John’s pies fuel NHS frontline staff
As the proud father of a frontline worker caring for patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Manchester Royal Infirmary, John Preston understands the daily pressures faced by NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 61-year-old chef and cafe manager said, “My daughter Sarah is an operating department practitioner and she and other frontline hospital staff have faced the full brunt of the virus. When they’re in the ICU or the operating theatre, they have to be wearing all the protective gear and it’s hard to take it off and have a break. They eat what they can, when they can.”
John, who runs the cafe at the Brain and Spinal Injury Centre (BASIC) in Salford, was determined to use his culinary skills to help out. Since the start of the lockdown, he has spent up to 10 hours a week baking hundreds of savoury pies for ICU staff at Manchester Royal Infirmary and the Salford Royal Hospital.
Each week John drives a batch of his homemade treats – a mouthwatering selection that includes traditional favourites such as steak and kidney as well as cheese and onion and vegetable balti options – to the two hospitals.
John said, “They really go down well – the pies are flying off the shelves. The cheese and onion ones are probably the most popular, but I like to experiment. Today, I made some chicken dinner pies. They’ve got everything you’d get in a chicken dinner – chicken breast, stuffing and gravy – in a pie.”
John, a former bricklayer who retrained as a teacher and chef, became the manager of BASIC’s cafe in September last year. The position, which is funded by a three-year grant from The National Lottery, satisfies his love of cooking, but involves a lot more than making tasty food from fresh ingredients.
As well as chatting to people who visit the cafe to unwind after receiving treatment at the centre, John trains volunteers in the cafe’s kitchen. He said, “The biggest reward is seeing people’s self esteem improving. We had a couple of volunteers working with me who had very low self-esteem, who hadn’t worked for a few years. Their self-esteem went through the roof and they’ve gone back into the employment market.”
The BASIC cafe has been closed since the start of the lock down, but John is doing all he can to stay in touch with his customers. He is posting recipes and nutrition advice on BASIC’s Instagram and Facebook pages, and three weeks ago filmed himself giving a sourdough masterclass.
John said, “We’re keeping busy and letting people know we’re still here and still available. It’s about engaging with the public and talking to the public, being a helping hand. The cooking is a minor part of it in a way. It’s all about talking to people and helping people.”
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29th May 2020
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