Simon Boyle is a chef, author and founder of Brigade Bistro in London, which helps Southwark residents at risk of homelessness develop the skills to find employment in hospitality. He talks to Vincent Wood
Mental health is huge in our work, not just with our beneficiaries but all of our staff. We offer a service to all of our staff to have a channel to talk about any issues that they might have; anything that might bubble up.
Drugs and alcohol are the symptom, not the issue. The people we work with have very complex issues and the majority of those stem from childhood. Roughly 88% of people that have been homeless have suffered childhood trauma. Now they are 30, 40, 50 years old, so those traumas run deep.
Anyone, particularly in hospitality, can have those issues and those addictions. People tell us what their issues are and we support them; for us, it is not the case that if you're misusing then you're out.
We don't add to anyone's issues by shouting at them and treating them badly or overworking them and underpaying them. It just doesn't happen at Brigade. We monitor and evaluate people on a daily basis so that if we see anything untoward or lateness, or if there's a change in their attitude, a change in their appearance, a change in their eating habits, we can see and we can help them and we can pick them up before they fall over.
We use cooking and hospitality as a tool to get people back on their own two feet. You put your complexities to one side while you're on shift. That doesn't mean you ignore them, or that we don't help them or deal with them, but the eight-hour shift is a way of focusing on something else.
What is very, very important is that we are aware of all the other things going on. So if it wasn't appropriate that we put them on shifts then we wouldn't, but generally speaking, the shift is a time where they can focus on the job.
Recently, our apprentices have done sessions with the Prince's Trust, Refettorio Felix in Earls Court, and Bethlem Royal Hospital in West Wickham. Once they're able to do that and recognise how they've moved themselves on, it's huge. They can say, hand on heart, "I was there six months ago where you are. Here I am working, being paid, holding down a job. It is possible."
It is not only good for the people hearing it, but it's also really good for the person giving that message.
We don't have all the answers. A lot of our apprentices stumble on the journey. That's part of the process and we get it, and not all of them make it. Some of them come back and start again and that's just part of their journey. But we're always there to support them, whichever way it goes.
2010-present Chef-director, Simon Boyle's Stirring Creativity, London
2009-present Founder, Beyond Food at Brigade, London
2001-2010 Chef-director, Beyond Boyle/Food
2000-2002 Manager, Mosimann's London
1997-1999 Executive chef, Swan Hellenic North America
1995-1997 Senior sous chef, P&O Cruises
Beyond Food Beyond Food has a range of opportunities to help support the work at Brigade and beyond, including Simon's latest book, How to Cook and Keep on Cooking, which can be donated on your behalf to help teach basic cookery skills to someone in need. Brigade is also running Social Diner supper club events, with guest chefs including James Golding and Chris King.
For more information, go to www.beyondfood.org.uk
Or read the rest of our special issue on mental health in hospitality industry:
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