A good meal makes a big difference

26 March 2018

The kitchen is often described as the heart of a home, and that’s certainly the case at Demelza Hospice Care for Children.

When the Kent hospice was built nearly 20 years ago, making the kitchen and dining area the central focus was fundamental to the design.

“It was important that it didn’t look like a hospital – that it should be a home from home,” explains Demelza Operations Manager Tim Richards.

So one of the first things families see when they come into the hospice in Sittingbourne is a huge, usually busily occupied, communal table companionably set next to the open kitchen. It’s a welcome vision of normality.

Being able to sit around the table together is also a great way of breaking the ice with regular visitors and members of staff and volunteers, who also eat there, chatting with new families and showing them the ropes.

The kitchen itself is a hive of activity. At both residential hospices, in Sittingbourne and Eltham, South East London, a team of three staff and volunteers work together on a rota basis to prepare and serve, breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

They make sure there is plenty of choice on the menu – and a seemingly endless supply of cake. That’s on top of meeting the special dietary needs of all the children using the hospices, which can be complex.

The team also has to make sure the separate kitchen areas used by teenagers and family members staying overnight are well stocked so they can help themselves to hot drinks and toast whenever they want.

Chef Philip Martin – universally known as Pie – has worked in the kitchen in Sittingbourne for the past 10 years.  The catering team liaises closely with the care team to ensure they meet the young service users’ nutritional needs – keeping a record of their favourite foods so they can be sure to have them ready when they come in – and pay equal attention to the rest of the family.

“We want to make sure that families don’t have to worry about anything to do with meals while they are here,” Pie explains. “Before coming to Demelza they might have spent months in hospital living on canteen food and sandwiches, or their child may have very specific nutritional requirements. When they want to give all their attention to their sick child, our being able to put a good meal on the table makes a big difference.”

If they choose to, families can bring in their own supplies, but most take advantage of all that’s on offer. While there is always a healthy option on the menu, comfort food like cottage pie and toad in the hole is always a popular choice. With a rueful grin, Pie admits that the children’s favourite is chicken nuggets.

So that the whole family can share meal together, the kitchen will prepare the same dish for children who cannot manage solid food, going so far as to blend items separately so they look more appetising.

As ever, it is our volunteers who make all this possible. Some are trained chefs themselves and are invaluable for helping with menu planning and preparation – especially when a consignment of discounted surplus supermarket goods from food redistribution charity Fareshare comes in. Paul Brown brings 48 years’ experience in the catering industry to Demelza, and now loves working with his fellow volunteers. For Diane Jones, who has been helping out in the kitchen for 10 years, it was the chance to do something completely different that appealed. “It’s a nice relaxed atmosphere with fantastic staff,” she says.

Will you give £25 to Demelza to feed a family for one day? Please visit our Donate page. We are also grateful for donations of tea, coffee and sugar, as well as Sainsbury’s vouchers. Thank you for your support.