I can’t imagine when Kate Nicholls accepted the role as CEO of UK Hospitality, the association tasked with representing and lobbying Government on behalf of the hospitality industry, that she thought that anything could be worse than Brexit. But then Covid happened and in order to preserve the education of our nation’s children, hospitality has effectively been sacrificed not once but twice. Cue months on end of Tweeting, letter writing, lobbying, ministerial meeting and generally fighting for the support to keep hospitality businesses and their associated supply chain going during these (yes I’m going to say it) unprecedented times.

With lockdown ll looming on Thursday she took time out of her no doubt busy schedule to address the Arena webinar. Today sees Scotland running a 5 tier system, Wales about to come out of lockdown on the 9th, but likely to go into further restrictions and England set to start it’s (May/June style) lockdown II – so it is fair to say there is a lot going on. With hospitality set to close, barring takeaway and business related hotel stays, the lockdown is not as harsh as the one we saw in March and she hopes that the education and the public sector remaining open will help support the supply chain to some extent.

The question is, will this second lockdown end on 2nd December as currently planned, or as Michael Gove insinuated, will it continue into December if the dreaded R number fails to drop sufficiently? Also, what will happen after this second lockdown? Will we go back into regional tiered restrictions? Quite possibly according to Kate.

The current restrictions are backed up by regulations, which means they have a sunset clause, so will fall away unless readopted. The support measures currently in place including furlough, grants and discretionary grants are all crucial, but are as Kate puts it ‘a temporary sticking plaster’ when what is needed is clear information on what support will be in place long term into Q2 2021 so businesses can plan. She set out the five key messages that UK Hospitality is pushing during this current ‘breathing period’ of lockdown II, which are as follows:

  • Support – Clear commitment on what support will be in place for as long as restrictions apply into Q2 2021.
  • Evidence – An approach based on scientific evidence. With a clear exit strategy based on set triggers and what support will be available.
  • Long Term Economic Plan – A plan to protect jobs and save businesses including extending the business rates holiday, VAT cut, furlough etc. to support hospitality and its supply chain.
  • Testing – Mass and rapid testing to enable us to get foreign tourism and business travel back up and running again, as well as events and conferencing.
  • Communication – Essentially the Government need to rebuild trust with businesses and share plans directly rather than the current system of pre-leaks which mean businesses learn of life changing decisions via social media or the press.

Kate sees the pandemic not in terms of the short term but the medium and long term and how the industry will be able to come through to recover, with a hope to return to pre pandemic levels in 2022/23. August and the Eat Out to Help Out initiative showed how effective hospitality can be at driving economic growth. Indeed, she believes hospitality is finally being recognised for the powerhouse to the British economy that it is. The Chancellor knows that, post 2010 recession, hospitality was the sector that generated 1 in 6 jobs and grew at 6% net YOY and it will be key to our economic recovery post Covid.

Kate then when on to answer some specific questions:

Large Events? With regard to large events coming back online she is hopefull for the end of Q1 and into Q2 and has been running pilots to safely run events along-side Public Health England with things like ventilation and spray arches. Of course, fast turnaround mass testing will be key to this.

What can the industry do to help? Kate made it clear that the industry has been incredible to date, but there are three practical things that can be done to help the cause.

  • Write to your local MP from your hospitality business (there are templates available on the UK Hospitality website). All letters concerning businesses go up to ministers and the more they receive the more attention they tend to give the issue.
  • Keep following UK Hospitality on Twitter and check the website for the latest updated guidance (a new template letter will be shared later this week).
  • Sign the petition for a Minister for Hospitality here. Things have improved on this front as hospitality has a dedicated unit in the business department, however a minister would give the industry the representation it deserves and needs.

The hospitality industry employs 3.2 million people and offers young people career opportunities like no other sector. For this reason, the Chancellor has recognised the importance of hospitality, but there is still much to do to ensure the future of businesses in this sector as the pandemic continues. Thank goodness we have someone like Kate in our corner.

Mental Health Discussion

It is fair to say that before Covid struck the UK was already on a journey towards talking more about the importance of mental health and attitudes were beginning to change with more and more celebrities sharing their struggles. In general, the stigma of mental health issues was slowly being eroded. The impact of the pandemic has brought the issue of mental health to the fore, not least for the hospitality industry. Here we hear from Camilla Woods from Hospitality Action, Martin Williams of Gaucho and Amanda Scott from Compass about how they are responding to the current mental health crisis caused by the pandemic.

The Hospitality Action mental health survey results make for sobering reading, with 60% worried, stressed, and demotivated and 36% considering leaving the industry. A frightening statistic when you consider the ongoing battle to retain good people and promote careers in hospitality. The impact of lockdowns and tiered restrictions on the industry has left people worried about their job security, their health and financial stability, including housing worries. This year HA has seen record applications for support grants and 24% of those who applied disclosed mental health issues (although this is not a requirement of the application process). On the positive side 75% felt that mental wellness is a priority for their business and 38% feel supported by their employer on mental health issues (up from 29% in 2019). So at least the industry is moving in the right direction and starting to view mental health as being as important as physical health.

Camilla went on to stress that there is help and support available via the Hospitality Action 24-hour helpline 0808 802 0282. A vital resource at this time and one which is made possible by their fund raising activities including Invisible Chips (so if you haven’t already do get involved!).

We then heard from Martin Williams of Gaucho, who has recently run a month of mindfulness with his team. Through regular staff surveys he has seen concerns move in February from Brexit, career goals and development to job security, money worries and anxiety over the pandemic and its impact. So, what has Martin actively done with his team to help? Well, during the first lockdown they implemented a team engagement program covering physical and mental health, as well as optional education, whilst topping up furloughed staff’s salaries. They also gave their team a purpose providing 5,000 meals to NHS staff which gave them a sense of real pride in the business.

This month he has given his staff a paid day off for mindfulness where they are asked to meditate and let their colleagues, friends and family know what positive things they bring to their life. The business offers individual and group counselling to those who need it via an app, with 30% polled saying they would like to continue with the service. Crucially Martin and his leadership team are focused on listening not preaching. Finding out what their predominately millennial workforce will find useful. In an industry which is often the biggest part of people’s lives, having it taken away can be soul destroying and cause real mental distress – something Martin has seen first-hand.

Following Martin, we heard from Amanda from Compass UK which has recently run a mental health awareness campaign and signed up to the Time to Change Pledge. With the business spanning everything from public sector to events their team faces a diverse range of challenges, with some closed while others are super-busy and on the front line.

Amada stressed the need to check in with people and ensure they know what support is available (as often it is there but people just don’t realise it).  Communication is key, as is the need to support managers who feel the pressure of supporting their teams. Making sure people know how to spot the signs and direct people to the right help is top of her list (you wouldn’t try to fix someone’s physical issue like a broken arm, you’d get a doctor, so why do you think you can help with a mental health problem – beyond listening and understanding). Currently they have a mental health ambassador network of 150 and focus on tailoring support to the individual.

Key take outs:

  • Communication is key – keep talking
  • Listen to your team
  • Support is not a one size fits all
  • Stigma is the main barrier to people sharing their mental health concerns
  • A sense of purpose can boost self esteem and help mental wellbeing
  • Focus on self-care
  • Mental health isn’t just for a day or a month, it is a continuous process and an ongoing commitment

Thank you to Arena for a timely and informative session as always. The industry is facing the biggest challenge it has ever seen and this of course impacts on both a macro-economic scale, which UK Hospitality is doing a great job to address, as well as importantly on an individual level. Hospitality businesses are working hard to keep their heads above water and support their teams to help preserve their mental health at what is a hugely worrying time. It’s tough on all sides but it was heartening to hear the speakers’ positivity in the face of adversity and commitment to get through this.

To find out more about Arena visit www.arena.org.uk