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.

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.

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.