Glen Duckett is director of EAT Pennine (Employment and Training) and manager of the award-winning Eagle & Child in RamsbottomIn one of his newest projects, the Stables café in Heaton Park, he chats to Northern Soul over a cuppa.

Glen Duckett started in catering aged just 14. After working for Delia Smith down in Norwich, years later he fulfilled his dream and set up a successful food business. But what inspired him to transform his Ramsbottom pub into a place for learning as well as great cuisine?

“As well as creating good food establishments, EAT is a social enterprise so we help to support young people into work because youth unemployment is such a big problem and that’s always something I’ve been interested in. For me the food sector, hospitality and horticulture is always something that I’ve thought provides good entry level jobs for young people at any level.”

Glen Duckett outside Heaton Park stables

So what exactly does EAT do to jump-start the careers of local youths?

“We’re a stepping stone organisation for young people. If you work on changing the culture of young people and give them the motivation to work then hopefully you can encourage them to build the skills around a basic trade to allow them to progress on in their career. It can make a big difference with young people in terms of helping to build a work ethic, especially those that may have come from disadvantaged communities where there is high levels of unemployment and low level skills.”

EAT is particularly focused on disadvantaged employees and to date they’ve supported 24 young people from specific groups into work. Over the next three years they’re looking to support 60 young people from this category into employment, as well as far more unemployed youngsters. Duckett says that the backgrounds of his employees are varied, but this does not affect their career prospects.

He says: “We’ve had really good success levels with young people from all sorts of backgrounds – young offenders, young people with learning disabilities, young parents, young carers, young people with drug and alcohol problems, all of whom we’ve supported through the qualifications and training within the organisation and they’ve progressed onto work. We’ve actually got about an 80 per cent achievement and progression rate which is really good.”

Any business presents challenges but Duckett has had to overcome issues that many company directors would not face.

“One of the challenges is that when you’re working with people that have chaotic home lives is how you manage that while also effectively running the business, so you’ve got to make sure you are resilient to that sort of thing.”

Despite the obstacles, Duckett is confident that perseverance reaps benefits for the employees themselves, as well as the business.

Glen Duckett outside Heaton Park stables“It is certainly challenging but it’s rewarding. Because you’re prepared to put the time in with them [the young people], and help them and support them, you do generally get a good committed workforce that deliver to the standards that you’ve set. We can set quite high standards and make sure those standards are delivered.”

Supporting young people is not the only thing that Duckett is concerned about. Working with Incredible Edible and growing vegetables in the Eagle and Child pub garden, he believes that sourcing local produce is vital.

“That’s a big part of what we do, we make sure that we are sourcing locally and seasonally. It doesn’t sustain our menu, but we grow fruit and vegetables which feature in our specials, and we’ve got hens as well at the pub so we get plenty of eggs from them which we use in our quiche. Things like that help to provide a better quality product and also provide an interesting diversity to the menu and dishes. People are interested in it, and we can use it all as a training exercise for our young people as well.

“We are planning to set up a garden to grow vegetables at Heaton Park, and the produce will be used in the café, and the garden will also be used as part of our horticultural training program.”

As more and more restaurants turn to sourcing responsibly, the price of dining out is increasing. But Duckett says that this is a price worth paying.

“In order to deliver something where you are utilising local produce it is more expensive and some of that expense you have to pass onto the customer. But if you look at the bigger picture you’re investing and sourcing from your local communities so you’re helping to put back into the local economy and therefore providing more work locally.”

Since it began, EAT has won a slew of awards. How important does Duckett think awards are for his business?

“Awards are a good opportunity to demonstrate the quality of what you’re doing and to set you aside from other organisations that are similar to you. We’ve won awards for our food and service and the quality of our hospitality, but we’ve also won awards for our social enterprise, for the skills and training opportunities that we offer, so it does show that we are achieving at a high standard at all levels.”

And what does the future hold for EAT?

“At the moment it’s just continuing to develop the training we have on offer, so the priority will be ensuring that we hit our training targets for hospitality and catering here [at Heaton Park] and the pub [in Ramsbottom] and that we start to deliver the new horticulture training program from here in the Spring.”

By Stephanie Alderson

Images by Chris Payne