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The importance of creating an inclusive dining experience

July 28 2016


“If we eat together we can chat with each other rather than feeling isolated when we eat on our own.” We take a look at how Livability’s Nash College has created inclusive dining for its students.

Having a burger and chips with your friends is a normal part of being a teenager – when all you want is to be the same as everyone else. But what does it feel like if a disability means you have to face a plate of liquidised food while your friends tuck in to their fries?

The catering team at Livability’s Further Education centre, Nash College, takes Livability’s commitment to overcome the barriers that get in the way for disabled people, very seriously. So seriously that they have, over several years, developed their own approach to providing food that is safe for Nash students requiring special diets – and that tastes delicious too.

The plate on the left has been created to look light a real full English breakfast
The plate on the left has been created to look like a real full English breakfast (right)

This personalised approach starts even before a student arrives at Nash. The team, who are trained in a wide range of disability care, meet with each student to find out how they need to eat when they start at college, and what foods they like. The catering staff then work with the speech and language team, part of Nash’s onsite multi-disciplinary approach, to assess students’ eating requirement such as food consistency or specialised cutlery.

Some students need a ‘differentiated’ diet, consisting of soft or liquid food, because of difficulties with swallowing or digestion. For them, the Nash team takes a creative approach. “Why shouldn’t someone that needs a differentiated diet not enjoy the same experience as others?’ says catering manager Lesley Coward. ‘Just because food is pureed it doesn’t mean it needs to look bad.’

Using a special ingredient, differentiated food is craftily reshaped so that it looks like solid food, such as chips, rice, lasagne and vegetables. All differentiated meals are created from the same natural ingredients and colourings that make up other students’ meals, and are presented appetisingly. This personalised and skilled approach means that everyone is included at meal times in the Nash dining hall, eating with their friends just the same as anyone else.

“Why shouldn’t someone that needs a differentiated diet not enjoy the same experience as others?” – Lesley Coward

“This inclusion is really important to students,” says student-governor Poppy Goodchild. She has learnt from experience that students don’t want to feel that there is anything wrong with them. “They could feel sad and angry if their food doesn’t look the same as others,” she adds. ‘If we eat together, we can be more social and chat with each other, rather than feeling isolated, eating on our own.”

When birthdays come round, everyone can enjoy their own birthday cake because the catering team will send a diet-specific cake home with the student, and even provide cupcakes for parties or get-togethers if parents are struggling to source suitable party food.

Nash’s care and commitment to their students’ wellbeing and enjoyment in this important area of dining and socialising has been commended by experts: an Ofsted inspector commented that Nash “has the best catering provision for its students in any school or college that I have seen, in the whole 11 years I have been inspecting. And I really mean that.”

Livability’s Nash College is an independent specialist college for learners with moderate to profound disabilities. Based in Bromley, Kent, Nash College offers residential and day further education for 65 students, aged from 18 to 25. Committed to overcoming the barriers to community, the College strives to enable all of its students to pursue education, discovery and vocation. Find more information about the work of Nash College here.

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