Jamie Oliver accused of turning back on Rotherham healthy eating centre

IT was designed to be a flagship project which would bring healthy eating to families around the town.

Jamie Oliver opening his Ministry of Food in Rotherham, in 2008. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Jamie Oliver opening his Ministry of Food in Rotherham, in 2008. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

The flagship Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food branch in Rotherham has, however, been closed for the past six months following a health and safety inspection.

Now it is at the centre of a row after the former manager of the project issued a stinging criticism of the celebrity chef, claiming he turned his back on it.

This has been disputed by a spokesman for Jamie Oliver who said he and his team were working hard to ensure it reopened as soon as possible.

The town hit the headlines around the world in 2006 when mums of children at Rawmarsh Comprehensive posted burgers and fish and chips to pupils through the fence after the school tried to institute a healthy eating policy following the TV chef’s work to try improve school dinners.

In response the TV chef and restaurant chain owner set up the Ministry of Food in the town two years later.

Named after the Government department which looked after food in the middle of last century, its stated aim was to be able to show people how to cook tasty, healthy meals.

The centre – backed by the local council and local NHS – offered a packed schedule of free cookery classes, and Oliver chose Lisa 
Taylor to be its healthy eating ambassador.

But Ms Taylor, 33, claims as soon as filming was finished, the chef left her with the keys and never contacted the centre again – and didn’t even bother to return her phone calls, even after it closed last June.

She said: “We haven’t had one visit from Jamie Oliver since he finished filming and left.

“For the last five or six years we’ve really struggled financially – the council funding has stopped and we’ve been trying to keep going by applying for grants.

“A visit from Jamie could have made the world of difference – for a start it would have attracted publicity which might have helped us get some funding, and also, it would have really given the staff a well-needed morale boost.

“We were really up against it and obviously feeling pretty low at times, but we never heard anything from Jamie or his team.

“One visit in five years isn’t much to ask.”

Ms Taylor told how Jamie Oliver and his crew were in Rotherham for about six months filming, when they set up the Ministry of Food.

“I was literally just left with a set of keys and we didn’t hear a peep from Jamie or his team. After the programme was on TV, probably about a year after they were filming it, it all took off and he opened other Ministry of Food centres around the country.”

A spokesman for Jamie Oliver said: “Far from turning his back on the Ministry of Food Rotherham, Jamie and the team have been working hard, alongside Rotherham Borough Council, to ensure that the Ministry can reopen as soon as possible.

“Necessary refurbishment of the building is ongoing, new equipment is on order and the plan is to reopen an improved Ministry of Food Centre in the early summer. On the question of Jamie not visiting, his diary is booked many months in advance owing to the global nature of his campaigning and commercial ventures.”

Since the Ministry of Food centre was closed down last summer, Ms Taylor has set up her own centre, using her own funding to buy completely new equipment and hire teachers.

She says it costs £130,000 a year for the centre, which she is still calling the Ministry of Food.

“Apart from all the funding problems, it’s been a huge success. Nobody expected it to be as successful as it turned out.

“We teach 3,500 people a year how to cook and we’ve always got new people wanting to take part.

“It’s a great initiative.”

The Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food branch in Rotherham shut last summer following a health and safety inspection.

A council spokesman said at the time: “As the welfare of the staff and the public is our main priority, the shop has been closed to enable a full survey of the premises to be carried out.

“This is to ensure that the building continues to be suitable to run the Jamie’s Ministry of Food cooking programme. The seven staff and the trade unions have obviously been consulted.”

The Ministry of Food had been funded by Rotherham Council in the past, before becoming a social enterprise in 2011. Other Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food outlets have also been set up in Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle, Alnwick and east London.