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Work is non-stop for linen supervisor Dianne Ruddy, who has worked at NUFC for 15 years – the last 12 of which she’s been the stadium’s linen supervisor. In addition to setting up for events and taking care of all the linen needs across the stadium’s banqueting and conferencing suites, she does the same for Newcastle City Library and three of the city’s museums: The Great North Museum: Hancock, the Discovery Museum and the Laing Art Gallery, all of which are run by Sodexo too.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dianne holds another two roles at the stadium: she’s a room manager in the stadium’s Moncur suite, where she looks after 200 corporate hospitality guests and manages food and beverage staff, and she’s also occasionally a duty manager.
“I started off here as a part-time waitress 15 years ago, and that turned into full time work. I then moved into the setup team, and started taking care of guests in executive boxes. Then I went on to being a room manager. I even used to do a lot of celebrity matches in the training grounds many years ago. The time has gone quickly and I’ve made so many friends,” she says.
Multi-talented Dianne has progressed through the ranks with the help of training and courses. “I didn’t do well at school but I’ve had the chance to improve myself here. I’m currently doing a supervisory management course. I’ve also passed my first aid course. I’ve got lots of NVQs too. I’ve also trained other duty managers with financial billing and things like that,” she says.
Dianne’s job as a linen supervisor involves managing six floors worth of linen. “We can amass 10 cages of linen – enough to fill a whole lorry!” Linen is her expertise. “Anything you need to know about linen, I can tell you or show you.
“There are a lot of guests who assume I get to watch all the matches but I tell them I’m too busy and I don’t like football! That gets quite a few funny and puzzled faces. I’ve never watched a game in my life!”
Something you may not know about me: I’ve been married twice. Never again! But I’ve got four lovely grandchildren.
My greatest inspiration: my mum. She’s strong, supportive and always has a smile on her face.
As a child I wanted to be… a vet. But the vet put my poorly dog to sleep when I was a teenager, and I thought I’d never be able to do that.
I’m terrified of… cats. I can’t walk on the same side of the road as a cat!
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Frankie manages high-class corporate hospitality and banqueting services at St James’ Park, as well as the operation of fast food kiosks and bars across the site.
The coolest person I’ve met in this job is probably Tony Blair. All I did was serve him a cup of tea but he was a nice guy. I’ve met countless celebrities.
I have quite a presence on match days. I do a lot of inspections, as well as making sure clients are happy and any glitches are quickly fixed.
All that football fans want to eat at our stadium are pies and hot dogs. We’ve tried things like pasta, pizza, and fish and chips but they haven’t proven popular enough. In our suites and conference facilities we provide buffets and sit down dinners for up to 1,000 people at a time, so it’s not all fast food.
We’re a wedding licensed venue so people get married here. In a year, we usually have about 14 weddings. Our biggest issue is that if a match gets scheduled in and there’s already a wedding in the diary, the wedding is likely to get cancelled as football comes first.
My first ever job was in a hotel. I was a car parking attendant. I then moved up through the ranks from bartender to waiter to porter to receptionist, before becoming a junior manager. I moved to another hotel to take on the role of conference and banqueting manager. I left there to become an assistant catering manager at Sunderland Football Club, and then I came to Newcastle United as operations manager. I went back to Sunderland briefly to be general manager, and then I came back to Newcastle to become a general manager and I’ve been here since.
My greatest achievement is smashing my target. In 2014, I beat my budget by £200,000. Also, when I look at members of my team and I see the change from when they started to where they are now, that’s a big deal to me.
My favourite part of the job is match day. When everything goes as you planned, it’s perfect.
My wife also works for Sodexo. The first time my wife and I went out, it was the 12th February 20 years ago – so she always gets roses on the 12th February rather than on Valentine’s Day.
My top celebrity dinner guest would have to have been Winston Churchill.
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Graham Proctor is in charge of setting the menus and preparing food for the guests at St James’ Park’s most prestigious conferencing and banqueting suites.
When match day comes around it’s up to Graham and his team of seven chefs to serve up a three-course, sit down meal to over 150 guests, in the space of just one hour.
Here’s a match day run down…
Doors open two hours before a match, and guests arrive at the a la carte restaurant and make their meal choices from a selection of four starters, mains and desserts. “We cook to order and everyone has a 40-minute gap in which they want to be fed!” explains Graham.
Preparation starts days before an actual match. Up to two days beforehand, Graham gets extra chefs in to start on the vegetables and the meat dishes, from peeling vegetables to putting together a slow-cook lamb shank dish. “On match day itself, we usually start eight hours before kick off – so if it’s a 12 o’clock kick off, we’re in at 4am. When you come into the city of Newcastle at that time, people are still out on the town from the night before!”
The menu changes every game, and it’s up to Graham, 50, who’s been a chef since he was 16 – to come up with new ideas. “It’s got to be top class as customers are paying a lot of money to be here. You’ve got to be imaginative with the menu – I spend days on it. After writing the menu I have to write the spec for how it’s got to be made – who’ll prepare it, what they’ll do, etc. I won’t write a Delia Smith recipe, but a quick ‘chop this, chop that; add this, add that’. Then I’ve got to write an order sheet so we get in exactly what we need.”
On the morning of a match, a taste test is held, where the client and the sales staff trial the dishes. This is the client’s opportunity to say if they’d like any tweaks to be made to the recipe or the flavouring, and it’s also a chance for Graham’s team to see how the dish should be presented when it’s served.
My favourite thing about my job… is that I get a few nights off. Before I started here, I worked 90-hour weeks in hotels and restaurants and so I find this quite relaxing. My only day off used to be a Monday but now I actually get a Friday night to myself.
My favourite food is… pork belly.
I’ve… featured in a book, A Taste Of The North East, and a TV programme, Fish On The Tyne.
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Sodexo provides first class banqueting and conferencing services from an operation of more 80 executive boxes and 20 suites. Food and service here compares to that of a quality restaurant, and it’s Neil Young’s job to ensure the rooms are well presented.
“I set up the function rooms and boxes – I’m in charge of the cutlery and crockery, and I make sure it all gets set up correctly,” says Neil, who’s worked at the stadium for the past 14 years.
“I started here when I was 16 as a part time member of staff and within six months I’d gone full time.” Alongside his role as set up manager, Neil also serves guests at events, and has taken on shifts as a duty manager.
“When you’re a duty manager, you’re basically overseeing the whole event. It’s quite a lot of pressure to be a duty manager on a wedding day. You have to do toast mastering, announce speeches and introduce the bride and groom.”
Neil says his favourite part of the job is that every day is different and presents new tasks and challenges. “One minute you could be doing a dinner for 10 people, the next it could be 800 people! It’s also great to meet different people all the time.”
Since Sodexo took over the contract in 2008, Neil says this has opened up a lot of opportunities for himself and for other staff. “You get training all the time here. I’m in the middle of a supervisor-to-management academy course. I started at the bottom as a waiter at the stadium before I got a job in the set up team. I’ve learned from then on and progressed.”
This also brings the chance for staff to work at other Sodexo-run events and venues, such as Ascot Racecourse, Glasgow’s Hampden Park and Brighton Football Club. “I can work at Ascot or The Open when I want to. This was my fifth year at Ascot. It’s great. I was offered the chance to go there and I’ve been asked back every year since.”
One thing that stands out for Neil is the Stadium Experience Award that Newcastle United received in 2014. “I was the room manager on the day the judge came to assess us, so he spent a lot of the day with me. I felt quite privileged afterwards to hear that we’d won the award!”
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