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On 6 June, 120 firefighters were called to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London in Knightsbridge to tackle a fire in the inner courtyard. Thanks to the hotel team's training, the entire building was evacuated in just four minutes without a single injury.
As if this wasn't enough, just a week earlier, the hotel had unveiled the results of an £85m, 18-month refurbishment, and grown its workforce to 600 people in readiness for the relaunch. However, this now meant that there were 600 jobs potentially at risk while the hotel underwent a lengthy repair. But rather
than lay off staff, the hotel turned disaster into the opportunity to give something back and to show its support to London and the people who had helped out after the fire.
While repairs were being carried out, the hotel put its skilled and varied workforce to use in the capital's charities, public services and good causes, donating 40,000 hours of its staff's time. It was a no-brainer for new general manager Amanda Hyndman, who faced the challenge of keeping her workforce motivated and thanking those who had offered help.
"We had a lot of support from the industry, the community and the public," she told The Caterer in August, "so we wanted to give something back. We're in this situation where we've got time on our hands and we really wanted to do something for the community."
Hundreds of staff who had found themselves without day jobs gathered together to devise the Fantastic London campaign. This included team members volunteering at Oxfam charity shops, cooking for vulnerable people and driving vans for charities including the Felix Project, as well as donating time to the London Fire Brigade, homeless charity the Passage and Evelina London children's hospital.
"The Mandarin Oriental team's support allowed us to collect more surplus food and support more people," said Hilary Croft, chief executive of the Felix Project.
"This included a one-off special event where one of their chefs cooked up a feast for 60 hungry youngsters at one of our charity partners, Timbuktu Adventure Playground. We will never be able to say enough thanks to the team for their amazing support. On behalf of all of us at the Felix Project and all our partners, thank you."
The project achieved so much more than keeping staff motivated and engaged, according to Hyndman: "What's been coming out of it is the fun they've had; their pride and sense of achievement. It's incredibly rewarding and very humbling."
The chord it struck with the industry makes the Mandarin Oriental a worthy winner of the 2018 Extra Mile award. Harry Murray, chairman of Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa, told The Caterer: "I applaud and admire Amanda Hyndman and her team for the positive way they reacted following the serious fire in June. Just one week into the job, Amanda's first thought was how to deploy and keep staff motivated while the hotel was refurbished.
"The Mandarin team can be justifiably proud of what they have achieved and the whole of the hospitality industry should applaud an initiative that turned a negative into a positive at a time when we are trying to encourage more people
to join our great industry."
Expect a buzz next week when the hotel's public spaces - including Dinner by Heston, Bar Boulud, the Mandarin Bar and the spa - reopen on 4 December, with bedrooms following next spring.
2017 - Edward Bracken - General manager, Crowne Plaza London Kensington
2016 - Crowne Plaza Leeds
2015 - Chris Penn Managing director, Ace Hotel London, Shoreditch
2014 Sylla 'Amara' Ibrahima Park Plaza County Hall London
2013 David Mead-Male - Royal Crescent, hotel, Bath
2012 The Langstone Hotel and South Downs College - Hampshire
2011 Veronica Kingham - Village hotel, Maidstone
2010 Fiona Simm Crowne Plaza, Cambridge
2009 Gary Gateley - Holiday Inn London, Bloomsbury
2008 Gloucester East (Barnwood) Premier Inn
2007 Paula Middleton Premier Inn
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