It was a first for the University of Cape Town's (UCT) residence cleaning and catering staff - an annual meeting of celebration, congratulations and consolidation, designed to build a healthy community among these unsung campus heroes and heroines.
The first of two meetings was held at Rochester Hall for residence cleaning staff on Wednesday, 13 November, and the second at Graça Machel Hall for catering staff on 20 November. The two sessions included line managers and shop stewards.
The annual gathering was first mooted by these staff at the beginning of 2019 as a way of opening communication and building morale and relationships that support healthy and happy working relationships and spaces, said Glenn von Zeil from Student Housing & Residence Life at the Department of Student Affairs.
Hats off to the invaluable members of UCT's community who do so much to support the university's students; more recently during the final exams, he added.
Motivation, health, sustainability
The programmes included motivational speakers from various UCT departments, such as organisational health and sustainability. Among the guests were some familiar faces.
Human resources practitioner Patrick Ncuku attended the meetings, having played an important role in terms of appointments and staff development. Neerasha Naidu, senior coordinator: residence cleaning, delivered a summary of the past six months and shared the department's focus for the next six months: improving time keeping and cost containment and developing language, communication, writing and computer skills among staff. She said each residence would install a computer which cleaning and catering staff can use.
These presentations culminated in certificate ceremonies for those who'd undertaken skills development training during the year through service providers such as Unilever Food Solutions.
Healthy and fit
Line manager Babalo Nyhonyha began the catering staff meeting by reflecting on the year's achievements and highlights. Next up was Blanche Claasen-Hoskins (organisational health) who spoke about the benefits of leading a healthy, active life and making good choices. To assist, she introduced staff to a three-month diet and exercise programme, the Lifestyle Challenge - open to all staff through UCT's Organisational Health unit.
"It's a scientifically developed programme that helps you start a journey of exercise to reduce risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol and increase your vitality and resilience," she explained.
Claasen-Hoskins showed before and after pictures of colleagues who've successfully completed the programme. The staff were impressed.
"It's changed their lives," she said to cheers.
As for exercise, she cautioned against starting too hard.
"It's not even about running, it's about walking vigorously, not just strolling in the park."
She recommended six doctors whose services are free: sunshine, air, water, rest, exercise and diet.
Staff of UCT's residence catering and cleaning teams were photographed at their final staff meetings for 2019, occasions to build relationships, thank them for supporting UCT's students, and celebrate the certificate awardees among them. Photos Michael Hammond and Glenn von Zeil.
Speaker Manfred Braune, director of sustainability in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, shared fond memories of his student years in the UCT residence system - when steak and egg was the (male) students' favourite meal. Now it's burgers and pizza, said residence caterers.
Braune shared his vision for sustainability at UCT and acknowledged the vital role cleaning and catering staff play in that.
"How do we take care of our environment because UCT owns a lot of property and we create a lot of waste? How can you save energy and water, both at home and in the kitchens at UCT?"
He invited staff to share their ideas at a planned workshop on waste, water and energy reduction, part of a university-wide strategy to harness and manage these resources responsibly.
"UCT's energy bill is R100 million a year, but we're planning to introduce solar panels across all campuses to generate electricity. Not all roofs can take solar panels, but we're looking to get 20% of our energy from the sun; saving up to 20% of the electricity bills," he said.
"You can make a big difference, just in the space you're working in."
Acting catering manager Babalo Nyhonya encouraged staff to remain open around issues of communication and relationship building at work. He encouraged staff to use the laptops that had been provided to access their emails and payslips. Nyhonya said that they planned to introduce online leave applications next year.
But the highlight of the meeting was the certificate presentation to staff by the Unilever Food Solutions representative, recognising training in knife skills, food storage and safety, chef skills, recipes, hygiene - and positivity! (Skills recognised at the residence cleaning staff certificate awards were for computer skills and first aid.)