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Charity time - Hospitality Action, supporting industry workers

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Hospitality Action is one of the leading industry charities supporting hospitality workers through crisis. In this episode we learn more about the organisation and the good work it does from CEO, Mark Lewis - and we're joined by one of its patrons and the founder of Walk For Well-being, Craig Prentice


How Hospitality Action helps

Since 1837 Hospitality Action has supported people in roles across the hospitality industry and was one of the first UK charities to mount an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Hospitality Action's grant-giving, advisory services and EAP provision continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of the industry in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.


Since the start of 2020, it has spent over £3,000,000 and awarded more than 10,000 grants to hospitality households across the UK.


For more information about Hospitality Action visit https://www.hospitalityaction.org.uk/


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Programme Notes


This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors


Ryan Haynes:

In today's episode, we wanted to take a moment to have a look at a very special organization, Hospitality Action, and the charitable work it does to support Hospitality staff across the industry in the United Kingdom. We are going to be speaking to Mark Lewis, the CEO of Hospitality Action, and one of its Sporters patrons and sponsors who organizes the Walk for Wellbeing. Craig Prentice let's hear what they have to say about the organization and the benefits it brings our sector.


Ryan Haynes:

And joining me now is Mark Lewis, CEO of Hospitality Action. Mark, thanks ever so much for joining us today. Now you are heading up a very important cause, one that has been quite central to the problems and the situations that the Hospitality Institute has faced over the last few years in particular. Can you tell us about the organization and the sort of support you provide?


Mark Lewis:

Yeah, good morning, Ryan. Thanks for having me on. It's a great pleasure to speak to you this morning. So yeah, absolutely. Hospitality Action is the UK Hospitality Sector's benevolent Charity, and I guess really its safety net. So, our job is to offer lifelines to people who work or have worked in Hospitality and find themselves in difficulty or crisis. So many of us hit a bump in the road from time to time in our lives, and really, we're here to help people get back up off their knees and on their feet again when they hit one of those bumps on the road. Typically, the help we offer is around physical or mental ill health or financial challenges, but we also help people with all sorts of other issues in their lives.


Mark Lewis:

So really, we say to people, look, if you've got a struggle, if you've got an issue which is impacting on your, your personal life or your working life, then give us a shout and if we can, we'll help. And that helps. We'll either be financial support through a grant, a cash injection or, or, or purchasing something that somebody needs, perhaps a bespoke wheelchair or a stairlift at home or through counselling support and helping people to deal with mental health challenges.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, over the last few years, particularly with the pandemic people losing jobs, but also being put on extended furlough in some circumstances, it's had a great impact on, us both financially and also mentally. Why is it so important ongoing post-pandemic?


Mark Lewis:

Well, I think the pandemic now feels like a bit of a bad dream, doesn't it? It's something we're working from, and we hope we never fall into that sort of a nightmare Again, I'm not sure we ever will, but actually, the aftershocks of the pandemic and Brexit before it, and all that's come since with the war in Ukraine and therefore the rising energy crisis and, and, and the cost-of-living rise. All of these issues are still impacting hospitality workers particularly the people at the coalface of Hospitality, where the salaries may not be as high as some of the middle managers that perhaps you speak to through your podcast. So, we speak to a lot of people who've built up historic careers, through lockdown and beyond.


Mark Lewis:

People who just can't clear historical bills. They've got the bailiffs at the door asking to repossess and possess items. They're, they're at risk of eviction because they've, they've got behind on their rental payments. So, there's a lot of physical anxiety that we see day by day from the people who get in touch with us for support. The cost-of-living crisis has been really, really difficult for so many people. We speak to lots of people who are actually working in Hospitality but still have to go to food banks because they simply can't feed their families. They can't keep a roof over their heads. So, they're balancing their finances. They're trying to pay priority bills, but just making sure there's food on the table as well. And then of course, from all of those issues comes stress and anxiety and mental health challenges.


Mark Lewis:

If you don't know whether you can buy school uniforms for September's intake, and if you don’t know how you're going to put food on the table next week, then chances are you're, you're lying awake at night worrying about these things and, and that turns quickly into mental health challenges. So that's something we're seeing a lot of as well.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean, Hospitality is a people business after all. So, there are humans behind everything that we do. Can you share any particular stories with us of the way in which that hospitality Action has helped any of your specific members?


Mark Lewis:

Yeah, I absolutely, I'd be delighted to every Monday or every couple of Mondays, a colleague of ours, if, who's one of our case managers, so she's really at the sharp end of what we do, and she's liaising with people day by day to ascertain how best we can help them. She pulls together all of the latest thank you letters every week or so and sends them out, circulates them around the team, and that's really what keeps us going. It's been a tough time for us for the last four years, but we've been working hard to help as many people as possible. But those thank you notes really put a bit of a spring in our step and they remind us of what we're achieving and how we're transforming lives. And that word transformation comes up an awful lot. It's amazing how a relatively small amount of money can be described as transformative by many, many people who get back in touch with us after being helped.


Mark Lewis:

and we had a lot of people through lockdown and more recently contact us, contacting us, saying, I had a, I was in the supermarket, I was out and about, I was on the school run, and I had a ping on my phone from the bank saying that 250 pounds or 500 pounds or whatever we'd awarded had landed. And literally, I burst into tears, or I fell to my knees. and we, we hear that really visceral response from people time after time and that really tells us of the importance of what we do. I talked before about feeding kids and I think there's no noble pursuit than putting food in the belly of young people. We know how important a full tummy is to learn and education. So, I think that that's a really important part of our work.


Mark Lewis:

But we help people in so many ways. We sometimes help people pay funeral bills if somebody can't afford to bury their husband or wife or a parent or even a child. We helped somebody not so long ago who sadly had terminal cancer and had lost their hair because of the chemo they'd, they'd undergone. So, we were able to buy them a week, just a small thing and not an expensive thing, but it gave them self-esteem as they went about their lives. So that was an intervention we were proud of as well. We spoke to a chap, I'll call him David, back in, in lockdown, who was a very proud elderly chap who had worked in Hospitality but retired. And when we were put in touch with him by a mutual contact, he told us that he had nine pounds and seven I think it was in his account, and he was far too proud to go to food banks but was really struggling to survive.


Mark Lewis:

He literally had the lights off, the electricity and the gas off all day until it came time until the time came to cook dinner. Dinner was normally a couple of tomatoes and a baked potato, but he would turn the electricity and the gas on just to cook those and then turn them off again. So, this poor chap had no connection with the outside world. He couldn't afford to have the radio or the TV on. So, we were able to help him cover some debts for him and make sure that he had cash to push on. So those are the sorts of interventions that we're, we're making day by day. And it keeps us going. Hearing the feedback from the people we help,


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely, and certainly as in mid-management and up positions are much more privileged. And I think we give ourselves credit for, and when you look at sort of the way in which some Hospitality workers have to deal with their day-to-day lives, they, they're on often on minimum wage. We've seen a drop in the number of tips that people often get, which is often the livelihood for many to be able to go about their day-to-day business. The cost of living has increased energy prices. And then if we look at hotels, and hospitality venues that are based in rural areas, they have to jump in a car every single day to get to their place of work. And I think we need to be much more aware of this and these are people that really are driving the personal experiences that we're trying to deliver within Hospitality across the world.


Ryan Haynes:

So, if anybody needs assistance, Mark, how can we get help from Hospitality Action?


Mark Lewis:

Yeah, I can come onto that and say, but just to reinforce what you are saying, I think one of the idiosyncrasies of Hospitality is that you have to put your game face on if you're working in front of the house. If you're customer-facing, you might be struggling financially, you might be struggling with your health, or your partner might be struggling with health. You've got all these issues, but when you get to work, you've got to put your game face on. And I think that's one of the really tough aspects of working in Hospitality. You have to make every guest or customer interaction a really positive one for that guest or customer, regardless of whether you know whether you can pay next, next month's rent. So yeah, it's a really tough sector to work in at the moment. If somebody needs help with any of the issues, we've talked about so far this morning, they should go to our website, hospitalityaction.org.uk where they'll find means either telephone or email contacting us, and then we can start from there.


Mark Lewis:

And that's when the magic happens. We're a Charity and we're dictated by the rules and regulations of the Charity Commission. So, we mean test people. Of course, we're not here to help millionaires, but, you know, once we go through a few checks and measures to make sure that somebody really does, does need our support, then, then that, that's where it begins and that's where we'll take them towards either a cash intervention or, or potentially some counselling. Also, worth mentioning that we have a paid-for service. It's something called an employer assistance program. So, we created our own bespoke employer assistance program for the Hospitality sector. We've now got about 200,000 employees or lives covered by the program across about 500 clients, big and small.


Mark Lewis:

So, this is a paid-for service, which allows operators to invest in the health well-being and productivity of their workforce. So that's something that operators can get involved in on behalf of their employees. The cheapest chips are six pounds per person per year, but it gives people access to a whole suite of benefits and counselling opportunities and guidance and signposts. So, that's another way if your employer is a member of our EAP, that's another way of accessing our support.


Ryan Haynes:

Now you have a number of commercial supporters as well. How can businesses get involved with Hospitality Action?


Mark Lewis:

Yeah, 1,000,001 ways. We, we we're really encouraging people to get behind us. Traditionally, we run a lot of events ourselves and we continue to run really, really exciting gala dinners and blue-ribbon events, excuse me. But also, we are encouraging operators to find their own means of supporting us. We can't do all the heavy lifting ourselves and the number of people getting in touch with us is only growing higher and higher by the week. So, we ask operators and, and suppliers in the sector to find their own means of supporting us. The obvious way is to name us as Charity of the Year, and then any charitable work is to our benefit.


Mark Lewis:

I mentioned the AP before. The AP is another great way of getting involved and investing in Hospitality Action work. We came up with an idea that we're trying to take as viral as possible called Invisible Chips just after the first lockdown. So, the idea of invisible chips is that you, you put invisible chips on your menu as a menu item, it's on the point of sale, and you ask people to buy a bowl, they're buying nothing, but as we say, it's a 0% fat and a hundred per cent charity. So, stocking invisible chips is a lovely light-hearted way of supporting us. And then we've got a, a number of events that we run. The next big event we've got is something called Walk for Wellbeing in late September into October where we'll encourage people just to get away from the day-to-day, just have a screen break, get away from the office, get away from the kitchen, and take a walk in the local park, hopefully with some colleagues, have a chat, have some fun, but just have a bit of me time, a bit of us time, a bit of, you know, clear your head and just, just take a break from work.


Mark Lewis:

So that's coming up very soon. There's a sponsorship element to that, so as people get involved, they can also fundraise for us. And then we've also, we're never far from a chefing dinner. We've got an amazing dinner in early November at the Nobu Hotel Portsmouth Square in London. We've got Jason Atherton and Claire Clark, Char Adams sing, and several others involved and cooking for us. So that'll be a great night. And I would encourage anyone who is around and free that night to come and support us. So yeah, there, there's, there's a lot ongoing and it's, it's all covered on our websites, so if anyone wants to get further involved, they can find details there.


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely. The website is in the description on this podcast, so just head there and click through and you'll find out all the details. Mark, thank you ever so much for joining us today and giving us more insight into Hospitality Action. I wish you all the best for the rest of 2023 and that we actually get to cross paths very soon as well.


Mark Lewis:

No, of course. Thanks, Ryan Travel Market Life


Ryan Haynes:

Coming up on Sunday, the 8th of October, it is Walk for Wellbeing, five hosted 20-kilometre walks that take place in key cities across the UK. The Walk for Wellbeing Committee includes general managers from prestigious hotels in the UK, powered by UK Hospitality talent partner Mum in partnership with caterer.com and People's Bank, Craig Apprentice, director and founder of Mum, and also the founder of Walk for Wellbeing and Patron of Hospitality Action joins us on the line now. Thanks for joining us, Craig. So how did you get involved with Hospitality Action?


Craig Prentice:

Yeah, sure. Hi, Ryan, great to be here. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I guess I got involved with Hospitality Action four or five years ago. I've always valued and admired the work that they do for the industry and the people in it but wanted to play a proactive part and essentially reached out to Mark Lewis about five years ago now on to discuss ways of getting involved. He invited me to be a member of the fundraising board for London and it all kind of began from there, I guess a year or so after joining that committee. Certain world events meant that charity's focus needed to shift quite quickly, and the response of the Charity was very, very quick to support those who needed it the most.


Craig Prentice:

So, their resources internally and the small team that they do have were, were, were tasked with supporting those who needed it the most at that time. And I guess I remember feeling at the time, apart from being very isolated myself, but felt that there was something that we could do for people in hospitality. And I guess a little while into the pandemic, remember picking up the phone to a good friend of mine called Sean Wheeler, who many people will know as a great Hospitality force.


Craig Prentice:

I think that's probably a good way to describe Sean and share the idea of a walk with him. And I guess that simple Walk idea was embraced by Sean. He's been in, he's been instrumental on the project with me and thanks to Sean and a lot of other people that we've had involved on the project since it's grown to being what it is today.


Ryan Haynes:

Absolutely fantastic. I mean, you've raised over 120,000 pounds through this walk for wellbeing and now you're across five cities. So, it sounds like, you know, it's quite a lot of logistics to get that going and, and to get that backing involved. How has that managed to sort of grow over the years then?


Craig Prentice:

So, I think in the very beginning we reached out to a hell of a lot of people at that time. Everyone was going through their own scenarios in life. Life was very complicated. But you know, there were certain companies, individuals that jumped at the opportunity to spend their free time and I guess utilize their network to share what we had created. And like I say, it's, it is just built and we, we involved partners, supporters, sponsors, and it, yeah, it's been fantastic.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent. And how many people generally sort of end up on some of these walks that you organize?


Craig Prentice:

So last year we had a total of 400 people walking.


Ryan Haynes:

400


Craig Prentice:

400 across the wow. Yeah, so across the time period, we had 400 people walking and we raised 92 and a half thousand pounds last year, which was amazing. This year we're already on 340 with five weeks to go, which is amazing as well. So,


Ryan Haynes:

And they can find out more about this on the Hospitality Action website.


Craig Prentice:

Yeah, absolutely. On the Hospitality Action website or walk for wellbeing.org.


Ryan Haynes:

Excellent. And now two other companies and sponsors out there. Why do you recommend getting involved with Hospitality for Action?


Craig Prentice:

I think, I think given the times that we're going through and the amount of people that find themselves challenged, I don't feel that there is another Charity as significant as Hospitality Action. I feel their work is very purposeful. I feel their work is very impactful and there's a lot to it. I think a lot of people, there's a lot of services that the Charity provides that the, that the general public, you know, won't necessarily be aware of. So, everything from their employee assistance program to their 24-hour helpline, to grant-giving their Golden Friends initiative, which is amazing.


Craig Prentice:

Connecting people who are, who are retired from Hospitality but need to keep connected with the world and that that's a great initiative that they have. So, I think their impact is really important. I think their recent, the charity's recent impact report is very eye-opening and very telling and explains not only the different ways in which the Charity works and impacts but also the reach that they have across the country, which I think is also key to their work.


Ryan Haynes:

Craig, thank you ever so much indeed. It's, it's great to hear a bit more about this Walk for Wellbeing and, and the reasons and why you are involved in your organization.


Craig Prentice:

No problem.


Ryan Haynes:

So that was Craig Prentice, director of Hospitality talent partner mum and founder of Walk for Wellbeing. You can find out more details about Hospitality Action in a description in our podcast.

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