With working life increasingly dominated by virtual meetings, the opportunity to step away from the screen and engage in face-to-face interactions is a refreshing change of pace, so it was an absolute pleasure to attend the Arena event ‘An Audience with Tom Aitkens’ on Friday 15 March, held at the esteemed Rosewood Hotel in London.

The event commenced with a warm welcome from Arena Chairman, Steve Norris, who set the tone for the day’s proceedings. Following this, we were introduced to Only A Pavement Away (OAPA), an inspiring industry charity founded by Greg Mangham. Established in 2018, OAPA aims to facilitate connections between forward thinking and compassionate employers in the hospitality sector, and individuals facing homelessness, reintegration from prison, or veterans seeking stable employment. The stories of success shared by OAPA served as a fantastic reminder of the transformative power of opportunity and community support within the hospitality industry.

We then heard ‘What’s in store for 2024?’, via an insightful panel discussion hosted by Mark Stretton with panellists Janene Pretorius, Head of People and Culture, Wolseley Hospitality Group, Emma McClarkin OBE, CEO, British Beer and Pub Association and Will Beckett, Co-Founder and CEO of Hawksmoor.

Key takeaways from the session included:

  • Despite the prevailing economic challenges, people still want to go out! While there are reasonable levels of trading being seen across the industry, operators are faced with the task of effectively monetising this demand whilst battling with escalating costs.
  • The persistent skills and labour shortage within the industry remains a significant concern for operators. There is an opportunity to address this challenge through education initiatives aimed at fostering successful careers within the sector. Charitable organisations like Only a Pavement Away (OAPA) are invaluable for such educational efforts, offering a positive way to bridge the gap between industry needs and potential talent.
  • Emphasising flexible working, promoting diversity and inclusion, facilitating internships and placements, and ensuring accessibility to hospitality roles across all age demographics are strategic measures needed to mitigate the skills and labour shortages in the industry. These types of initiatives could aid the culture of transferable skills, mentorship, and knowledge sharing, in turn bolstering the industry’s workforce capacity and resilience.
  • The hospitality sector is the fourth largest industry in the UK, presenting vast opportunities for our workforce. Collaborating with charities like OAPA empowers the industry to play a pivotal role in rebuilding lives, restoring dignity, and fostering a sense of connection and community among society.

After the panel discussion, we caught up with some of our industry friends and colleagues, enjoyed a superb lunch and settled in for an exclusive interview with Tom Aikens – one of the UK’s most acclaimed British chefs and holder of two Michelin stars, who was interviewed by Simon Young, Executive Chef, Rosewood London.

Tom’s journey, from childhood experiences in the kitchen with his twin, via a somewhat less than convinced college lecturer, to the pinnacle of culinary success, shows clear passion, determination, and resilience. He created key opportunities which helped to shape his outstanding career and his latest venture, Muse. This cosy 25-seater in Belgravia, showcases his commitment to storytelling through cuisine, whilst providing every guest with a ‘kitchen table’ experience.

Beyond his culinary endeavours, Tom’s role as a patron of OAPA underscores his dedication to giving back to the industry he loves. His efforts, along with the support of many other partners and contributors, provide hope in an industry ready for positive change.

Special thanks to the team at Arena for orchestrating yet another successful and impactful event. Hearing from so many people who are striving to use the industry as a force for good and seeing the generous donations to OAPA on the day, highlights the collective commitment to build a more inclusive and resilient hospitality industry. To find out more about Arean visit: https://arena.org.uk/