Malgorzata 'Margo' Skalik, Merton’s Head Steward, is integral to all catering operations at Merton. Her impact reaches far and wide across the College, from daily dining, to events for students, alumni and Fellows, and to large-scale conferences.
Margo grew up in Poland and studied Environmental Protection and Biotechnology at Jan Dlugosz University in Częstochowa. Her Master's degree research project was on the monitoring of metal concentrations in natural waters and their polluting effect on the environment.
It was as a Senior Common Room (SCR) Assistant in the summer of 2005 that Margo joined Merton’s catering team. She found the experience challenging but extremely rewarding, and progressed quickly through the ranks, assuming more responsibilities. She soon started taking on the management of the team, first as Third Butler, and then in 2009 as the Assistant Butler.
In 2011, when the position of Head Steward was advertised, Margo was encouraged by many of her colleagues and the College’s Fellows to apply, despite the fact that this role had in the past been occupied solely by men. Following a rather gruelling interview by four College Officers, in 2011 she was appointed as the first female Head Steward of Merton.
Margo’s interview feedback was given by the former Domestic Bursar and Emeritus Fellow, Douglas Bamber. He highlighted at the time that her application was strongly supported by the Fellowship, and that her personal qualities had been noticed by the College leadership during her time at Merton.
Ever since taking on the role, Margo has run the catering service of the College seamlessly, making what is a busy and challenging job seem effortless. She has a wealth of knowledge about Merton (and about wine!) and is always willing to give her time to help and advise colleagues, all of whom respect and appreciate her. She is a pillar of the Merton community.
“Every day, food and dining is at the heart of College life, through which the community of Merton perpetuates. From daily term-time dining, to celebrated ceremonial high table dinners, Margo oversees every aspect with an impeccable eye for detail. Leading a large and dedicated team, Margo and her staff are responsible for serving in the region of 30,000 meals per year to College members, staff, alumni and guests. As Head Steward, Margo’s extraordinary dedication and expertise play a key part in upholding Merton’s long held reputation in Oxford for culinary excellence.”
Tim Lightfoot, Domestic Bursar
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?
My initial impression of the College was similar to most people’s I suppose – it is just like a movie set. When I walked through the dining hall for the first time, it took me a few moments to come to terms with the fact that this is a working, fully functional building that is used every day as an integral part of College operations.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
One of the fondest memories I have is a conversation with Professor Dame Jessica Rawson, upon her departing as College Warden in 2011. She said that she strongly believed the College had found just the right person to run the catering department and she felt that I would be very successful in the role of Head Steward. This was extremely reassuring and enforced my belief that I had made the right decision when I chose to pursue a career in hospitality.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I was born and brought up in a very mountainous region in Southern Poland and this is where I developed my affection towards nature and the outdoors.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you’ve achieved?
Don’t be afraid of changes, believe in your abilities and be prepared to take risks in life.
Describe Merton in three words.
Medieval, enlightening, social.
Margo and Sally Hague, Merton's Head of Conference & Accommodation, who is also being profiled this week, had a chat about their time at Merton. Please do have a look at the wonderful video below.