Hospitality Action: supporting the industry since 1837

Hospitality Action: supporting the industry since 1837

by Great British Chefs 15 December 2020

After the toughest year on record for the hospitality industry, everyone from chefs and front of house to kitchen porters and concierges have needed support more than ever. We talked to Hospitality Action CEO Mark Lewis to learn more about the charity and how people can get involved.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

We’ve all felt the impact and turmoil of the pandemic, whether it’s a shift in how we work, seeing less of our friends or family or struggling with our mental health. Some have had it rougher than others – frontline workers in particular – but one industry that’s suffered more than most is hospitality. The restaurants, bars, caterers, hoteliers and everyone else who makes up the UK’s fourth-largest workforce have been subject to closures, reduced footfall and sudden changing of the rules and tiers with very little notice. The support from the government has been lacklustre (to say the least), but there are thankfully other organisations helping wherever they can.

Hospitality Action has been doing just that for 183 years. Anyone who works (or who has worked) in hospitality – from high-end restaurants and hotels to cafés, bars and school caterers – can seek help and support from the charity. Finances, mental health, issues in the workplace, addiction and general advice is on offer to those who need it.

‘Anywhere where food is being served or hospitality is being offered, we can help,’ says Mark Lewis, who became the CEO of Hospitality Action in 2017. ‘We mostly help people with grants – for example, if they can’t pay some bills or perhaps need a stairlift installing at home after a life-changing illness. We also offer means-tested counselling, to support people in the industry who are struggling with their mental health, along with help in lots of other areas where workers need additional support.’

To support such a large and important industry requires a lot of money, and Hospitality Action relies on fundraising to be able to offer grants to those in need. Pre-2020, this often took the form of events, where top chefs and other names from the industry would volunteer and help put on fundraising dinners, but with lockdown, the charity had to focus on alternatives. ‘We typically run a full schedule of events throughout the year, which is what provides the money we can then give out as grants,’ explains Mark, ‘but now we’re focusing on other third-party fundraising support. That could be restaurants and hotels adding a pound to the bill, encouraging people both in and out of the industry to donate or spreading awareness of our Employee Assistance Programme, where employers can pay for a package of benefits for their employees and invest in the health and happiness of their workforce.’

One of the most successful fundraising initiatives Hospitality Action launched during 2020 was the idea of ‘Invisible Chips’, which can now be ordered from over 500 stockists in the UK. With Tom Kerridge, Heston Blumenthal and Fred Sirieix as ambassadors, the idea is that you can add an order of invisible chips to your bill when dining out, and all that money goes to help the people in hospitality who are at risk of losing their livelihoods due to the pandemic. ‘We’re really proud of it,’ says Mark. ‘I think with everything that’s happened the general public realised how much it loves and misses hospitality when it’s not there – it really is intrinsic to our lives. Invisible Chips meant restaurants and hotels could give people who don’t work in the industry an easy way to donate to Hospitality Action. It also helped to spread awareness of the charity, which has always been quite industry-focused.’

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As you can probably guess, Hospitality Action has been a vital lifeline in 2020, supporting an entire industry that’s been brought to its knees more than once. Back in March, the charity launched a dedicated email address for workers who wanted to apply for emergency grants – after just an hour, they’d received 21,000 emails. ‘That told us it was going to be a very busy year,’ says Mark. ‘While that was the biggest spike in requests for support, it hasn’t really let off since – we sadly keep hearing about redundancies and closures, and I think that’s going to continue into 2021. It’s been inspiring to see how the industry has responded and the creativity owners have brought to their businesses, and while a few have done well I think for most it’s no more than a temporary means of survival.’

The work Hospitality Action does is incredibly important. From giving grants of a few hundred pounds to help someone pay the rent to funding counselling for those struggling with addiction – everyone in the industry can benefit. For those of us who don’t work in hospitality, however, it can be hard to know how to help. ‘I think the best thing people can do is to get out and spend money at restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels, as soon as they’re able’ says Mark. ‘If you want them to be there in the future, you have to give them your business and support them. To support us as a charity directly, I think buying a few portions of Invisible Chips either online on our website or when you next see them on the menu is a great way to donate. Also give us a follow on social media – virtual events like online auctions or other ways you can get involved can always be found there. Finally, if you know anyone in the trade, make sure they know about us – if you have a friend who’s a chef and they feel a bit low, he or she might not know about us and realise the support we can offer.’

If you or someone you know in the hospitality industry is looking for support, call the Hospitality Action Helpline on 0808 802 0282. For more information on how you can get involved and support the industry (or buy a portion of Invisible Chips!), visit their website.

Great British Chefs will be donating to and supporting Hospitality Action in the months ahead, with £1 from every tea towel and tote bag sold on our site going directly to the charity. To buy one, visit our online shop.