"I'm one of Britain's longest serving dinner ladies - I've spent 50 years in the job"

  • 3 months ago
One of Britain's longest serving dinner ladies has no plans to hang up her apron after 50 years in the job - and more than 1.7 million meals.

Rosemary Stokes, 73, started working school kitchens in 1974.

Fast forward half a century and she is still keeping children fed - now at St. Thomas More Primary.

She joined the Birmingham school in 1985 after spending 11 years at nearby Lyndon Green Infant School.

Now the lead catering supervisor, Rosemary estimates she has served 180 dinners a day over the last five decades.

And with 190 days in the average primary school year, that works out at 1,710,000 dinners across her career.

Staff and pupils at St. Thomas More surprise Rosemary with flowers, chocolate and a cake on her 50-year anniversary.

The great-gran-of-six from South Yardley said: "It was just fabulous. It was a bit of a blur.

"I'd been invited to the school assembly as they were doing a pancake assembly.

"So of course when I went into the assembly I was given a seat and all of sudden I looked to the right and saw my boss and I was confused.

"Then I looked to the right and there were my two daughters and my friends and after that, a photograph popped on the screen at the front of the hall and I thought 'they've got me!'

"They presented me with flowers, chocolate, a cake and a speech from the headmaster.

"I think I did a speech so it was a bit of a blur!

"Some of the children told me how much they loved the dinners which was lovely."

Rosemary - who works for the school on behalf of Birmingham City Council - says the reason she's stayed in the job for so long is because of the "love" she has for it.

She said: "I just think it's the variety and the different things you go through.

"Everything changes and I love seeing the children come along and try different things and that's so rewarding.

"We change the dishes quite regularly and they just try different things.

"I go to work and every day I love it.

"It doesn't phase me in any way at all, I just really love it. It's hard to explain.

"People have asked if I'm going to retire but I'm not going anywhere yet.

"There's not been a day since I've started that I haven't wanted to go into the kitchens - you could say I'm mad!

"It's really gone quickly. I can't believe it's 50 years. Although I knew it was coming round to 50 I didn't actually remember when it would be!

"I've always been lucky to work with such lovely people and that makes all the difference too."

Rosemary's favourite dish to cook is one from her book of 1950s classics - chocolate concrete.

She said: "I've got this very old book and that's where the chocolate concrete recipe comes from. Everybody loves it so it has to be chocolate concrete."

The mum-of-two dinner guidlines have changed over the years - and she has had to welcome technology.

Rosemary said: "Lots of the meals have changed and we have to follow more nutritional guidelines which we always did really but now there's more allergen and dietary requirements.

"The children's behaviour changes over the years but they just follow things that go in school really.

"I was a bit horrified a few years ago when I discovered a laptop - I said it wouldn't be able to cook anything!

"We do all the newsletters via the laptop now which is quite bizarre for me.

"They get four meal choices every day so they just come and choose what they want. Sometimes we have themed days which is nice.

"The school building has changed a lot too - 16 years ago I was chuffed as I had a brand new kitchen with new dining rooms. That's all improved greatly."

A number of dinner ladies have reached 50 years of service.

Brenda Rotherham retired last year after a half-century at a Merseyside school.

And Ellie Grimsley ticked off 50 years at a school in Norfolk in 2018.