As the annual Springboard Charity hospitality pantomime draws closer, The Caterer takes a peek behind the scenes of this not-to-be-missed show to find out how it's addressing the industry's staff shortages
Chris Penn is a hotelier many will recognise from his days as managing director of the Ace Hotel London. Less familiar is his alter ego, Sparkles, who will be debuting at London's Leicester Square Theatre at the end of the month in the Springboard Charity hospitality pantomime.
Penn will be taking to the stage alongside famous faces from some of the UK's top hospitality businesses, including CH&Co, the New World Trading Company, Benugo and Byron, all to raise money through an entertaining night of song, dance and pies.
This year's professionally directed and choreographed production is a hospitality twist on the classic Snow White story. White – played by The Caterer's own Katherine Price – dreams of being a chef, but is forced to leave her evil stepmother's gastropub and seeks solace (and training) at a hotel run by dwarves.
Penn pitched the idea of a charity pantomime as a way to engage the future leaders of hospitality and showcase the industry's talents – and its fun side – while raising money for Springboard, a charity that aims to support people into sustainable employment in the hospitality and tourism industries. Four years and three successful productions of Springderella, Aladdin and Dick Whittington later, has it achieved that?
"The fact that one or two of the nights are sold out every year, seeing the joy on the faces of the audiences, the friendships that are built through the cast, and being an event that different businesses can go to and be part of but in a really informal, relaxed, funny way, I absolutely think it has," he says. "The feedback we've had from the audiences has been absolutely incredible."
Springboard chief executive Anne Pierce agrees: "People are amazed by how professional it is, what a great show it is and the talent that's on display."
The pantomime is hoping to raise £25,000 this year, which would help Springboard to run an intensive seven-week employability programme for people facing challenges and barriers into employment and who need in-depth support to get into work.
Whether that's physical or mental health issues, being out of work for a period of time, or ex-offenders, immigrants, refugees or homeless people, it works on developing confidence, motivation, and skills. Starting with teamwork, communication and presentation, it also equips people with industry-specific skills through short course qualifications and work experience.
Cast member Jason Nguyen, who is playing Hugh, went through the programme. Struggling to find full-time employment after college, he underwent two weeks of pre-employment training, including accredited certificates in customer service, which boosted his confidence. After gaining front of house experience, he landed himself a role as a night receptionist at London's Andaz hotel.
In an industry where recruitment and retention are key priorities, Pierce says it is "vital" the industry gets behind programmes like this.
"Employers are looking to diversify where they source their talent from, but more and more they find that when they do that, people are not work-ready, so they just drop out," she says. "These sorts of programmes prepare those cohorts for work in the industry and also provide them with a support framework that means that they can actually sustain that employment."
This message particularly resonated with Phil Street, director of Momentum Hospitality Recruitment, who took little time to sign up again, having taken part last year: "It's a no-brainer," he says. "You do some good for a good cause, but it also helps the industry."
Lucy Wigmore, junior sous chef at Tewin Bury Farm hotel in Welwyn, Hertsfordshire, similarly couldn't wait to sign up again: "It's the perfect way to inject a little seasonal cheer into an industry which is usually too busy to partake in holiday festivities," she says.
Wigmore competed in Springboard's FutureChef programme while at school and says it helped her get to where she is today: "It introduced me to influential chefs at a time in my career when I wasn't sure where I was going; therefore, they helped me to secure my own future."
Wigmore is playing an animal of the forest in the panto, and Street is playing evil mafia boss Peroni. In an unexpected turn of events, despite getting involved to help others, he also feels his experience in last year's show, Dick Whittington, benefitted his own personal development.
"It's about stretching yourself to places you didn't know you could," he says. "It can only have a positive effect on your attitude. Doing something you're not used to and pulling it off – your brain begins to think, ‘that felt pretty good, imagine what else you could do?' And that helps in business and in every facet of your life."
When asked why people should come and see the show, Street says it's another nobrainer: "Come and spend two hours having an absolute blast!"
Snow White is showing at London's Leicester Square Theatre on 29-31 January 2020. Tickets are available at www.springboard.uk.net/panto