, when ellenor’s Hospice at Home team – along with Amanda herself – supported Amanda’s Dad at the end of his life, from the comfort of his own home.

Interviewing Amanda from the hustle and bustle of Café Verde – ellenor’s on-site café – and her caring nature is evident. It’s in the way her eyes light up when she talks about her twin son and daughter – now 24 – and two grandchildren, and in the way she speaks about her role at ellenor. Which, as it turns out, is a remarkably varied one.

Straddling the dual worlds of the Catering and Housekeeping team, Amanda is based primarily in the kitchen: preparing meals for patients and their families, and ensuring service in the café is ticking over. Cooking for patients with diverse dietary needs can be challenging – but, as Amanda explains, it can also be fun.

“We had a patient – who was well into her 90s – asking for a ‘hunky man on a plate’ for her dinner. So, I made her a potato man. I decorated a potato as best I could – it was winter, so I wrapped him up in a scarf made of icing – and sent it off to her on a plate. She later requested to see me, and said ‘you’ve made my bloody day!’

“It’s little things like that: making one person happy, even for a few minutes. Those things might seem small to us, but – to her – it meant the word. She kept that potato, by the way, and I had to remove it in the end – it had turned green!”

In her role at ellenor, it’s fair to say no two days are the same. One day, she’s creating potato men. Another day, she could be catering for a wedding reception, at the hospice, for an end-of-life patient – helping them to fulfil their dream before they pass away.

And on yet another day? Working with the Housekeeping team on ‘fogging’ duties – operating a machine which emits an antiviral fog that disinfects the rooms of COVID-19 patients.

“Being part of Housekeeping, I’m learning how incredibly hard that team works,” says Amanda. “They’re phenomenal at what they do.”

Amanda and her team don’t just work together. They laugh together. Yet she acknowledges that it can be an emotionally charged environment to work in. Recently, for example, ellenor cared for one of Amanda’s close personal friends in the last weeks of her life. Alongside preparing food for her friend, Amanda played a role in supporting her – and her family – before she passed away.

Yet Amanda hasn’t – and won’t – shy away from bonding with patients and families. In fact, it’s something that she’s become even better at doing during her time at ellenor.

“When I originally joined, I found it hard to go into a room and speak to a patient who was very poorly. I soon found my way of doing it, and that was simply going in and trying to connect with them, on their level. Not look over them, but sit with them.

“We’ve had personal connections with certain families that have bonded with us as a team. We’re here for the patients, yes – but we’re also here for the families. If we can make their day just that little bit nicer, we will.”

For Amanda, it’s never been just about the plates, but the people behind them. Before coming to ellenor, she cooked meals in the kitchen of a primary school.

“I loved being at school with the kids. Like patients, their needs are so diverse – kids enjoy and love food and I enjoyed tweaking things to their requirements.

So what does the future hold for Amanda, and for the Catering and Housekeeping team?

Exciting things. Under the stewardship of Facilities Manager Dan Parzefall – and with the hard work of ellenor’s caterers – Café Verde is thriving, with all proceeds going to support the hospice. The team is also getting a click-and-collect catering service up and running: to cater for weddings, funerals, and corporate functions.

Of course, it’s not only the promise of a bright future that keeps Amanda around. So what does she love most about her role?

As it turns out, plenty.

“I love the environment. I love the people I work with, and what this place offers. It’s the feeling you get when you come here. I wear my badge proudly, because I love it. And I walk with a massive smile on my face – because I love it. We’re all passionate about what we do here, and just want to do the best for all our patients and families.

“Coming here, I feel like I’m giving back; putting a smile on someone’s face.”