Message from 300 miles away for Lincolnshire hospital chefs retiring after serving total of 80 years

Two Lincolnshire chefs who have worked for the NHS for a total of 80 years are retiring today - and we have a special message for them.

Ruth Slater and Judith Harland are retiring after together serving 80 years as chefs for the NHS.

Best friends Judith Harland and Ruth Slater have, for most of their career, been the team serving up home-cooked meals to patients at Skegness Hospital - but the celebration they had planned to mark the big occasion has been cut short because of the 'stay home' restrictions now in force because of the coronavirus crisis..

The Standard had a call from Judith's daughter, Victoria Fisher, who lives 300 miles away in Plymouth with her military family.

She told us: "Due to the recent social distancing rules I will not be able to be in Skegness to celebrate this occasion with my mum and her best friend Ruth.

"I think it would be such a lovely surprise when she reads the article to see that myself, my husband and her grandson are still celebrating despite being so far away.

"It is an amazing achievement and we want them to know we are so proud of them."

Ruth, 56, took today's final shift, serving cottage pie or sausage and onions in gravy with chocolate sponge as dessert.

"When I finish today I think it will be quite emotional because I have been here all my life since leaving college," she said.

"Judith came later, working at the former Cary House convalescent home in Skegness for the first 10 years, but we've been together ever since.

"Although we are retiring early we just thought now was the right time to go. Things have changed so much over the years, from cooking from fresh to start will, then cook and chill being brought in.

"Now we have the mains brought in but cook the cakes and desserts from fresh and I think it will go back to cooking fresh again. Change is coming.

"I feel very privileged to have worked at Skegness Hospital all my career. Some of our patients are here for a long time and only have visitors and meals to look forward to. If we can give them what they enjoy it makes our job so worthwhile.

"I know I will miss it but now I will have time to do hobbies and, when the coronavirus crisis is over, have the time to meet family and friends and go on holiday. Judith and I had so many plans for next week - meeting up to out for lunch for one thing. Now all that's on hold but I'm looking forward to it."

The friends both went to Boston College but to start with their careers took them in different directions. While Ruth went straight to Skegness Hospital Judith had trained to be a shorthand typist but didn't like it.

"Someone offered me the chance to work in catering at Cary House and I absolutely loved it," said Judith, 60.

"I was only supposed to be there eight weeks but in the end stayed 10 years before moving over to Skegness Hospital.

"It's going to be the end of an era when I leave. We are both retiring early but we decided to go together.

"I've loved every minute of it but now is the right time to retire.

"One of the first things I'm going to do when the lockdown is over is visit my daughter. And it will be so nice to have Christmas and New Year off - there is a lot to look forward to."

* A national salute is set to take place tonight (Thursday, March 26) to honour the NHS staff working hard through the coronavirus outbreak.

In a gesture of appreciation to frontline medical personnel, people across the nation have been invited to join a mass round of applause from their doorsteps, windows and balconies at 8pm.

Organisers of the "Clap For Carers" campaign - which started online - say it is being staged because "during these unprecedented times they [NHS staff] need to know we are grateful".

Lincoln Cathedral, Wembley Arch, the Principality Stadium and the Royal Albert Hall are among some of the landmarks which are set to be lit up in blue during the salute.

This is part of the #lightitblue campaign which has been organised by members of the events and entertainment industry as a way to say thank you.

If you are taking part in any of tonight's campaign's. please send us your pics and videos.