Listening, engaging, empathising: steps to reducing suicide in the hospitality industry

I want to talk about suicide. Specifically, I want to open a debate on how to help hospitality workers reaching the point of despair by offering practical and emotional support; and by propagating a culture across the industry in which people are able to talk about their darkest thoughts and, crucially, are listened to and spoken to sensitively and appropriately.

It’s been heartening to hear the industry talk more about mental health issues over the past few months. At HA, we’ve played our part. We were proud, for example, to work with The Caterer on their recent mental health awareness themed issue.

But, as an industry, we’re still losing far too many precious lives to suicide.

We live in a hectic and overwhelming world. For some people, this can spark feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and depression; and these in turn can set off a downward spiral of negative thinking.

People contemplate suicide for many reasons. According to the Samaritans, it’s often caused by an accumulation of difficulties that leave people feeling there is no way out. The kinds of difficulties that might increase the risk of suicide include relationship breakdown, painful or disabling illness, bereavement, bullying, loneliness and financial difficulties.

People with conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be particularly vulnerable. There is also a very high correlation between suicide and substance abuse.

Add the particular stresses hospitality people encounter – pressure, adrenaline peaks and crashes, long hours – and you have a dangerous cocktail.

According to research from mental health charity, Mind, suicide rates are higher in men than in women across all age groups. Suicide is now the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

Suicidal feelings are driven by the fear that you’ve reached the end of your resources. But with the right kind of support, resources can be restored and replenished, pain can be processed, and new ways to live life can be found.

In 2019, we’re determined to create a step-change in attitudes and prevention strategies across hospitality.

Suicidal behaviour is often described as a “cry for help”, as if it’s not to be taken seriously. But passing off talk of suicide as attention-seeking is dangerous. Anyone thinking or talking in these terms is in deep distress. If someone you know is talking like this, don’t be afraid of engaging with them. Talking about suicide with a sympathetic listener has never driven anyone to kill themselves.

But how? And how do we spot the signs, if someone isn’t actually talking about suicide?

The time has come to put strategies in place across the industry.

We’re not experts in this field, and there are many experts out there. We’ll seek their their expertise, then focus it through the lens of hospitality.

At this point, we’re looking for expressions of interest. Does this post resonate with you? I’m at mark@hospitalityaction.org.uk, or you’ll find me on Twitter (@marklewis32).

By collaborating on this important project, we can save lives.

 

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.

Update: Mitchell tells his own story of confidence rediscovered and hurdles negotiated …

Back in April, I posted a blog titled Recovery through Positivity: how HA helped get Le Manoir’s Mitchell Collier back on track.

The blog described how two dents to his self-esteem and a serious health scare had left Mitchell’s confidence at rock bottom – before Hospitality Action stepped in to help.

Mitchell’s story is an inspiring example of how enlightened employers can support their workforces by adopting our Employee Assistance Programme. The blog got massive traction on social media – so much so, that we asked Mitchell if we could make a video of his story.

Top man that he is, he immediately said yes. Thanks Mitchell, you’re a star.

Is the health and wellbeing of your team and the success of your business worth £5 per head per year? If so, email me at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk or call me on 07919 324978. We’d love to help you.

How Olleco are turning waste oil into a balm for hospitality people in difficulty

Back in February, I write a blog detailing how cooking oil supplier and recycler, Olleco, supports Hospitality Action as part of its wider CSR commitment. 

“Olleco understand that supporting HA creates a virtuous circle”, I wrote. “By supporting our efforts to keep hospitality professionals happy, healthy and work-ready, they are helping build sustainable businesses around the sector – and therefore future-proofing their own business.”

Kate Mortimer, Olleco’s Group Marketing and Communications Manager, told me: “In 2012 we embarked on a journey to find a charity partner who could help us extend our ethos of care. 
Individuals working within the catering and hospitality sector are key to our business. The very people the charity helps are the people that we deal with on a daily basis, delivering cooking oil and collecting organic waste streams.”

Every time Olleco sells cooking oil or collects used oil from its customers it makes a donation to HA. This summer, the total amount the business has donated has reached a staggering £100,000. One hundred thousand shiny pounds!

It’s no exaggeration to say that HA would be unable to help people like Simon Holwell (pictured at the top of this page and featured in the video above), without the support of Olleco and all the other businesses and individuals who tirelessly raise funds for us.

Congratulations on your milestone and thank you from the team at HA and all our beneficiaries.

Would you like to benefit from the virtuous circle of supporting HA? Drop me a line at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk or call me on 07919 324978.

Credit where due: passing on beneficiaries’ thanks to all our supporters

Of the many reasons for choosing a career in hospitality, one of the foremost has to be the pleasure that comes from being thanked for the food, drink, accommodation or service you’ve provided.

At Hospitality Action, we thrive on positive feedback, too. ‘Thank you’ is a powerful phrase, and we’ve collected backloads of thank you notes from people we’ve helped.

Of course, we can only offer the support that elicits this feedback because of the fundraising that underpins our charity. On that basis, the thanks should really go to you, the selfless people who make our work possible.

You know who you are: consider yourselves well and truly thanked for your generosity of spirit. You are changing lives for the better – as you’ll see from the comments below.

“I am in tears as I type. Thank you so much. You saved my life.”

“Thank you very much for your help to save my house and my life, I couldn’t ask a better person for help.”

“With your help, I’m having the best winter. It is the first time I can have heating without worrying about the bill. It’s wonderful. Thank you for the peace and happiness you have given me.”

“To all the wonderful staff at Hospitality Action, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for all your help since losing my job. I don’t know what I would have done without it.

“Thank you for the vouchers for the afternoon tea. I took my mum with me as she supported me through my treatment. After the trauma of last year, it was lovely to be able to relax and have an afternoon out.”

“Thank you so much. I am utterly speechless and eternally grateful.”

“I just wanted to thank you all for the lovely Christmas card and gift card. When I opened it this morning I cried at the generosity and kindness you have shown.”

“Thank you for the adaptations. I applied to other organisations, but they had either run out of funds or we didn’t fit their criteria. You were quick to reply and made us feel less humble for applying. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Please accept our sincere thanks for your generosity. It has made a world of difference. You made this happen: 😊.”

“Just wanted to say thank you so much for my grant. It has helped me a lot with getting my life back on track.”

“Thank you so much. With the help and support of your kind organisation, it is a lot easier to focus on the positives and a bright future.”

“I cannot express in words the gratitude I have for your charity. I’ll never forget that you helped me at my worst point. Not only have you changed and improved my life and situation, you’ve restored something I haven’t had in a very long time: hope.”

“Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, you are all angels and I am forever grateful for your help.”

“Your grant made such a difference to my mental state, which no doubt helped in the healing process.”

So you think you know what Hospitality Action does? Think again.

 

They used to run an advert for the Radio Times on the telly. If you remember it, you’re a fifty-something like me, or older. The pages of the magazine would flick before you, lingering on the week’s best content – “Petula Clark celebrates 50 years of the vote for women! Stewpot takes the Treasure Trail! Why you should never argue with a Sagittarian!” – before an awe-struck reader delivered the pay-off line: “I never knew there was so much in it.”

The Mad Men and Women of the advertising world could easily apply the same creative concept to Hospitality Action.

Ours is a complicated story to tell. We offer grants, counselling, family days out, a retiree befriending scheme, addiction awareness seminars and an employee assistance programme. We support people who are about to start work in the industry, people who currently work in the industry, people who have retired from the industry – and their partners and children.

No wonder people are often confused by exactly what Hospitality Action is and what it does.

Someone in the industry recently asked: “HA, that’s the charity for the homeless, right?” And another told me: “you’re the people who help drunk chefs.” Well, yes, yes – and no.

Yes, we help industry professionals unable to pay for a roof over their head. And yes, we support people with a range of addiction challenges. But we do much, much more besides.

Simply put, HA is a force for good. We offer lifelines to people who work or have worked in hospitality and find themselves in difficulty or crisis.

Behind their smiles and their game faces, hospitality professionals are as prone to life’s challenges as we all are – that’s where HA comes in.

We help people set their lives back on track. This might mean funding home adaptations for someone dealing with the onset of a life-changing medical condition. It could mean helping a victim of domestic abuse to start a new life. It could be laying on Golden Friends lunches or teas to keep loneliness at bay for industry retirees. Or it could take the shape of offering crisis support to teams dealing with traumatic events like the London Bridge or Manchester Arena attacks.

Whatever the challenges are that beset the human condition, HA can help overcome them.

See – I bet you never knew there was so much to us?

 

The mental wellness imperative: an open question to the hospitality industry

Spending last week on holiday in Cornwall gave me time to reflect upon this month’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the stories it sparked.

Hospitality Action marked the week by partnering with HR in Hospitality to co-host a breakfast event at the Royal Lancaster London, to shine a light on the issue of stress in the hospitality workplace. You’ll find context to the event in my previous blog post.

I was preparing to draw to a close the Q&A session that concluded the event, when a hotelier called Darryl took up the roving mike and shared with the room his experience of spending time in the iron grip of depression. Silence fell across the room, and jaws dropped, as he spoke. In just a couple of minutes, Darryl made real the mental wellness issues we’d been debating for over an hour. Delegates left the hotel humbled by the fact that he’d chosen our event as a platform from which to tell his story.

Since our event, three more chefs have been in touch with HA to share their stories. Two approached us in confidence. The third, Charlie, has told his story on Twitter. As the hashtag says, it’s clearly #timetotalk.

Staring out at the Atlantic at Sennen Cove last week, I thought about what the industry needs, to equip it to help Darryl, Charlie and others like them.

HA already helps people for whom mental health issues have become acute. We offer people counselling … we provide them financial support when they are unable to go into work.

But what if there were a self-support mechanism that helped keep mental health problems at bay, in the first place? I’m thinking prevention rather than cure – but what would this look like? And how could HA facilitate it?

One thing’s for sure: there’s a need. As one chef said on Twitter in response to Charlie’s post, “it’s a case of which chefs I know who don’t battle these things … “.

Let me know what you think: we may not have all the answers, but we’ll do our damnedest to provide new services to support the industry we serve. You’ll find me at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk – email me.

 

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.

 

Recovery through positivity: how HA helped get Le Manoir’s Mitchell back on track

When you’re young, it’s easy to think you’re indestructible. Your whole life is stretched out before you, the opportunities are endless.

But there are no guarantees in life. No one can know what lies around the corner. Just ask Mitchell Collier, Guest Relations Manager at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I’ll let Mitchell tell his own story.

“From the age of 14, I knew hospitality was what I wanted to do. I may have been elbow deep in dishwater but I already felt part of something bigger. For me, hospitality isn’t just the service we deliver but the collaboration of people with their own unique traits and skill sets.

“Knowing that I felt destined for a career in hospitality, I began to chase my dream. After two years studying Hospitality Management at Buxton College, I accepted a position at South Lodge Hotel, where I progressed within the Guest Services team. I joined Le Manoir in 2016, with the drive to continue my journey further. Life was good …

“In the Spring of last year, my life turned upside down. Following a decline in my health and several visits to the doctor and to hospital, I was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer, in June.

“The last thing you expect to be doing on your 21st birthday is to be recovering from emergency surgery to remove a cancerous growth. It’s certainly not what I had planned!

“Days before my surgery, I was also informed I’d been unsuccessful in applying for an internal promotion. And, in the same week as my surgery, my partner decided to end our relationship. I felt alone, a failure, and I couldn’t comprehend having been told I had cancer. Despite being an optimistic, positive and joyful person, I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel.

“A close friend at work saw my struggle and told me to seek help from Hospitality Action’s Employee Assistance Programme, which our company offers to all staff members. If it wasn’t for her suggestion, I honestly don’t know what position I would be in today. The support and reassurance I got from just one telephone call was the pick-up I needed.

“I was offered six sessions of counselling by Hospitality Action. After a few sessions with the counsellor, I still felt I wasn’t back to my normal self, so after a quick call they agreed on a further six.

“My counselling was to help me come to terms with everything I’d been through. I described it to my counsellor as trying to download a 10GB file with a bandwidth of 1KB. I just wasn’t able to process everything and became stuck with what was going on in my life and how I could move forward. I had all the emotions going on and I just didn’t know where to start with them all.

“On returning to work I found certain situations very difficult to handle. Le Manoir is a bucket-list destination for some people, so I was around guests who’d unfortunately not been so fortunate with their treatment and were coming for a last special occasion. My counsellor was able to teach me techniques to help me process everything a little bit at a time, and to clear my mindset.

“The counselling brought me back to a place I was familiar with. My positive outlook and happy attitude were back, and I felt ready to tackle the challenges that had been thrown at me over the previous three months. I reapplied for the promotion and, with perseverance and support from the counsellor and a fresh outlook, I was promoted to Guest Relations Manager early last November. I then got my all-clear at the end of November, so it really was a great month for me. I go back to the Churchill in Oxford every three months for scans and check-ups to make sure nothing has come back. It’s great to have such attentive after care.

“I am 21, turning 22 in June, but I’ve decided that this year is going to be my 21st birthday revisited, since I didn’t get to celebrate last year while I was recovering from surgery.

“I am so grateful for the support Hospitality Action gave me; and I admire their commitment to supporting individuals struggling in our industry. Without a safety net like the one they provide, I fear my story would have been very different. Everyone will come across struggles in their life and sometimes it’s just a helping hand that makes a big difference.”

Mitchell, more power to you for inviting me to tell your story, and good luck with your recovery. You know where we are, should you need any further support.

Mitchell received our support because Raymond Blanc and his management team at Le Manoir had the foresight and duty of care to subscribe to our employee care programme.

I urge to do the same for your team members, and ensure they remain happy, healthy and work-ready.

Lands End to John o’ Groats: charting Hospitality Action’s nationwide reach

Hospitality Action? It’s that charity for chefs working in London and the Southeast, right?”

Wrong. And wrong.

Hospitality Action helps anyone who works or has worked in hospitality, and finds themselves in crisis.

Yes, we help chefs; but we also help restaurateurs, hotel workers and bar staff. Moreover, we support hospitality professionals at every level of operations: whether you work in a Premier Inn or at The Ritz, whether you serve Michelin-starred dishes or hospital meals, we’ve got you.

As for any geographical bias, the chart above speaks for itself. Last year, 18% of our spend in 2017 was in the Southwest, 14% in the Northeast, 13% in the Northwest, 10% in Scotland and 8% in Wales.

They say charity begins at home. Rest assured, wherever you call home, from Dublin to Dunfermline, Penzance to Penarth, we’re here for you.