All over the country caterers, restaurateurs and hoteliers are reaching out to connect with their communities in a myriad of imaginative ways, whether it be through through schools, community groups, charities, supplier networks or allotments. Janet Harmer reports.
Adopting a green ethos when running your business can mean so much more than recycling and being carbon neutral. Making links with the local community can be one of the most rewarding aspects of being socially responsible. Not only does it help create a caring and supportive environment for both staff and customers, but it can also establish a genuine feeling of goodwill towards your business which may result in a boost in bookings.
Bordeaux Quay, which incorporates a restaurant, brasserie, deli, bakery and cookery school on the dockside in Bristol, was founded on the principle of being environmentally efficient and a sustainable, socially responsible business. "We believe it is our responsibility to act as part of our local community, whether that is through food education programmes, recycling initiatives or tackling public order issues," says Amy Robinson, sustainable development manager at Bordeaux Quay.
It is with regards to education that the restaurant's links with the community are most obvious and direct. The Cookery School at Bordeaux Quay operates as a not-for-profit part of the business, with the revenue raised from the adult and corporate courses being used to finance food training for disadvantaged sections of the community. During the first seven months of this year, 42 workshops were held for community groups including single mothers, young carers, refuges and nearly-sighted children.
Bordeaux Quay also takes an active stance in working with local community groups which are focused on environmentally-driven social enterprise with the ultimate aim of creating a better quality living and working environment. As a result, Robinson represents the company on the Green Capital Momentum Group, the Harbourside Forum and Sustainability South West.
"It is not acceptable for companies to be responsible solely to shareholders," says Robinson. "Reducing a company's environmental impact and increasing its social contribution may have implications for the bottom line in the short term, but the wider-reaching costs of thinking in purely financial terms are becoming clear and they are not sustainable."
Certainly there is no financial gain to be made by Paul Clerehugh, chef-proprietor of the Crooked Billet, in his involvement with the village primary school in the heart of the community of Stoke Row, Berkshire. For the past five years, Clerehugh has cooked and delivered lunch for about 70 pupils from the kitchens of his pub-restaurant to Stoke Row Church of England Primary School, a mile away.
"There is nothing we gain as a business by doing it," says Clerehugh, who acted as a consultant on Channel 4's Jamie's School Dinners. "The PR we received in the early days has now gone away. But I do it because the school wanted to opt out of the school meals service provided by the local authority and they wanted to have lunches which were cooked using local and as much organic produce as possible. This is something I'm doing all the time at the Crooked Billet and passionately believe in and so was happy to do it for the school."
Clerehugh believes there is much to be gained by working with local residents for the benefit of the whole community. As well as working with the school, he connects with his customers by using the produce they grow in their gardens and on their allotments. In exchange, Clerehugh will provide them with a credit note - depending on the quantities involved - which can be set against payment of a meal in the pub.
"It works for everyone involved," he says. "Customers get to offload their glut of fruit and vegetables and we get exceptionally fresh, high-quality produce. The only people who don't seem to like it is Her Majesty's Revenue as there is no VAT involved. But there is nothing illegal in the transaction."
Indeed, exchanging produce for payment in kind appears to have become an increasingly common practice. Laurie Gear is looking forward to making use of the produce brought in by his customers - in exchange for a bottle of wine or a spot of lunch - when he reopens his restaurant, the Artichoke, in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, this month following a lengthy refurbishment.
"It is a fantastic way of getting hold of unusual produce such as wild garlic, which grows in abundance in some local gardens," says Gear. "We use the leaves in salads, the stems in a variety of cooked dishes and then preserve the seed heads - which are similar to capers - in cider vinegar."
In Dover, the central ethos of bistro-style restaurant the Allotment is based on connecting with the community of local allotment growers. From the outset of opening the 26-seat restaurant in 2007, chef-proprietor Dave Flynn, himself an allotment user, aimed to cook with as much local produce from allotments as he could.
This he achieves with great success during the bountiful months from June through to October with around 50% of all his fruit and vegetables from allotments. "We are obviously much more restricted during the winter, unless we only put beets and cabbages on the menus," says Flynn.
"Having an allotment myself, I know only too well that there are times when there is an enormous glut of produce. The allotment users are just delighted to see their produce being used in the restaurant and enjoy a token of thanks in return, such as coffee and cake or a bottle of wine. It creates a lot of interest as customers love to know that the produce they are eating has been grown nearby."
As well as using the fresh produce in dishes such as Vichy carrots with orange and honey or roasted beetroot with wasabi dressing, Flynn also oven-dries and bottles the enormous quantities of tomatoes he receives, as well as using fresh herbs to make large quantities of pesto.
Connecting with the community does not mean there has to be a direct business benefit to a restaurant or hotel - more often than not it is done to establish a company's green credentials and to boost a sense of well-being and interest among the staff and the surrounding neighbourhood. For instance, staff at the 416-bedroom Lancaster London hotel recently ran a raffle during the hotel's annual Green Day in which they raised £506.40. The hotel has agreed to match this amount, enabling £1,012.80 to be donated to the development of a fun area for sick teenagers at nearby St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. Throughout the year, staff also collect unclaimed lost property left by guests and old blankets which they deliver to the Passage, a homeless charity in Victoria.
In a similar vein, the Sheraton Skyline, a 350-bedroom hotel at London Heathrow Airport, has raised money for local organisations and charities through the efforts of its staff. In the past, the hotel's chefs have baked birthday cakes for the elderly residents at Abbeyfield House in Hayes, while other staff have spent a day gardening at the house or taking residents out on trips.
More recently, staff have raised £4,500 for the neo-natal unit at the local Hillingdon Hospital and £2,000 for the Hillingdon Partnership Trust, which distributes money to charitable causes. Different departments have run their own fundraising initiatives with the accounts department providing cakes and beverages for their colleagues, the engineers offering a car wash service to other staff and guests for £5, the human resources department running a raffle and the housekeepers holding an end-of-year lost property sale and a sale of old duvets and curtains. In addition, the Sheraton has donated all its old lobby furniture to a sixth form annex at a local school.
"We are very much following in the steps of our colleagues in the USA where Sheraton are very big on helping to look after local communities," says Jane Clements, director of human resources at the Sheraton Skyline. "All our staff now have individual social responsibility goals and objectives.
"As well as supporting charities as an individual hotel, we also work with the community of hotels around Heathrow to jointly help good causes. Last Christmas, all the human resources departments of the hotels got together to host a party for Age Concern - and everyone had a fabulous time."
In Cornwall, a true sense of community spirit has been created around the village of Mawgan Porth by the Bedruthan Steps hotel, where disadvantaged community groups are invited to stay for two or three days at a time. "We might invite nine or 10 people, from maybe a carers' group, and provide them with an opportunity to really enjoy themselves in the restaurants and spa," says sustainability manager Suzie Newham. "The hotel is somewhere they would probably not normally be able to afford to stay at and they really benefit from their time with us."
The four-star Bedruthan Steps - winner of the Green Hotel of the Year Award in the 2008 Hotel Cateys - has also recently set up a charitable fund. Guests are being invited to donate £5 and staff £1 from their monthly salaries to one of three charities - co2balance, Surfers against Sewage, or St Mawgen in Pydar Community Fund. So far around 25% of guests have made contributions to one or other of the causes.
Newham says that the Whittington family, which has owned and operated the Bedruthan Steps hotel since 1960, want to do all they can to help create a caring staff at the hotel who cherish the world and people in it. "All these initiatives help to establish a community spirit and relationship with the surrounding landscape and residents," she says.
MORE COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
ACADEMY OF CULINARY ARTS' CHEFS ADOPT A SCHOOL
About 350 chefs up and down the country have links with their local schools through the Academy of Culinary Arts' Chefs Adopt a School Programme.
Some 1,000 schools benefit from this interaction, with the children being introduced to fresh food and encouraged to appreciate the joys of cooking and eating. Lessons in school are followed up with visits by pupils to professional hotel and restaurant kitchens.
PUB'S SUPPORT FOR OXFORDSHIRE SCHOOL
Like many small business, the Kingham Plough in Kingham, Oxfordshire, is frequently asked to support a charity.
"We probably get about 12 such requests each month and decided from early on that we would concentrate all our charitable efforts towards Kingham County Primary School," says chef-proprietor Emily Watkins.
This involves the sponsorship by the pub of a summer music festival, which helps fund the school's music department throughout the year; sponsorship of the five mile Kingham Fun Run, with all proceeds raised going to the school; and the donation of prizes - such as dinner for two - for the school raffle.
"Our involvement with the school is very positive for community relations and, hopefully at times, it does help generate business for us," says Watkins.
TRADING AND GENERATION GAMES IN WEST YORKSHIRE
Chef-proprietor of the Butchers Arms, Tim Bilton, has swiftly established himself as an integral part of the community in Hepworth, West Yorkshire, since taking over the pub in September 2008.
Ladies who attended a cookery demonstration he presented to the Hepworth Village Church Group responded by presenting him with gifts of fruits and vegetables freshly harvested from their gardens, which has led to Bilton trading pints of real ale in exchange for produce.
He also held a Generation Game-style event at Hepworth Junior and Infant School's fete, at which four dads had to decorate a Victoria sandwich.
"It has all been good fun and helped raise my profile in the community, raise money for the school and bring business into the pub," says Bilton.
HELP FOR THE HOMELESS IN EDINBURGH
A food recycling programme, initiated by the 238-bedroom Radisson Blu hotel in Edinburgh, ticks both the green and social responsibility in the community boxes. Not only does it ensure that all food waste is recycled and turned into compost for use on nearby farmland, but the recyling programme is operated in co-operation with Edinburgh Cyrenians, a charitable organisation supporting the homeless and the unemployed in the city.
The job of recycling is carried out by individuals who were previously out of work and had nowhere to live. The hotel also supports Enable, a charity for people with learning disabilities, which involves young people with difficulties spending time at the Radission on work placements.
"All these initiatives help create a more caring staff within the hotel, which ultimately benefits the business," says Brigid Hawkes, human resources and responsible business co-ordinator.