Open-access content 15th August 2012
Local catering is being embraced fully in the offices of glass repair company Belron.
16 August 2012
Mingoia's cargo includes asparagus, new potatoes and spring greens - all freshly picked that morning from his land, the Green Landscape Nursery.
Situated in Hurst Lane, just three fields away from the Belron office, the nursery is owned and run by Mingoia and his brother, Sebastiano. The siblings left their family farm in Sicily in the 1960s to live and work in the UK.
In 1978 they bought a six-acre
small-holding just off the
Stroude Road and have been supplying salad crops and vegetables to top restaurants
in the South East ever since with.
Catering contractor Wilson Vale sources the majority of fresh produce from within a 12-mile radius of Belron to feed the 130 on-site staff working at the vehicle glass repair company.
But last year, things moved a whole lot closer. With the help of a supportive client, Sully and his team got every chef's dream - an on-site polytunnel (a type of plastic greenhouse with a polyethelene shell). This year, the Wilson Vale team will literally reap the benefits of the investment - fresh produce on the kitchen doorstep.
Jason Huggett, head of facilities management for Belron, explains Belron's approach to corporate social responsibility: "At Belron, it's more than just being green. The polytunnel is a relatively small step, but when you think of the impact it has in terms of minimising food miles and enhancing the health of our staff, it's an important investment."
Huggett explains how this approach compares to many organisations, where staff health is given less importance. "Wellbeing is not always top of the agenda for business managers as cost-cutting is rife." According to Huggett, at Belron, health, safety and general wellbeing are top of our agenda. "Cost is secondary," he confirms. "Forward-thinking FMs need to have a finger on the pulse of the building's occupants."
Huggett is quick to stress the good level of communication between departments at Belron - FM listens to HR.
"What's a building without people?" he says. The open, relaxed and flexible work culture enables Belron to keep a happy, motivated and loyal workforce, resulting in low employee turnover.
"As head of FM, it's very easy to get stuck in a rut at times by just concentrating on cost savings.
But there is so much more to be explored by listening to ideas and encouraging input from everyone in the company, so that they can all enjoy a better working environment."
With over 12 acres of land on-site, Belron uses this natural resource to provide fresh food
for its staff who can now enjoy 10 varieties of salad leaves, freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, mange tout, chilies, fine beans, peas and peppers. In addition to the polytunnel, there is an abundant herb garden that supplies the kitchen with fresh oregano, apple mint, marjoram, thyme, bay, dill, rosemary and basil.
As well as the vegetables and herbs, fig trees that were removed during construction were replanted, along with additional ones. The hope is to have crops of figs, prunes, grapes, plums, apples, cherries, pears and peaches.
Existing blackberry bushes on the site have been cultivated to make them easier to pick, and raspberry and blackcurrant bushes have also been planted. And the site has wild fennel and many varieties of wild mushroom - although Sully and his catering team admit they are cautious when it comes to the mushrooms.
"I think we need to do our homework first. However, what we can say for certain is that our customers can look forward to home-made jams, pies and preserves in the staff restaurant this autumn," said Sully.
At the moment, the catering team is selling potted herbs and chilies for people to grow at home. Jams and pickles will follow, with proceeds going to local charities.
"Life at Belron isn't just about nine to five," said Huggett. "Our efforts at growing our own have been well received here and throughout the company."
Huggett is keen to point out that a healthy lifestyle is not about calorie-counting and portion control, but about ensuring a balanced diet. "This nutrient-rich, seasonal produce hasn't come from miles away or been chemically or genetically altered to look good."
It sounds like a modern utopia, a far cry from the processed sandwiches and ciabattas in the city. "There's a buzz on-site - people are genuinely appreciative of what we are doing. It's about enhancing the working environment, reducing the carbon footprint, giving something back to the environment - and ensuring that our staff's diet at work is as good as it can be."
Patricia McAleer is a freelance writer for the facilities management and hospitality sectors