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A family affair

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The Catering Team at Van Mildert College doesn’t just count themselves as like a family, it really is a family affair, with many mothers and their sons and daughters also working there over the years.

Food Service Supervisor, Kay Gelder, counts them all as part of her family too, and says she will miss them greatly as she retires after more than 35 years working there. But Kay can’t keep away and is hoping they’ll take her back as a casual staff member.

She said:

I just enjoy it so much. I don’t really want to go. We class ourselves as a family and have always met socially - birthdays, any occasion, we don’t need an excuse. We’re very close.

Kay wasn’t always part of the Catering Team. She started as a cleaner working three mornings a week at the college, “or as a ‘bedder’ in those day,” she said.

“It was perfect as the role fitted around picking up my sons from school. I used to help at formal dinners too, so when a lady working in the dining room wanted to work less hours to become a foster carer we agreed to swap roles, as I wanted more hours with my boys getting older. I worked there six days a week then with Tuesdays off. You didn’t get the weekends off then and it was seven hours a day.”

Kay then became a Catering Assistant serving dinners, working formals and sometimes private dinners.

"I enrolled on a course to become a supervisor, which involved doing the ordering and rotas. I am incredibly grateful to the University for all the training they provided me with. They put me through my O Levels in Maths and English and they provided me with computing skills training too, as I’d never touched a computer."

Kay has been a Catering Supervisor for over 20 years and is responsible for 17 permanent staff and 6 casuals. She loved every day at work and said: “I really enjoy seeing the kids grow up and have been to many of their weddings and birthday parties. I keep in touch with quite a few of them now on social media. Many of them still come back and a few have had their weddings here.

“Years ago I felt like their Mam, whereas now I am more like their Gran. You can see straight away the students who may struggle and it’s been incredibly hard for them during the pandemic. I’d often give students a cuddle, but I couldn’t do that during COVID-19, so it’s great that it’s almost all back to normal now,” said Kay.

COVID-19 also brought other challenges as Kay experienced her toughest time at work. “We had a burst water pipe at the college, so as well as the restrictions we had to deal with having no water until it was fixed. We had to pack everything up and take it to another college to wash it, then bring it back.”

Kay has many fond memories from her time at the University, including when the first students from China arrived 26 years ago. She said: “We used to take them to Durham for a night out and hold parties in the college for them where we all brought a snack in to make them feel welcome.” 

She was also a regular on the college’s 5am survivors photograph – those still awake after the June Ball before starting work at 7.30am. As a cleaner she helped students make fancy dress outfits - one year, sewing up the bottom of a student’s pyjamas while he was out.

“Thankfully he saw the funny side and knew who’d done it." She also lost out in a water pistol fight with some of the students and was cornered and soaked. More recently on Mildert Day she joined the students in a rendition of Robbie Williams’ ‘Let me entertain you’.

So what will she do when she retires? “I honestly don’t know! I’ve never been an ambitious person. I’ve enjoyed being here and always been happy. I’ve always enjoyed family life.

"I thought I’d keep going on forever and ever. My husband and sons have been really supportive and part of the Van Mildert family too. I’m pretty lucky health-wise. I enjoy walking and did lots of it during the pandemic. Friends have invited me on holidays and weekends away, but I’ve never done anything separate from my husband. He passed away four years ago so when they say come with us, it's hard. I might change, I might push myself."

All the best on your retirement Kay, though we're pretty sure we’ll see you back soon!



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