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Catering for the Olympic clean-up

Author : Tim Fryer

04 July 2012

Jan Matthews

Jan Matthews is LOCOG’s Head of Catering, Cleaning and Waste. Tim Fryer spoke to her about the challenges of a programme that includes the largest peacetime cleaning operation in the World.

When the Olympic Games take place in the coming weeks, Matthews will oversee a team of 500 Volunteers, 140 LOCOG Staff and 22,000 contractors, serving 14 million meals in 6 weeks. An Olympian effort for most, but when I spoke to her in the late Spring with still over 100 days to go, the messages were all positive. “I think we still have challenges to get over and that we need to get over together,” said Matthews, “but I think we are in a position where we can put on an absolutely spectacular Olympics.”

Matthews track record suggests that she will deliver what she promises. After a career which has taken in stints as General Manager of Forte, General Manager at the BBC’s Wood Norton Hall conference facility, and from there she became Operations Director with the City Inn Group overseeing the opening of the groups first three hotels. Then, following 18 months as Operations Director with Aramark, Matthews moved with her family to Germany as Head of Operations for NAAFI,(Navy Army, Air Force Institute) the organisation which provides British Forces across the world with Catering, Retail, Leisure and cleaning services.

Having successfully delivered the 940m Euro ‘Pay as you dine’ project as Director, Matthews was promoted to Change Director for NAAFI responsible for delivering the strategy and tactical plan for the changing the total business model for NAAFI. She then returned to the UK to join Elior where she was Managing Director for Education and Business and Industry in the South.

Her latest, and biggest, challenge started in September 2009 when she joined LOCOG as Head of Catering, Cleaning and Waste.

There is a host of companies contracted to perform these functions, although Waste is a single contract that was won by SITA UK. But why are cleaning and catering bundled together in the first place? “We get to cater the party - then clean up after it,” explained Matthews. “65% of the games time waste is out of catering, so it does allow us to have a turnkey solution. So we can control what comes in through the caterers and control the waste stream going out at the far end. So it makes sense to us that catering, cleaning and waste come together as one programme.”

Despite bundling these disciplines together under Matthews leadership it has transpired that there have not been any bundled contracts for cleaning and catering. The main reason is that the sports cleaning is a different animal to general office cleaning, the extreme case being having to empty the Olympic stadium of 80,000 people, clean it and get 80,000 back in 25 minutes later.

‘Cleaning’ and ‘catering’ are not always the same thing. Surely, I asked Matthews, the requirements of staff, athletes, hospitality and public are all very different? “Yes, completely different,” responded Matthews. “That is why we have 11 what we call Tier One caterers doing different venues, different packages. They then in some instances have sub-contracted to smaller caterers to do some parts of that because we do have a number of different client groups that they need to cater for. We also have got a number of cleaning contractors doing the cleaning so have been able to match the requirements of different client groups with different caterers. For example we have one caterer [Aramark] who is doing the catering for all three Olympic Villages [Stratford, Egham and Weymouth]. We have smaller contractors delivering different sizes of venues.”

McDonalds, incidentally, does not count as one of those catering contractors, which flies in the face of the critics who say food options at the Games will be burger of burger. However, the company is one of the longest serving sponsors of the Olympics and will have four restaurants across the Park – one in the athletes village, one in the press and broadcast centre and two in the Olympic Park itself. During games time the latter will be the two busiest restaurants in the world.

Most of the cleaning (seven main contracts) and catering contracts were awarded at the beginning of 2011, with some of the smaller ones coming towards the end of the year. I asked Matthews if she was impressed by what Britain had on offer in these disciplines. “There is a plethora of really good contractors out there. Some of them have delighted. Some of them haven’t delighted quite as much. But I think we are very pleased with what we have got and who we are dealing with. If someone had said to me when I joined in September 2009 these are the people you are working with and this is where you will be 129 days out of the games I would have taken it in a heartbeat. There are always challenges that you need to address but I think if we had to put it on tomorrow from a catering, cleaning and waste perspective then we could.”

At the time of our conversation there had already been 20 test events, intended to iron out any problems. However, the most revealing thing thrown up by these events was an understanding of how spectators moved around the park and the individual venues. As all the buildings on the site were brand new, it gave the contractors an opportunity to see how they actually operate and the flow of people around them. Matthews believes these have been vital in ensuring that everything works perfectly on day one of the Olympics. She pointed out: “In many contracts you are given six weeks to mobilise and then a five year contract. We have given people 18 months to mobilise and then a five to six week contract. And we have to get it right on day one. I was managing director of Elior for a while and you thought that it would take three months for a contract to bed in. Three months after the start here we are all out of a job, so we have to make sure that we get it right from the word go.”

One of the features of Matthews portfolio was to provide a turnkey solution to catering and waste provision with a target of ‘zero to landfill’ and composting or recycling rates of 70%. Matthews explained: “The way in which we have gone about that is to ensure that all of our food packaging is biodegradable and is marked with different colours. So we have three waste streams – we have compostable, we have recyclable and then we have general waste and all of our packaging has either an orange or green sticker depending on whether it is compostable or recyclable. The bins reflect the colour of the stickers and the bags in the bins are also either compostable or recyclable - from the beginning to the end of the process it is easy to see which stream the waste should go in. We have worked very hard to ensure that the whole turnkey solution can be delivered. So we already have people who are organising other events coming to talk to us about the turnkey solution and how they can do that, because the 70% target we have set to recycle and compost is an ambitious target, but one that we can reach.”

With so many different contractors was it difficult to impose such a regime? Not, according to Matthews, if it is left to the experts: “We developed the scheme with the contractors. We had the caterers, the cleaners and the waste contractors in a room together looking at the detail of how we do this. You have the industry at your fingertips – it is stupid to think that you have the answers to all of it, so we said ‘this was what we wanted to do – what is the best way of doing it?’

“Even Coke sat in on it because they are very big on their recycling and have a 100% closed loop. They provided us with help on messaging. For example if you buy a bottle of water or coke on the opening night of the Olympics, that PEP bottle will have been recycled and part of that PEP bottle will forming another PEP bottle that you will be able to drink out of at the Paralympics. So within four to six weeks that will have been turned into another bottle, which is just phenomenal. So I think its exciting.”

Matthews identified the scale of the whole operation, and not getting over-awed by it, as the biggest challenge she has had to face. “For example in my first week here someone told me that we are going to need 50,000 tonnes of ice. We didn’t have a clue how to do this, but you just have to find out. You have to find a manufacturer who is going to start making it next month so that he has enough to supply the games with. Its those kind of things – it is having to deal with the unexpected. Having to ensure that your team keeps going. Particularly as some of them feel the pressure you need to keep them going. And it’s keeping the focus, because we can’t move the date. The biggest challenge is to make sure we are the best that we can be when it comes to the 27th of July.”

So, with a nation’s hopes on her shoulders, I asked Matthews if she is looking forward to the Games or looking forward to them being over? “I think there is a bit of both actually. I was fortunate enough to go to Vancouver and I just don’t think that London knows what is going to hit it - the atmosphere and the celebration and the whole party that’s going to go on. The chances are that we are going to win medals in our own back garden and the atmosphere is going to be phenomenal. To be part of that, and to be there for the opening ceremony, seeing all the work we have done being put into practical delivery is just going to be fantastic. You get to a point where it is like revising for an exam, you feel like you have revised enough now and you just want to get on with it, but time is ticking by pretty quick!”

Tim Fryer spoke to Jan Matthews prior to the Arena Savoy Lecture, where she presented the LOCOG catering, cleaning and waste 'project'.  

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