London to Paris in memory of Paul: Challenge Completed

Denise nears the end of her cycle

Earlier this year we published Denise’s touching story. After suffering a tragic loss Denise summoned all her strength and determination to undertake an epic cycle challenge in aid of Hospitality Action.

In Denise’s words: “After my husband Paul committed suicide a friend suggested that it may help to have a future focus and so as we often spent Sunday mornings cycling, then perhaps it should involve some sort of cycle challenge; and so the idea of cycling from London to Paris began to take shape.

It was just coincidence that an organised charity London to Paris cycle was to set off on September the 12th 2018, the anniversary of Paul’s death. Being aware that anniversaries can throw up all sorts of unexpected memories and emotions I decided that it may be helpful to have a focus and a slightly daunting physical challenge to preoccupy me on that day. There was never any doubt that for me the charity I chose would have to be pertinent to Paul and his life and so I contacted Hospitality Action and there was no going back.

Five in the morning, London, Wednesday the 12th of September was a dark, wet and gloomy awakening. Myself and two friends met with another seventy three damp but keen cyclists in a drenched London park. We set off enthusiastically through busy London traffic. Suburbia soon gave way to country lanes, however the rain never really went away and being used to quiet Scottish roads, with the occasional car, that gave cyclists a wide berth, the proximity of constant traffic forced me to concentrate. After approximately 95 miles we gathered in a pub in Dover, a swift half Guinness then we cycled en mass to the ferry. After a long and bittersweet day it was lights off and in bed for midnight in Calais.

Seven o’clock start and it was a promising one, patches of blue could be seen overhead. After an initial cold start the day kept on improving as did the scenery. The cycling proved to be undulating with a few technical hitches (my friend experienced two punctures). Lunch was spectacular and was reminiscent of a medieval banquet laid out in a historic monastery that looked like the grandest of chateaus. Our destination day two was Abbeville and as we reached it in good time we celebrated with a verre de vin blanc or two in a local bar named The Royal Bar which just happened to be the same name as a favourite bar in our old home town.

Seven thirty start and after cycling across an atmospheric Somme it was then head down for a series of gruelling climbs. Once again the scenery was idyllic although I became aware that it all must have looked very different once as we passed by many religious statues and war graves. We reached the busy city of Beauvais at what seemed like rush hour and with less than half a mile to go to the hotel I fell at a roundabout, a momentary lapse in concentration while looking down at the sat nav and CRASH down I went while still clipped in, a very kind French lady stopped to ask ‘ca va’ and so my school French kicked in and I replied ‘Ca va bien merci’ , got back on the bike and found the hotel.

Denise and her group celebrate at the Eiffel Tower

Next morning was touch and go as to whether I’d be fit to cycle but after many drugs (supplied by a bona fide GP) and taping of my shoulder I was good, if not fit, to go. Fifty five miles on a bike in pain was pretty tough, however I was buoyed along by a stop at one of Van Gogh’s many houses, lunch in a park in Paris with the most delicious cheese, then cycling around the Arc de Triomphe and the final destination of the Eiffel Tower. The Parisians were fantastically hospitable and then reaching the end despite my fall felt quietly but massively empowering after the year that had went before.

Throughout my travels I was constantly aware of the hospitality and provision of nourishment we received. More than most I am aware of the long hours, hard work and personal sacrifice that is often made by those who provide and serve the food we eat. I am eternally grateful to them for this service, Paul loved his industry and it was to honour him that I cycled these miles to raise money for Hospitality Action.”

We at HA remain indebted to Denise for the great lengths she undertook in our honour. The hours of training and personal sacrifice that the challenge demanded were met head on by this truly inspiring fundraiser and for this we are so very grateful. If you’d like to make a donation to Denise’s fundraising page you can do so here. And of course if you’d like to take part in your own challenge event, for any reason at all, please give me a ring on 020 3004 5504 to learn about the many options available.

 

 

Pulling together to make a difference: Hywel Jones explains why he supports HA

I first became involved with the Hospitality Action Beaufort polo lunch event some eight years ago. Back then the event was half the size it is today and I was joined in the kitchen by Martin Burge and Sam Moody with Michael Croft heading up the kitchen team. Over the years I’ve witnessed the event grow in size, the amount of chefs involved double, but most importantly my understanding of the important work Hospitality Action does has grown significantly.

The 2011 Polo Day chefs

There is no hiding from the fact that the hospitality industry can be a difficult industry to work in but equally it’s a very close knit community which is why I’m sure so many of us feel strongly about helping Hospitality Action to ‘look after our own’.

The 2018 brigade alongside Susan Shore

So for me once again to be a part of this year’s event was an opportunity I jumped at.  This year I was once again joined by Rob Potter from the Manor House Castle Combe, Richard Davies from Calcot Manor, Robby Jenks from The Vineyard at Stockcross, Niall Keating from Whatley Manor and André Garret from Cliveden. We were also joined by Kris Biggs from The Rectory Hotel who although was not with us last year is somewhat a veteran of the event from his time with Martin and Richard Edwards.

The planning started back in January. Rob and André were assigned to starters, Niall and Richard to main course, Robby and I were making the desserts and Kris was preparing the afternoon teas. Our first task was to decide on our ‘common’ ingredient. Basically each group of chefs choose one ingredient that they will both use and build their dishes around that. For this year the ingredients chosen to use were salmon for the starter, lamb for the main course and raspberries for dessert. It’s always interesting to see how different the chef’s creations can be even when using the same ingredients.

Some of the delicious dishes on offer

Once the main menu is agreed we then take care of all the other details such as sourcing ingredients and sponsors, wine pairings, dietary requirements, bread and so on. This is where I begin to realise how lucky I am to be working with these other chefs. For each and every one of them nothing was too much trouble. I know how busy these guys are but anything I asked for one of them would put their hands up. Biggest shout out this year went to Rob who took on the role of making the bread from Niall who did it last year. Come the event, Rob and Mikey his pastry chef stayed up the entire night prior baking the bread, respect due!

On to the weekend itself. Richard and myself went along on the Saturday to begin arranging all the kitchen areas of the marquee. The front of house led by the amazing Sue Shore were already busy arranging and setting up all the tables and front of house areas. Once we had set up and tested all the equipment it was back to our hotels to put the finishing touches to all our food prep in readiness for the big day.

Before the guests arrived

Sunday arrived and by 8am the teams had all started arriving. The weather was once again on our side and there was that sudden moment of realisation that this is it, if we have not thought of it by now it’s too late!

Thankfully though the biggest drama we had was a fryer that we could not get lit. This was no issue for Richard though, he simply jumped in his 911 and sped off to Calcot (within the National speed limit he assured us) to use the fryer there.

From then on the day flew by; first the canapés were served closely followed by the lunch itself. The food these guys produced was outstanding and when you consider that they cooked for 300 guests in basically a big tent in a field it’s even more impressive. It was a pleasure to cook alongside them.

Guests enjoying the hospitality

Finally once the afternoon tea was served there was time to breathe so in true chef’s form the beers were cracked open and the banter started to fly.

It’s a great feeling knowing that you have all worked together as a team towards a common goal and achieved it. I took my eldest son along to help on the day and he said in the car on the way home that it’s the best day he’s ever had in a kitchen.

I asked him why he thought that and he said he liked the way everyone worked together to help each other out. I guess we never really know in life when we will need help but it’s reassuring to know that in our industry if or when we do need help it’s there through Hospitality Action.

This year we raised over £50,000 at the lunch. Being a part of such an event is a very rewarding experience and one I’m very proud of.

Hospitality Action is such an amazing charity with an incredible team driving it forward. The more people that get behind the stronger it will get and this is where we can all lend a hand. If you feel you can help, get in touch with the team and be a part of something special. Give them a call: 020 3004 5504 or email fundraising@hospitalityaction.org.uk to see how you can get involved and improve the lives of others.

 

Celebrate the Mandarin Oriental team’s big hearts – and share in our good fortune

A wise man once said that “misfortune nobly born is good fortune.”

I quoted Juvenal at the Worshipful Company of Innholders dinner, last week; now I’m referencing Marcus Aurelius. I wonder how you say ‘get me’, in Latin?

When a fire broke out at her hotel this summer, just one week after it had unveiled a multimillion-pound refurbishment, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park GM Amanda Hyndman must have wondered what she had done to deserve such misfortune. That the fire struck two days into Amanda’s stewardship of the hotel only added insult to injury.

“It’s at times like this that you discover the great pride and loyalty the staff have in the hotel,” she told The Caterer at the time. “There has been a real ‘can do’ spirit amongst everyone. The London Fire Brigade has been amazing and we have had tremendous support from our neighbours with hampers arriving from Harrods and hotels such as the Berkeley, Bulgari and  Jumeirah being so incredibly generous.”

Demonstrating a stoicism that Marcus Aurelius would have applauded, and humbled by the support they received, Amanda and her team quickly decided to turn a negative into a positive.

In days, they had launched FANtastic London, a charitable initiative that aims to thank their local community for its support and care after the fire.

FANtastic London is deploying 400 of the hotel’s workforce to support charities and organisations active or based in the capital, as repairs to the hotel continue. Amanda estimates as much as 40,000 working hours will be donated before the property’s reopening, later this year.

Beneficiaries of the scheme include Walking With The Wounded, Age UK, Thrive Battersea Garden Project, Oxfam, the London Fire Brigade, the Felix Project – and Hospitality Action.

Each week, volunteers Ksenia (pictured with HA’s Astrid Wears-Taylor) and Malin spend a day at our Farringdon office, supporting our fundraising and grant-giving efforts.

And, this week, a crack team of envelope-stuffers will converge on our boardroom to help despatch the Autumn edition of our Golden Friends newsletter.

From a terribly difficult situation, Amanda and her management team have found a way to galvanise their workforce, give them valuable life experiences, and help further the work of many good causes.

It’s been our good fortune at HA to benefit from the altruism shown by the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, and for this we’re hugely grateful.

The hotel’s support of HA continues next Thursday, 20 September, when Amanda and her team host a reception on the Serpentine Solar Boat, Hyde Park, in aid of us.

If you’re free, we’d love you to join us. Tickets are £95 per person. Please email mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk if you’d like to help celebrate a noble and philanthropic initiative over a glass or two of fizz.

SME alert: the business case for subscribing to HA’s employee care programme

I’ve outlined the value our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) delivers subscribing clients previously, on this blog.

Our EAP provides employers with a means to increase their teams’ well-being, morale and performance. It offers a comprehensive suite of benefits that takes a holistic approach to employee welfare, providing specialist, independent and confidential advice, support and assistance, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

I know what you’re thinking. Comprehensive support of your whole team – that’s got to be expensive, right?

Actually, no. Far from it, in fact. Subscribing to our EAP costs just £5 per employee per year, with a base threshold of £250, which we apply to cover set-up costs.

In other words, any hospitality SME with up to 50 team members pays just £250 to keep their workforce happy, healthy, engaged and work-ready for a full year.

Beside all the philanthropic, emotional reasons for wishing to subscribe, there are clear business reasons for doing so.

Taking into account the agency cost of hiring a full-time employee, if buying into our care programme stops just one team-member from leaving, you’ve already more than recouped your return on investment.

The same cold logic applies when it comes to staff absences. If our EAP can keep just one member of staff at work for a few days rather than off dealing with a personal problem, so saving you the cost of temporary cover, again you’ve more than covered your initial outlay.

I’d urge you to look at our EAP, not as a ‘nice to have’ a cost to the business, but as a means of boosting productivity and profitability.