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Charity work can help hospitality workers personally and professionally

28 June 2007
Charity work can help hospitality workers personally and professionally

Guest editor Bob Cotton believes that hospitality workers can enhance their personal development, and therefore the business, by getting involved in projects outside work - and in some cases outside the industry. Here, Tom Vaughan, Chris Druce and Joanna Wood profile three industry professionals who have given up their time to help three separate charities

Heston Blumenthal - The Ark Foundation

The Ark Foundation, part of industry charity Hospitality Action, educates students, managers and employees about alcohol and drugs through educational seminars. Importantly, it also assists anyone in the industry facing up to and dealing with addiction. It was started by ex-Ritz chef de cuisine, and recovering alcoholic, Michael Quinn in 2001. Heston Blumenthal is an honorary vice-chairman of the Ark and ambassador for Hospitality Action.

How and when did you first become involved in the Ark?

I got involved a couple of years ago after meeting Peter Kay, who's a consultant to the Ark Foundation, at a charity dinner. He never tried to rope me in, but we got talking and I decided to support it. It's the only charity I get involved with in a big way.

Why this particular cause?

The work that the Ark does is so important for the industry, yet it doesn't really get enough coverage. Addiction is a big, silent issue. It's so important for young chefs to have someone to turn to. They come into the industry very young, but the whole kitchen culture is "shut up, get on with it, you're being a wimp" if you have problems. There's no support.

How important is it for industry leaders to get involved in projects outside their own business?

Very important. If you've had success as a chef and in hospitality, you get lots of benefits. If everyone helped a little with something such as the Ark and Hospitality Action, then it would make a greater impact and support people who need help. You don't have to devote your whole life to a charity - and it's not necessarily about just giving money. I do think if you're in a position to help, then you've got a duty to do so.

Have you ever had to deal with someone who has alcohol or drug addiction?

We did take on somebody once who told us he had a bit of a drug problem. Rather naïvely, I thought we could change him. We didn't - but we did get Peter to counsel him. That's the only real time. But because of my work with the Ark I hear stories from the industry and I know what a big problem there is.

What does your role with the Ark mean in practice?

Generally, we have meetings to discuss specific projects - such as the recent Hospitality Action marketing campaign, which I then got involved with. I try to raise awareness of the Ark's work wherever possible. We donate 25p to the foundation for every cover we serve at the Fat Duck. We raised about £6,000 on that last year. I also get involved in charity dinners - at the recent 35th anniversary dinner at the Waterside Inn, at which I cooked a course, we were lucky enough to raise £30,000 for the Ark.

What have you learnt yourself from your work with the Ark?

To get a 17-year-old to open up is very difficult - for them, opening up is a weakness - and I've learnt to step back from a given situation and look at it from their point of view. Behavioural issues are never the problem. Behaviour is the end of the line, not the cause. And rather than just missing it, you need to talk about and find out about the underlying problem.

Are chefs obsessive people?

Without a doubt. And I think it does make them vulnerable. There are a few things, actually, that make them susceptible to addiction. The age when your career starts is very young, and the boot-camp culture - pick 'em up, put 'em down, go out on the piss - is very prevalent. Then that kind of thing can lead on to other things. Professional cooking is a young man's game because of the amount of hours. You have to be obsessed enough to knock in 80 or 90 hours a week and deal with all the questions that throws up. And when chefs get into trouble, there's no back-up or support, so they're more exposed. It makes the problems, once they start, self-perpetuating.

How much money did the Ark raise in total in 2006?

Hospitality Action raised £1.32m, of which £109,000 was raised directly for the Ark.

How does anyone become involved with the Ark's work?

Check out the Hospitality Action website, www.hospitalityaction.org.uk, or phone 0870 351 0160. And also support fundraising events such as the Hospitality Action 170th Birthday Ball on 12 October at the Grosvenor House in London.

Carl Smith - The Hotel & Catering Personnel & Training Association

What is the HCPTA and what role does it perform?

The association exists to provide a forum for personnel and training professionals and other interested parties in the hotel and catering industry. Its role as a networking instrument sees it organise a number of events throughout the year, with the biggie, its summer ball, set for the Landmark hotel in London on 19 July. HCPTA also organises work-related breakfast briefings on subjects such as employment law for its 350 members. Although predominately London-focused, the organisation is seeking to broaden its membership base and expand beyond the capital. The HCPTA was formed in May 1975 out of an amalgamation between the Hotel & Catering Personnel Managers Association and the Hotel & Catering Training Association.

When did you get involved and why?

My first experience came as a member, and my involvement grew steadily after I was nominated for an award in 2001 (something I was chuffed about). In 2003 I joined the organisation's organising committee and took on the role of vice-chairman, supporting chairwoman Judith Owen.

How does HCPTA help?

The support and social networking aspect of the organisation is very important. Many human resources professionals in our industry, by its very nature, work alone. After all, many group and individual restaurants and bars, hotels and caterers don't have the resources that some of the bigger chains do and don't have dedicated personnel departments, so it can actually be quite lonely and isolating as an HR professional working in the hospitality sector.

Why get involved?

There's certainly a social aspect to it that I enjoy. Also, having been supported in my career and given the opportunity first to move from front of house into human resources and then develop my role to head things up as training and talent manager at the Royal Lancaster, I felt it important to give something back.

What does it entail, and what have you taken from your involvement with HCPTA?

I typically give up 10 hours a month to HCPTA, but this varies, and around major events, such as our summer ball, my time commitment will typically double. I find it useful professionally, as the events we run help me keep up-to-date with changes in employment law and come up with new ideas to put into practice in my role at the hotel. It's certainly helped me become better at time management, and my role as part of the HCPTA organising committee has refined my people and organising skills.

How important is it for industry leaders to get involved in projects outside of their own business?

Ultimately I believe that by getting involved in activities outside your day-to-day job you'll not only enjoy your role more but you'll be better at it. Taking time to support colleagues and help them develop professionally is my way of paying back those that did the same for me when I was starting out.

How can people get involved?

We're currently looking for nominations for our annual awards of excellence, which will be presented at our summer ball next month. For this and a list of upcoming events visit www.hcpta.org.

Bob Cotton - The PM Trust

Founded in the 1940s, the PM Trust was originally called the PM Club and offered a place for employees working split shifts in hotels and restaurants to meet and relax in the afternoon (hence PM). The club began, over time, to offer residential accommodation as well as career guidance to young members of the hospitality industry. Although the club closed in 2002, its objectives live on in the newly formed charity, the PM Trust, which aims to assist young people embarking on a career in hospitality by providing financial assistance for college fees and equipment. Bob Cotton answers some questions on his support of the charity.

Why are you involved with the PM Trust?

There's nothing more important than encouraging young people to gain qualifications in the industry. The help that we can give can tip the balance between someone taking a course and someone not taking a course.

Who does it help? Is it targeted at specific individuals?

We help both individuals and colleges - but only in the London area, as the PM Club was originally a London-based organisation. Our main purpose is to help students who need assistance in buying knives, books and uniform. These can be quite expensive, so the funding we provide can be really useful. Students need to apply to us - preferably via their college.

I wish colleges in the London area were more aware of our existence. Last year we held an event for the colleges. We invited 30, 22 accepted and only three turned up, which is strange when we have money we can distribute to their students. At the moment, we're helping students at Thames Valley University, Westminster Kingsway, the College of North West London and Lakefield in Hampstead - a kind of hostel training school. We also give bursaries. At the moment, we're helping students through a BA honours course in hospitality management at Thames Valley University. We're paying their fees.

It's a very simple process. Applicants have to make a submission and the trustees take up references and make all the necessary checks. We've got six trustees, under the chairmanship of Douglas Oram, who are all very knowledgeable about the hospitality industry.

Is there enough emphasis put on helping people get on the first rung of the ladder in the hospitality industry?

The emphasis should be on helping youngsters to complete their training, which would enable them to climb the ladder quicker. That's what we aim to do.

What deters young people from hospitality, and do you think the PM Trust can help solve some of these issues?

There are plenty of reasons why young people are deterred, but there shouldn't be, because the industry offers the most fantastic opportunities. The trust can help them to get good qualifications, which is the key to success.

How does the charity operate? How is it funded?

Hospitality Action sold the freehold of the PM Club buildings in Eccleston Square in 2002 and all our income is derived from the endowment on the moneys invested. We've given away about £100,000 since then - about £20,000 a year.

It's a newly formed charity, what does the future hold for it?

The real challenge is that the demands on its funds will eventually rise faster than the income that is being generated. Without raising more money we will have to cap expenditure, though we haven't got to that stage yet.

How can others get involved and help?

By colleges getting to know what the PM Trust is all about and by helping to raise money. Also through donations, through bequests. It's such a huge industry - I'm sure there are many more people who would like to help youngsters coming into hospitality. They can help them through the trust. After all, these young people are our future.

Anyone who wants to help - or who wants more information on the trust and what it can do - should e-mail pmtrust@bulldoghome.com.

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