Arena Futures: Develop

'Understanding the Cost Sector' with Deborah Homshaw, CH&CO

Connect, Develop, Grow

On Thursday 25th of March, Arena Futures, the division of Arena set up to support younger generations and those new to their hospitality career, broadcast its second live webinar as part of a web series called ‘Develop: Understanding the cost sector’ (the next focus will be on hospital catering!). Joined by expert speakers, the Arena Futures committee took a deep dive into School Food and was joined by over 60 attendees all tuned in via Zoom. Thank you to everyone who attended and if you missed it there's a review and a link to the recording of the event below.

Event Review


In the past year, the news agenda has focused on the closure of hospitality throughout various lockdowns. However, there is an important part of our sector that has remained open and faced numerous challenges because of the pandemic – the cost sector. This sector is responsible for NHS food, private hospitals, nursing homes, school meals, government departments, prison catering and so much more and with lockdown coming to an end last week, Arena Futures hosted an event focusing on the sector with a deep dive into School Food.

Our speakers, Deborah Homshaw, MD - Education & Healthcare, CH&CO; together with Dan Baldock, GM and Project Manager, CH&CO, working at St Paul’s Boys School and Nikki Low, Executive Chef at CH&CO also working in St Paul's Boys School held an exceptional session alongside our hosts Karis Thomas, Arena Futures Chair and Ellen Potts, Arena Futures Committee member. The speakers took a deep dive into School Food as a functional part of Cost Sector Catering, covering the challenges the sector has faced in the past year, how their teams have responded, what they have learned and, lastly, how CH&CO is looking to the future.

CH&CO has almost 300 sites where they are responsible for feeding children from nursery up to the age of 18 and beyond and the teams wealth of experience in the sector gave us some insight into the fantastic work they do, as well as highlighting the career opportunities in this sector. 

“Catering in education settings is not just about putting meals in front of children”, the team shared. “There is an obligation to teach children from the beginning about good nutrition and CH&CO works hard to banish negative messaging, such as “don’t eat this, it’s not good for you” which can contribute to disordered eating and other health-related issues.” Deborah explained how her team prioritise positive food messaging to try to make a positive impact on the nutritional choices of our future generations.

Our speakers identified five of the biggest challenges ther teams faced during the pandemic, which were: People; Product; Price; Process & Business Continuity.

“Agile management was the key phrase of last year, with change being the only constant,” they added. “Making difficult decisions, adapting to the shifting landscape, embracing technology and focusing on community reach became the norm, all whilst remaining calm and ensuring everyone had the right guidance to support their clients at every touchpoint within the business.”

The teams in kitchens have been revisiting recipes and adapting them to suit the changing needs of their local communities. From bread making to creating ready meals ad ensuring that layers of flavour shine through even though the meal was being reheated in a plastic container! – these skills are just a few of the positive outcomes they have taken out of a negative situation.

So where will CH&CO and school food catering go in the future? Our speakers said they will be focusing on developing partnerships, harnessing talent and will continue to challenge the role of food in schools, to influence future generations.

“It is not just school food, it’s great food”, was the quote of the session and CH&CO challenged the audience to be brave and to consider embracing the education sector as a career option in the future. “These roles have the opportunity to empower future generations, challenge the role of food and make a difference”, they claimed, with  Nikki discussing his journey from Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Group into Educational Catering and how much he enjoys his role at St Paul's.

Those are just a few key highlights and you can watch the full webinar, including our live Q&A session here.

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Thanks for reading and keep on the lookout for our next event!