The old Crescent House, a product of the 1960s building boom, is shortly to be demolished, and replaced with a modern world-class, state of the art facility that’s more in keeping with the nearby magnificent new Wembley Stadium.
The College itself is still thriving, though, and its courses are more in demand than ever. So it’s lucky that the staff and students didn’t have to move far. Their destination was just across the road to Arena House, opposite Wembley Park tube station, which is the College’s other building in Wembley.
The space earmarked for the catering department was the College’s car park, a circumscribed but handy area nestled underneath the concrete columns of Arena House.
College management knew the catering department needed to be at Arena House for the long haul – perhaps three or four years, with the rebuilding holding all the insecurities of a public project in tough times until the resurrected Crescent House was ready to return to. With the uncertainties of the Wembley development, the College management needed a company that could be both experienced and flexible in its approach.
So they called in Container Kitchen Systems (CKS), one of the UK’s most experienced providers of temporary catering facilities .
Celia Le Tall, curriculum manager for hospitality & catering at the College, explains: “Initially we thought we could perhaps use conventional cabin kitchens, possibly stacked one on top of another. A good chef can work wonders in small spaces, but we are a teaching establishment and we soon came to realise we needed a more ‘open plan’ environment where students can cluster round.
“We also wanted a good restaurant space alongside, together with full support suite – larder space, offices for the staff and toilet areas. Along with that, it had to link seamlessly with the college reception. It was not simply an annexe.”
At the heart of the site is a cluster of four main modules. The training kitchen – where up to ten students are taught the initial skills of professional catering – backs on to the main tube line running into Wembley Park station. “We had to ensure double glazed windows and soundproofing for these rooms, as when a train went past, it was a challenge for even a busy chef to make himself or herself heard!” said Mark Kingston, managing director of Container Kitchen Systems.
Delivery and installation required more careful planning than usual, and even from the start CKS had to call on its years of experience to get the modules into place.
A weight-limited bridge at the bottom of the delivery road meant they had to offload the cabins on one side, crane them over the bridge and reload onto another vehicle on the other side. Once finally unloaded at the site, fork lift trucks had to manoeuvre the training kitchen and storage units underneath the main Arena House building, to nestle them into place at the rear before craning the restaurant and main kitchen into place.
The open plan Tower Restaurant and its adjacent main kitchen are fitted out with standard ‘foodsafe’ wipe-clean walls. This is a standard for kitchens and temporary catering sites such as canteens, allowing for easy cleaning and good hygiene. However, the Tower Restaurant needed an ambience beyond a conventional ‘canteen’. Since the building is expected to be in place for at least three years, CKS added separate rails to allow soft furnishings to be attached to the walls, and additional power sockets for ‘mood’ lighting.
Mark Kingston stresses that a long contract on older buildings and sites can raise issues beyond simple installation and access.
“For example, we needed to get new overground waste pipework installed because of the limitations of the old local sewage systems, and then the gas supply needed to be upgraded to ensure there was sufficient volume and capacity,” he says.
“Next, the local mains water supply wasn’t adequate, so we arranged for the extra water supply to come from tanks on the roof of the main building. But this needed additional water treatment to ensure it was suitable for food and drink preparation.”
For Celia Le Tall and her colleagues, the new facilities were an eye-opener. “What we’ve got here is impressive – a full-featured training kitchen, open plan restaurant kitchen and 40-cover restaurant into what was originally a staff car park – and half of it under cover as well.
“Although it doesn’t have the sixth-floor views of Wembley that we used to have in the old building, it’s an excellent teaching facility. For the next three or four years our students will have everything they need to master the basics of catering and become as well trained as any student chef in the country.
And we think the Tower Restaurant will still be serving the public with lunches and dinners that are still the best value in the country.”