A FORMER school cook who started in the kitchen at the age of 16 has been awarded a British Empire Medal.

Angela Blower, from Redcar, who retired in 2021, spent her entire career working for Middlesbrough Council.

The 59-year-old, who started working for the authority when she left school aged 16, worked her way up to be catering manager, ensuring countless children were fed healthy, nutritious food. 

Read more: Pioneer of hospice in Darlington awarded MBE

On being awarded a BEM for services to education, she said: "I was so surprised and shocked. It was totally unexpected.

"It's a pleasure really. I've done 43 years with the council and it's been a lovely career."

Mrs Blower, who retired in May, joined Middlesbrough Council is September 1978 as a trainee cook and spent her evenings studying for her City and Guilds and catering qualifications, going through the ranks until she became catering manager, a post she held for 24 years.

With a team of 400 staff, they served more than 11,000 meals every school day.

She was behind initiatives like introducing salad bars to encourage youngsters to eat more cucumber and carrot, and tried to educate the teams about nutrition and healthy eating.

She also helped train younger members of the team, encouraging them to study for further qualifications.

She said: "I always encouraged the girls to do college and I would see them working up to be unit supervisors.

"One of the main things was introducing healthy eating and and nutrition to try and help the children."

Mrs Blower added: "It's really been like a second family. It's my life and it's been an absolute pleasure. I lost my mum this year so that's sad because she would have been so, so proud. She was always a good support through my career. It meant a lot to her that I started there at 16 and worked there my whole career."

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated Teesside Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on newsdesk@nne.co.uk or contact 01325 505054