Sheila Beeston

18th March 2005 at 00:00
In Victorian times, Mrs Beeton became famous for her Book of Household Management. But her near namesake Sheila Beeston could tell her a thing or two about running a school kitchen.

For the past 33 years, Sheila has been the cook at Bridgemere CE primary near Nantwich in Cheshire. Bridgemere, built in 1874, a decade or so after Mrs Beeton's book was published, is a tiny rural school with just 74 pupils.

Sheila arrives at 7.30 every morning and starts preparations for more than 50 meals, which she singlehandedly makes every day, as well as umpteen freshly prepared snacks for break time.

Homemade fare features regularly, a salad bar is always available, and her chocolate oat flapjack or cherry pie (prepared to closely guarded secret recipes) are mouthwatering additions to her daily menu. And slap-up meals aren't confined to Christmas: Sheila dreams up something tasty and topical for other special occasions, such as Chinese New Year or Bonfire Night.

"I've never met anyone so dedicated to her job," says headteacher Jane Dickinson, who nominated Sheila for our flowers, chocolate and champagne.

"She loves people, she is very gregarious. She is patient with the children and always has time to talk to them. They love her to bits and the parents speak so highly of her."

Sheila's also the longest serving member of staff by some way and, as a new arrival at the school herself last term, Jane soon found out that "if you want to know anything about the school, ask Mrs Beeston".

Sheila is due to retire next May and, if she does, the school will struggle to fill her shoes. "I don't know who we are going to get to take over from her," says Jane. "She has given so much of her time to the school and treats all of us just as if we were family. Someone like her never gets enough praise and she's totally dedicated to her job."

Is there an unsung hero in your school? Tell Sarah Bayliss, TESFriday editor, about him or her at the address opposite. Flowers kindly supplied by Marks Spencer

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