By James Vukmirovic
Veterans from across Staffordshire have been treated to a Christmas lunch by pupils of a Wolverhampton school.
Over 35 veterans from the Army, Air Force and Navy were joined by representatives of Age UK Wolverhampton and a Rotary club from the city for a three-course lunch at Highfields School on Wednesday.
It happened after Wolverhampton St Georges Rotary club agreed to fund the event so Sixth form pupils at the school who are learning about catering and hospitality can practice their skills.
Colin Hole, Chairman of Wolverhampton St Georges Rotary club, was full of praise for the children who worked on the day.
He said: “I think today has been absolutely super. Considering none of the children have had experience of catering for a large number of people, I think they’ve done a wonderful job.
“It’s quite a formidable task for an established restaurant, let alone a group of 15 and 16-year-old students, so it’s been excellent.”
The event was also part of the current befriending scheme by Age UK Wolverhampton, which has set out to make sure veterans are not left alone.
The scheme came from funding by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, and helped to set up clubs for veterans and old comrades to come together in the city and regularly meet as part of friendship groups.
Jack Bhutta, one of the pupils running the event said: “This has been quite a lot of work and it’s been stressful, but it’s been great fun. A lot of experiences have been learned and we’ve developed a lot of skills.
“I think it’s been really nice bring the veterans together in an environment like this. They’ve been able to socialise with each other and it’s been great for them to be here.”
It was the first time Sixth Form pupils had put on an event of this scale and for Barinder Chima, one of the teachers involved, the effort put in by the children had made it a success.
She said: “I think it’s gone really well. It’s been really positive and the children have had a great time, so it was really nice to give back to the community.
“It’s been a huge undertaking and we’ve been planning it for months, with our Headmaster Graham Tate approaching us in September, and every spare minute I’ve had has been preparing for this, so it’s been a massive and huge thing to plan, but it’s been great and I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it.”
Laura Smith, another Sixth Form teacher, said the event was an important day for the school and their work with the community.
She said: “For such a fantastic school as this, I think it’s nice to get people in from outside and showcase what our students can do.
“It’s also good to have links with the community and see the students in action, as they are fantastic students who make use of our modern facilities, so it’s really nice.
“From what I’ve heard, the veterans have really enjoyed the food and I think it was lovely for them to have the choir to listen to as they came in. It’s been nice that they’ve had the opportunity to chat to some of the students as they’ve gone around, so they look like they’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
One of the veterans in attendance was Ken Nightingale, who spent 12 years in the South Staffordshire army and a further 13 in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps after first enlisting in 1959. He spoke about the work the Rotary club had done and praised the school and pupils for the whole day.
He said: “Today has been absolutely wonderful. The Wolverhampton Rotary Club are unbelievably kind and generous, and the things they do for us old comrades are brilliant.
“The school has been fantastic. I’ve never been here before, but I’ve been very happily surprised by what I’ve seen. I hope that the young children who are here grow up to be good people.”
The pupils helped with serving and preparing the lunches, which included a Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato soup, a full Turkey dinner and Christmas Pudding Cheesecake for dessert.
This was done under the leadership of Mitchell Burrows, the Head Chef of the Mount Hotel in Wolverhampton.
He said: “It’s a lot more younger students, so you’ve got to be a lot more lenient with them, be more basic and talk things through with them a lot more, whereas at the Mount Hotel, you’ve got a lot more skilled and trained people that you’re working alongside with, so they will know how to do the job, whereas it’s the first time here for the students, so you’ve got to take things step by step.”
The veterans were treated to a drink’s reception and entertainment from the school choir.