The Hospitality and Catering courses at Leicester College have a fantastic reputation and have positioned the College as the leading provider for cookery, food service, and bakery courses in the East Midlands.
Students train in fully-equipped kitchens, using industry-standard equipment, to prepare and serve high quality meals in the College’s fine dining taste restaurant.
This works really well in ‘normal times’, but how do you deliver catering courses in the middle of a pandemic?
Covid-19 sets unprecedented challenge
Nicky Randall, Programme Area Manager in Hospitality at Leicester College explains: “The Covid-19 restrictions have caused us a real challenge in delivering the course as so much of it is hands-on.
“Back in March 2020 when the initial lockdown first started, we were focused on collating student evidence and information for awarding bodies in relation to changes to their pass criteria. Thankfully, we were able to bring students back in to finish their qualifications and still managed to achieve a strong pass rate.
“Our taste restaurant has been offering fine-dining experiences at accessible prices for many years in Leicester but was forced to close so couldn’t be staffed by our food and hospitality learners. We had to think outside of the box!”
A new, virtual approach to course delivery
Nicky continues: “There are around 20 students per class on the Hospitality course so these were split into two to ensure that social distancing could take place safely, that our staff would be able to manage a full timetable and that every learner would get an opportunity to cook.
“However, we changed the way that we delivered lessons and set up ‘visualisers’ (cameras positioned above the teacher’s cookery demonstration) so that any students who were ill or self-isolating could watch at home and participate alongside the class, if they had the ingredients.
“We recorded a series of ‘how to’ videos to show and help people to bake scones and other items, for example, and these garnered really good feedback from staff and students alike. Alongside my colleague, Ian Bremner, we also hosted a virtual tour of the College which, to our surprise, achieved over 4,000 views.
A worldwide response for employer engagement
“Given that we usually serve around 3,000 customers in the taste restaurant in the run up to Christmas, one of the real worries was about lack of opportunities to present employability skills to the students, giving them a true work experience.
“To address this, we took the bold and unprecedented move of tweeting out to chefs and restaurateurs to see if they could help us with employer engagement in this difficult time for both them and us. Our posts were shared as far afield as Dubai, Australia and more, including Michelin starred chefs. We received over 30 positive responses and managed to secure 18 employer engagements for our students when they were able to talk to the chefs online about why they chose hospitality as a career and where their journey had taken them along the way.
“We’ve also spoken to ex-students to produce a series of case studies based on their experiences and are working on ‘meet the exes’ sessions where ex-students talk about the course and how it has helped them.”
‘Offering the best course experience’
Nicky concludes: “We’re currently just one per cent down on attendance compared to last year, so that is testament to the enthusiasm of our students and staff to make this new situation work for them. The students have been really positive and have come into College or joined us online with a real focus.
“We’ve committed to not restricting students’ ability to come and cook. They still want to come in and learn, and parents are calling in to thank us for our determination to offer the best course experience that we can in the current environment.”
Chloe Farrington, a student on the Patisserie and Confectionery Diploma Level 3 said: “I’m really enjoying the course and have learned so many new skills to help me in my future.”