THE GOOD LIFEFriday 24th August 2012
Picture the scene. It’s a warm May day in the middle of the Surrey countryside and Mario Mingoia is driving at a leisurely pace along the leafy by-ways. He carries asparagus, new potatoes and spring greens – all freshly picked that morning from his land. His destination: the UK corporate office of Belron International Limited (Belron®) in Egham, where Darren Sully, Wilson Vale chef manager, is eagerly waiting the delivery.
The fresh produce comes from The Green Landscape Nursery, situated just three fields away from Belron® in Hurst Lane. It is owned and run by Mario and his brother, Sebastiano, who left their family farm in Sicily in the 1960’s to live and work in the UK. In August 1978 they bought a six acre small-holding just off the Stroud Road and have been supplying top restaurants throughout the South East ever since with fresh salad crops and vegetables.
When it comes to local supply, it just doesn’t come any closer.
Or does it?
Wilson Vale sources the majority of fresh produce within a twelve-mile radius of Belron® to feed the 130 staff on-site, but last year things moved a whole lot closer.
With the help of a very supportive client, Darren Sully and his team got every chef’s dream - a poly tunnel on-site.
This year, the Wilson Vale team will reap the benefits of the investment - fresh produce literally on the kitchen doorstep.
“We couldn’t ask for fresher produce,” said Darren Sully. “To have access to fresh fruit and vegetables within a contract catering environment is amazing and it’s all due to Belron®’s support and interest in their staff and genuine commitment to the environment.”
Belron®, the world’s leading vehicle and glass repair and replacement company, has a strong ethos of giving back, as Jason Huggett, head of facilities management for Belron®, explained: ”CSR at Belron® is more than just being green; it’s about doing great things. The poly tunnel 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.
“Wellbeing is not always top of the agenda for business managers as cost cutting is ripe but here health, safety and general wellbeing are top of our agenda; cost is secondary. Forward-thinking FMs need to have a finger on the pulse of the building’s occupants.
“HR and FM are completely one at Belron®, which I think is quite unusual but actually, it makes perfect sense because what’s a building without people? It’s the people who make a company and at Belron® we have a very open and relaxed culture where there is no such thing as clocking in and out and we support people if they want to work from home. In return, we have a happy, motivated and loyal workforce, with many people choosing to remain working with us for ten, fifteen or twenty years.
“As head of FM, it’s very easy to get stuck in a rut at times by just concentrating on cost savings but actually, 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.
“We view our catering facility as the heart of the building. Wilson Vale couldn’t be more supportive and we count ourselves very fortunate to enjoy fantastic service from all of our contractors on site who share our ethos, from the landscapers, the Gavin Jones Group, who create the planting areas to our full-time gardener, Trevor Lawrence, who feeds wonderfully fresh produce to our kitchens so that Darren and his team can create healthy dishes to keep our staff nutritionally balanced during their working day.” said Jason.
With over 12 acres of land on-site, Belron® uses this natural resource to provide the very best for its staff who can now enjoy ten varieties of salad leaves, freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, mange tout, chilies, fine beans, peas and peppers. In addition to the poly tunnel, there is an abundant herb garden with everything a chef could wish for including oregano, apple mint, marjoram, thyme, bay, dill, rosemary and basil.
A nature garden is currently under construction to improve bio diversity on-site. This will include a wild flower meadow and a wildlife pond. Food and garden waste goes straight into the composter on-site and there is a plan to re-introduce bee hives, once Jason is confident that none of the staff has an allergy to bee stings.
And it doesn’t stop there, as Jason explains: “We are creating allotments so that anyone who wants to grow their own can do so, with the help of our gardener. It means that staff can harvest their own produce to cook at home. Trevor is always happy to share his knowledge, as is our on-site chef manager, Darren Sully, so between them, our staff have everything they need to make delicious, healthy food in the comfort of their own homes.”
As well as the vegetables and herbs, we re-planted original fig trees that were removed during construction and planted additional ones. In time, we hope to have good crops of figs, prune, grapes, plums, apples, cherries, pears and peaches.
“Approximately 30 per cent of the trees were there already and we have planted a total of 19 additional trees, all of which with the exception of the fig tree are expected to bear fruit this year. The new ones will only have a limited supply, as most of the fruit will be removed to force the roots to grow more enabling more fruit yield next year,” said Jason.
Existing blackberry bushes on the site have been cultivated to make them easier to pick and raspberry and blackcurrant bushes have also been planted. The site also has wild fennel and many varieties of wild mushroom, although Darren 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 Darren.
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.
Wilson Vale’s ethos of making everything on-site, including cakes, granolas, yoghurt, speciality breads, soups and main dishes is very much in keeping with their client’s commitment to its people.
“Life at Belron® isn’t just about nine to five,” said Jason. “It's about a community of people who enjoy what they do. We’ve created a positive culture and it’s important to support them in every way possible. Our efforts at growing our own have been very well received by all on-site and throughout the company and we couldn’t have achieved this without Wilson Vale’s on-going support and their wonderful craft skills which can turn a bowl of freshly picked peas into a mouth watering dish like butternut & pea risotto with rocket & basil pesto and toasted pine nuts.”
“So many caterers talk about health at work but this is as real as you can get. It’s not all about calorie counting and portion control but about ensuring a balanced diet with nutrient-rich, seasonal produce which hasn’t come from miles away or been chemically or genetically altered to look good.
“There’s a buzz on site – and it’s not just the bees and other wildlife that our blossom and plants are attracting! People are genuinely appreciative of what we are doing. It’s about enhancing the working environment, reducing carbon footprint, giving something back to the environment and ensuring that our staff’s diet at work is as good as good can be.”
- First published in FM World Magazine 16th August 2012