Jeremy Goring is the famous name supporting a new Hotel School, one that gives those with experience of homelessness a taste of all aspects of hospitality, an industry qualification and supports them in the workplace. Emma Lake meets the tutors
More than 40 people who have experienced homelessness have received what one graduate calls “an invitation to join the hospitality industry”, thanks to the support of the newly launched Hotel School, based at the Passage, a homeless charity in Victoria in London.
During the 12-week course, the students, whose ages so far have ranged between 21 and 50, are introduced to a variety of hospitality roles and given the tools and networks to help them embark on a career in the industry.
The idea to open a school that would prepare vulnerable people for a career in hospitality was developed by Jeremy Goring, chief executive of London’s five-red-AA-star Goring hotel, and Mick Clarke, chief executive of the Passage.
Goring says: “The Passage has been there for almost 40 years and for all that time we have been neighbours. We’ve been working together ever more closely, but I was keen to do something a little more meaningful.
“I had some chats with Mick and we cooked up some ideas over a couple of drinks. If I’m honest, we threw out some really rubbish ideas, then I thought that hospitality is such a fabulous business, and so many shapes and sizes can be included because you have so many different departments and job roles, which suit different abilities and personality types.
“Hospitality is a team sport. You can’t send scrambled eggs up to someone’s room without the kitchen, the kitchen porters and the room service waiters all working together with a decent bit of management on top. Because of that, people help each other and want each other to succeed. Also, in London, everyone is from everywhere and no one from anywhere, so it’s not very cliquey. Everyone can fit in. I really felt that a lot of Mick’s clients could be in hospitality, but that they might just need a helping hand from us.”
The Passage supports the homeless into accommodation and offers intervention to help those at risk of losing their homes. Even prior to the launch of the Hotel School the charity had an impressive record of supporting clients into secure, legitimate employment, with 124 people helped into work in just one year.
When Clarke and Goring identified an opportunity to build on this, they decided the best way to learn was to launch a school. Goring explains: “We took on the first group of students just over a year ago. There were 12 of them and 11 made it to the end of the 12-week programme, which we felt was a small miracle. What we’ve tried to do is put together a programme that will inspire people to get into hospitality. One of my first aims was that we would have some very useful content but also some fun, hands-on stuff.”
Hotel School ‘headmistress’ Veronique Bonnefoy, formerly head of training worldwide at Gordon Ramsay Restaurants and consultant and lecturer at Westminster Kingsway College, explains that the students, who are referred from a number of charities, including the Passage, St Mungo’s, Centrepoint and Refugee Action, achieve an NCFE level two in hospitality and catering principles.
The course’s curriculum has been tailored for the Hotel School by education expert Geoff Booth, but it’s not just a certificate graduates leave with. Sessions involve making coffee with top baristas from Extract Coffee Roasters and developing kitchen skills with leading chefs, as well as speaking to and shadowing receptionists, housekeepers and others working in London’s grandest hotels.
Some of the biggest names in hospitality have donated their time and expertise, including chef-restaurateur Chris Galvin of Galvin restaurants; John Williams, executive chef of the Ritz London; and Simon Boyle from Brigade bistro and bar. Even British Lion rugby player Will Greenwood has been named head of sports and fitness.
Goring explains: “We’ve had about 100 volunteers from hospitality and I think that’s a great tribute to the industry that people want to get involved and enjoy it. I’ve got waiters, chefs, mixologists, housekeepers and many more from hotels and restaurants across London.”
As well as inspirational sessions demonstrating the varied and exciting opportunities hospitality has to offer, Hotel School works with its clients to make sure they are prepared for employment. Zoe Minihan, programme manager, explains that when students are accepted on the course they are told “whatever you need, we will help you”. Staff are dedicated to creating an environment that gives the students the best chance of success, whether this means help securing suitable accommodation, a travel card or a pair of shoes needed to attend a work experience placement.
Students are given access to support with financial planning, fitness, benefits, mental health, housing and more. A huge part of the course is about building up their confidence and showing them their potential, which Goring said was integral, adding that even he felt nervous when first walking into a five-star hotel.
He explains: “The aim has been to get people interested and to keep them interested, then slowly, during the programme, introduce them to employers through meetings, work experience, placements and shadowing, so they can get their heads around what it’s like to be in a hotel or restaurant. The aim is that
by the time term ends, we’ve done a little matchmaking and we’ve found a slot that fits.
“There is a slot for pretty much everybody, unless they don’t want it. Part of our job is to get them to want it by making them understand that it’s not necessarily a walk in the park but it’s fulfilling. It doesn’t need to be a five-star hotel; it could be a coffee shop in Victoria station.”
Support continues post-graduation and into employment with someone on hand to help with problems that could arise from the wait for a first pay cheque or the adjustment to life in employment.
Clarke says: “Having a network is massively important so graduates know that the first time they have a bust-up at work, they can make a phone call to the Hotel School to speak about how to process it. Fast-forward a couple of years and they will know how to deal with it and may well be giving advice to others.”
Goring adds: “Our philosophy is that you never actually leave Hotel School unless you want to, because you don’t need us anymore. For the majority, though, the work starts after graduation day and we’re there to manage the hiccups, as well as helping employers support our graduates. We get to witness people transform over time – it’s a great thing to watch.”
A job for life
Students have gone on to be receptionists, goods receivers, waitresses, painters, kitchen porters and chef apprentices with the likes of Park Plaza Hotels and Resorts, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, Heathrow Airport and Galvin at Windows. So it’s not surprising then that the number of applicants is increasing, with the last course oversubscribed by 300%. Since launching, valuable support from the Savoy Educational Trust and the Victoria Business Improvement District has allowed the Hotel School to develop, and a larger, permanent home, from where it can help many more find their niche in hospitality, is being sought.
Goring says: “We know there is a need and we know it’s increasing and, ultimately, what we need is more space. The dream would be housing with a permanent location for a school encompassed within it; somewhere we can give a better service with equipment that doesn’t have to be moved around and enough space to run simultaneous classes, which will give us the capacity to help more people.”
Clarke adds: “Since 2010, rough sleeping has increased by 161%, which is shocking. We need to make the programme work as well as it can and then we’ll be looking to expand. Accommodation is key. Of the 124 people the Passage put into employment last year, we had to put probably about 85% into a B&B. People came off the streets and they go into a legitimate job, but they’re not going to get paid until the end of the month.”
Goring explains that Hotel School is not just good for those securing stable employment, but also for an industry that many fear is staring a staffing crisis in the face. He says: “We already know that there’s a manpower crisis across a number of industries with hospitality being hit really hard. In our hotel, which is just a small hotel, more than half of our workforce is affected by Brexit and that’s true of many hotels around London.
“This is a genuine crisis; there are simply nowhere near enough people to fill all the jobs that already exist in the industry and there are so many hotel openings in the pipeline. People are going to be scratching each other’s eyes out to have a full complement of staff. The timing is a coincidence, but we would like to be able to contribute to the hospitality industry as well as help people get their lives on track.”
Mark, current student
Mark was referred to the Hotel School by Refugee Action. He had been searching for a job in hospitality for two years but was turned down repeatedly because he didn’t have experience in the UK.
He was three weeks into his course when he spoke to The Caterer: “We are enjoying the course because every day we learn new skills and new ideas. It’s not related to one subject, it’s related to all of hospitality.
“I have slight experience in hospitality and it’s something I love to do. I worked
in front office roles in some hotels and I would like to continue.
“I was struggling to find a job as I don’t have UK experience. The Hotel School as
the best way to gain that experience and understanding. Luckily, I was accepted to start.
“I’m excited, to be honest, because I just want to start work. We do have a lot of positive training and we can say we have very skilful teachers who teach us about all aspects of hospitality.”
Wolfgang Henneberg, graduate
Henneberg heard about the Hotel School through homeless charity Crisis. He says he arrived on the first day and “made it clear that I would not go away”.
He told The Caterer: “There are so many aspects of the school. I learned about many hospitality departments I did not know about before and gained respect for their work.
“It was a framework, to come every day. I can’t say this happened on this day, but
you change how you think about yourself and how you think about the hospitality industry. Maybe it would not be right to say you become a different person, but you get into a position where you can start to work.
“Most of the skills needed for the job I’m going into [a member of a hotel purchasing team] I had before, but I wouldn’t have even thought about the job.
“I was sceptical when I started, but the promise came true to find a job and
an employer that fits you, from where you can have not just a job, but a career.
“Before Hotel School, I never had steady employment – sometimes one or two years – I changed a lot and never found a place. When I came to Hotel School, I was unemployed, and I never felt I had perspective, but I’m confident I’ve found my place now.”
Henneberg’s confidence appears to partly be down to the ongoing support he knows he will receive. He adds: “I will have weekly meetings to discuss what I’m doing and my job; there’s still support going on. Mr Goring said you can’t leave Hotel School, he phrased it like a threat, but it was more like we will always stay behind you. Mr Goring does take an interest in every student.”