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Eating WELL

The Crown Estate, with the help of its catering provider, Vacherin, has developed a world-class wellbeing offering. FMJ looks at how food can make all the difference

The Crown Estate’s new headquarters, located at 1 St James’s Market, London, has a growing list of accolades that would make even its West End neighbours blush. Since moving to its new location in 2017, The Crown Estate’s office has received a WELL Platinum certification, the first in Europe, and a Leesman score that places it among the top two per cent of buildings in the world for employee experience. These achievements represent the culmination of a journey by the organisation to create an exceptional workplace with the health, wellbeing and performance of its people at the centre.

The Crown Estate is a modern property company with one crucial difference. Appointed under the 1961 Crown Estate Act, it returns 100 per cent of its profits to HM Treasury for the benefit of the nation’s finances. It is a company with a portfolio that is as diverse as any other property firm’s, including commercial, retail, residential, agricultural, forestry and seabed interests, which it combines with a purpose-led approach to business and a commitment to be a leading, progressive employer with a state-of-the-art workplace.

According to Colin Mooney, Head of Operational Resilience who is responsible for health and safety performance across The Crown Estate, when the organisation moved its head office from Regent Street to 1 St James’s Market (both part of its portfolio), the primary objective was to deliver a workplace that would allow staff to work in a far more connected way. He says the three floors that the organisation occupied in its Regent Street office had become natural barriers to conversation, impacting interaction between colleagues as well as its different departments. In the new space, however, a single floorplate for all employees on the seventh floor has led to a clear spike in cross-departmental collaboration.

Naturally, food, and its celebrated ability to bring people together, has formed a key part of the necessary operational and cultural transformation at 1 St James’s Market. The Crown Estate ran a competitive tender process for its catering service two years ago, which resulted in the contract going to a new catering provider, Vacherin. “As part of that conversation, we talked about having a really vibrant and modern food offering; and we also talked about the WELL Standard and what it required in relation to nourishment,” says Mooney.

The WELL Standard is an evidence-based system that measures, certifies and monitors seven key areas of a building that impact occupants’ health and wellbeing: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Dan Kelly, Deputy Managing Director of Food and Operations, explains that the criteria for the ‘nourishment’ category includes the promotion of healthy eating habits by offering healthier food choices, behavioural cues and knowledge about nutritional content.

“Nutrition is something that architects and engineers tend not to be responsible for, yet it has a huge impact on people’s health,” he says. “WELL emphasises the fact that, where possible, mindful eating and healthier food choices should be part of the design and not merely an afterthought.”

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With the concept behind WELL new to everyone at the beginning of the project, Mooney explains that this forced both parties to be exceptionally creative and imaginative, particularly as they aimed for the highest possible standards. Giving employees choice in what they eat, for example, is fundamental to Vacherin’s offer at 1 St James’s Market. Mooney stresses that rather than tell staff what they could and could not eat, The Crown Estate set about offering real choice and consistent access to healthy food options.

Now, vegetarian and vegan options are displayed at the top of the board, the salad bar is given a prominent position at the centre of the café, and healthy snacks are by the till – while sugary drinks, chocolate and other confectionery are stored behind the counter. More traditional cafeteria dishes like sausage and mash are still available but served with at least one portion of vegetables. “It’s not about saying you can’t have something, but about promoting the healthy choices. That’s the difference,” says Mooney.

“We all have traditional dishes that we love to eat, but these are often the ones that aren’t good for us from a nutritional point of view,” adds Kelly. “At Vacherin, we don’t believe in depriving our customers of the food we love. Instead, we should be thinking about how we can make small changes that can make a lot of difference health-wise.”

One of the most significant of these changes was the introduction of smaller plates, bowls and cups, a requirement for any organisations looking to gain a WELL Platinum Certificate. As a result, the largest latté that Vacherin’s baristas can now make is eight ounces, the size of a standard flat white. Mooney explains that convincing staff that this wasn’t the machinations of a nanny state, but an effective way of controlling portion sizes, was one of the biggest challenges.

About Sarah OBeirne

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