HA’s 2018 in five defining moments …

It’s a year, now, since I moved from The Caterer to Hospitality Action. I thought I’d round off 2018 by capturing my thoughts on the past twelve months. Here’s my 2018 in five defining moments.

When the chips are down, sometimes only chips will help 

Back in January, as I was trying to get my head around the sheer breadth of services our charity offers, a colleague suggested I rifle through the “thank you” file. In it, I found a note, handwritten in pencil, from a little boy called Liam. Liam and his dad had enjoyed a family day out to the cinema on us and had written to thank us. Our Family Days Out scheme gives families that are under the cosh a little ‘us’ time, a chance to regroup in the face of ongoing difficulties.

Liam’s thank-you letter hit home: for the cost of a couple of cinema tickets, some pop, a bag of chips and a ride on the bus, we’d given Liam and his dad a memory to treasure.

Liam’s story demonstrates how support can come in many shapes and sizes.

As well as Family Days Out, we run our Golden Friends scheme to keep loneliness and isolation at bay for industry retirees. We offer an Employee Assistance Programme that helps employers keep their teams happy, healthy and work-ready. We award grants to people in financial difficulty. We facilitate a phone friends scheme that provides lifelines for the elderly. And we offer bespoke counselling for a wide range of issues.

As hotelier Sally Beck said in February, once you understand what we do, you fall in love with us!

Enter Mitchell … 

By his own admission, until his life hit a bump in the road, Mitchell Collier thought he was the last sort of person HA helps. Young, healthy, forging a career at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, he felt indestructible. It turned out he was exactly the kind of person HA helps.

In early 2017, Mitchell’s health and confidence took three body blows: his relationship broke down, he was overlooked for a promotion, and he received a cancer diagnosis. HA arranged for counselling to put Mitchell back on his feet. By Spring of this year, he was back on track, and he approached us to volunteer as a case study. The resulting video drew an enormous response on social media. An HA star was born.

Too often, the perception of HA is that we exist solely to help drunk or substance-addicted chefs. Of course, we do help chefs with addiction issues, and anybody else fir that matter, and we’re proud to do so. But that’s just a small part of what we do. We help people with all sorts of problems, from all types of business, in all spheres of hospitality.

Mitchell’s generosity of spirit and willingness to act as an ambassador for HA was a crucial development. He debunked the myth, once and for all, that HA is for other people.

A social whirl for a good cause …  

Principal patron, Jason Atherton had already been running Social Sunday for three years, when I joined HA. The summer fundraising initiative across his London restaurants was his way of supporting the charity, and had already raised many tens of thousands of pounds for us.

This year, Jason and I drew a line in the sand: from 2018 onwards, we agreed, Social Sunday would be opened up to the whole industry. Our vision was to establish a date in the hospitality calendar when the industry looks to itself, and looks after its own.

The response was heart-warming. From Leith to Land’s End, hospitality operators concocted their own ways to support Social Sunday. In the end, more than 50 businesses across the country took part, raising a huge amount of money in then process.

In 2019, Jason and I plan to go nuclear with Social Sunday. Watch this space.

The mental health imperative 

In May, we marked Mental Health Awareness Week  by hosting an event at the Royal Lancaster London, to shine a light on the issue of stress in the hospitality workplace. Research conducted before the event suggested that a worrying 80% of hospitality professionals regard their job as stressful sometimes or most of the time, while 51% – over half! – described their job as being stressful most or all of the time.

The event and its ripples across social media proved – as if proof were needed – that there’s a ticking mental health time bomb under UK hospitality.

On World Mental Health Day in October, two Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains blogged for us and set a lofty goal:

“Beyond our four walls, we are fortunate to have Hospitality Action to support people in our industry through the hardest of times. Together with HA, we can break the stigmas that stop so many people asking for help and create an environment where people feel they have both the support of their line manager or a friendly ear at the end of HA’s action line.”

Amen to that, Sat. This’ll be a clear goal for us next year.

The need for help never goes away … 

Like the magic porridge pot in the children’s tale, the HA in-tray never seems to get any emptier. This winter, the delays around universal credit payments and the continuing fear, uncertainty and doubt around Brexit have sparked a steep rise in requests for support from HA.

Into 2019, we’ll move Heaven and Earth to help as many people as we can – but we’ll need your support in this. I look forward to working with you next year, to make UK hospitality a happier, healthier and more nourishing place.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas from the whole HA team.

Do we all have charity in us?

We all have a different idea about what charity is, how we see ourselves getting involved and what we are prepared to do. Charity doesn’t always mean that you have to part with your hard earned cash. Charity also means awareness, consideration and compassion. Charity is a feeling that drives you to give, but ask nothing in return. With most people charity is that feeling of satisfaction, belonging, believe and honour. Charity involvement should be fun, it should inspire creative thinking, but can also sometimes mean hard work, physical training, sweat and pure exhaustion.

Have you found your charity and what are you prepared to do?

I joined the fundraising team at Hospitality Action last year in January. I found myself straight into the deep end, learning the job whilst running through my daily tasks and supporting an organisation celebrating its 180th Birthday year. I loved every moment of it right from the start and I still do. I believe that challenges are opportunities. Every single person we have helped gives me job satisfaction. Working for a charity, I am not in it for the money, but I am all about raising the money and raising awareness. For our beneficiaries financial help doesn’t just mean that the bills are getting paid, or they had a nice family day out or a nice afternoon tea with retired colleagues, because everyone deserves a dignified standard of life, needs a helping hand at times to boost their self-respect and confidence to empower them to continue their fight, survive and become independent again.

Everyone working in the hospitality industry should know who Hospitality Action is. If you do, spread the word, talk about us with your colleagues, look us up on our website, call us and have a chat. We are not a union, but after 181 years helping the people of our industry we have a very good idea about the kind of problems they face and more importantly, we have the solutions. We don’t just listen, we offer a plan, financial help, confidential professional advice, a get together, phone friends, HR support through our Employees Assistance Programme which is vast. We support employees and employers. We are all in it together and we have to make it work. After all, when you think about it, we spend most of our awake time working to pay for our living. We strive to find a balance and we believe in equality.

     

What really matters are the people we help, their real lives, their real problems and the difference we make. Working or retired, anywhere in the UK, any job within hospitality, we are here to offer support.

If you are reading this but don’t need support, then unite with us to make working in the hospitality industry a happy, safe and positive experience. Put a team together, run 10K, ride 40 miles, come up with your unique idea of team building activity, organise an event, donate an auction prize, join our EAP, make a cash donation, raise awareness, become a member, sign up for our newsletter, do something and have fun whilst raising money doing it, if you are a business nominate us as your charity of the year.

We have to raise the money to keep going as an organisation and fill the pot to pay out grants to those who need it and also pay for all the other services we offer. Our charity doesn’t receive government funding or many other grants. Last year we raised enough money to sustain and we spent £741,273 supporting the people in need from the industry we love.

Hospitality Action, our charity, has to make business sense to survive and continue to strive. So you see, it is a joint effort.

Take a moment, find the charity in you, what does charity mean to you and decide what are you prepared to do?

If you have charity in you we want to hear from you fundraising@hospitalityaction.org.uk

If you are a supporter, we thank you, you make our work possible! We would love to hear from you why you choose to support us.

Can you imagine a world without volunteers? We couldn’t.

Without our volunteers, we couldn’t run our Golden Friends scheme.

Our Golden Friends get-togethers enable industry retirees from all walks of life, who usually dine alone, to socialise without discrimination and meet like-minded people.

Without our volunteers we would have no one to meet and greet Golden Friends at our lunches and teas – no one to spot the guest who is on their own and might be a little nervous, welcome them with a friendly smile, introduce them to other members and get them chatting like they’ve been coming for years.

Here’s proof from a Golden Friend:

“My husband & I had worked together in the licenced trade for some years.
When he was diagnosed with vascular dementia it wasn’t even a question that I would care for him. As the years progressed his personality changes became very distressing and at times heart-breaking.

For me, Golden Friend lunches were an escape to a place where no-one knew my personal circumstances – a place where I could chat and laugh with people my own age and share past stories from the industry, in what felt like a guilt free environment. After my husband passed away the lunches are my happy place through difficult times and a chance to make and continue friendships.”

Continue reading “Can you imagine a world without volunteers? We couldn’t.”

When the thud of envelope on door mat reminds you the world hasn’t forgotten about you …

This pile of envelopes can only mean one thing: it’s time to ship the latest mailing of our bi-monthly Golden Friends newsletter.

All hands were on deck last Friday – super-volunteer Denise‘s among them – to stuff into envelopes the fifteen hundred copies of the newletter we send out to our Golden Friends.

Golden Friends is a contact scheme for people who have worked within the hospitality industry and are now retired. It is a free scheme and is open to anyone who is over pension age and has worked within the hospitality industry in the UK for at least 7 years.

We use the phrase, Golden Friends, because we hope that the programme’s members are enjoying their golden years. But of course, for too many elderly people, retirement can bring with it loneliness and isolation. The loss of a life partner and worsening mobility only exacerbate this.

As well as the newsletter, the programme sends members birthday and Christmas cards and gifts, and invites them to regional lunches and teas where they can meet old friends and make new ones. (If you can donate a lunch or tea please click here for further details.)

Members can also request an introduction to one of our befriending volunteers, who keep in touch with Golden Friends through home visits and over the phone. I’ve written about my phone friendship with Dora, previously.

The Golden Friends newsletter is a mixed bag of content. The latest edition has information about how to join an audiobook library; advice on how to create bee- and butterfly-friendly gardens; and some enjoyable content about the NHS, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year. Sudoku lovers are well catered for; as are bakers, who’ll enjoy this month’s banana bread recipe.

Our Golden Friends love to browse each new edition. For some of them, points of contact with the outside world are few and far between, so just hearing the thud of post on door mat is a pleasure.

The newsletter is sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Innholders. Bless them for this gift to the people who laid the foundations of today’s hospitality industry. And well done to Hospitality Action’s Jenny Gill for compiling it.

 

Beyond the call: how giving up a little time can be gold dust to Hospitality Action

 

Supporting Hospitality Action can take many forms. Sometimes support is financial, sometimes it takes the shape of a time commitment. When it comes to giving up precious time, no HA supporter can ever have been more generous than Denise Haugh. That’s Denise in the photograph, beside me.

Denise worked in hospitality for more than 40 years, and in many capacities. She was a receptionist at the Queens Hotel, Cheltenham, in the 1950s; staff canteen manager at the Science Museum in the 1970s; had a spell with Trust House Forte; and ended her career as senior catering officer at the Metropolitan Police, where she headed up operational catering for officers policing major incidents and events.

After such a long and varied career, Denise could have been forgiven for putting her feet up and enjoying her retirement. But that’s not her style. Since retiring, she has thrown herself headlong into supporting HA in a variety of ways.

It’d be easier to list what Denise hasn’t done for our charity, than what she has. She has visited grant applicants to offer support with their applications. She has hosted lunches and teas for our Golden Friends (retired industry members who find themselves isolated or lonely). She has been a volunteer visitor since the scheme started in 2006, and has made a huge impact on the wellbeing of the Golden Friend she supports.

Despite all this, in 2013, Denise decided that she could still do more to support HA, so she offered to volunteer at our office in Farringdon. She quickly became an invaluable member of the team, and now spends a day a week with us, supporting HA’s Golden Friends scheme.

Every year, Denise writes around 2,000 birthday and Christmas cards to our Golden Friends (sadly, for some, these are the only cards they receive). And, every two months, she stuffs, labels and franks 1500 Golden Friends newsletter mailings.

If you asked Denise why she does all that she does for HA, she’d probably say it’s a way to pay back an industry that gave her a career and a livelihood. In truth, though, it’s the hospitality industry that’s indebted to her for her generosity of time and spirit.

Last month, the HA team contacted the charity, Room to Reward, to nominate Denise for their Hidden Hero scheme. Room to Reward works on a fantastic premise: it asks hoteliers to give up unused room stock to allow it to award well-earned breaks to volunteers for charities across the UK. It’s a way for charities to say ‘thank you’ to their staunchest supporters.

We were all delighted when we learned that our application had been successful. Later this year, Denise will be staying at Balmer Lawn Hotel & Spa, a place she fondly remembers visiting as a child.

Through her work for HA, Denise has made a huge impact on many people’s lives. We’re immensely grateful to her for her hard work and dedication.

We don’t expect every HA supporter to show Denise’s level of commitment. But if you can spare any time at all to raise funds, I’d love to hear from you at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk or on 07919 324978.

Happy holiday, Denise, and thank you.

 

 

 

 

Why supporting Hospitality Action needn’t be about putting your hand in your pocket …

Seven years ago, I didn’t know Dora Somerville. Now I count her as a good friend. We’ve never met (Dora lives in Wales, I live in London), but we speak regularly on the phone. You see, Dora is my HA phone friend.

Dora is very proud of her children and grandchildren, and keeps me posted on what they’re up to. Sometimes she reminisces about her life in the WAAF during the Second World War, or about her career in catering in Manchester. She often talks about her husband Hughie, whom she lost a few years ago.

Despite her fading eyesight and mobility challenges, Dora is always stoical and upbeat. She’s wise and she’s proud. And she makes me laugh.

In return, I tell Dora about my wife, Susie, and my family. And I update her on all the people I meet, and the restaurants and hotels I experience, within the hospitality industry. Dora likes to hear about Susie’s horse riding lessons, and about our holidays in Cornwall and overseas. Sometimes she even laughs at my jokes.

Dora has the odd ‘off’ day – don’t we all – and I’ll cheer her up. Other times, she’ll offer me counsel on some issue I’m grappling with. Last year, she was sympathetic and supportive as I dealt with the loss of my mother and father.

It’s important to say that Dora is anything but lonely. Her family dotes on her and is supportive and attentive. I think our phone friendship just offers her another perspective, another point of focus. Another friend.

Growing old is hard. Family and friends pass away, the ways of life you’ve known change beyond recognition, and it’s easy to think the world has forgotten about you. Reaching out to someone elderly is a great way of reassuring them that’s not the case, that their views, memories and lives still matter.

Befriending Dora has enriched my life over the past seven years, and I’d like to think she’d say the same about befriending me.