The founder of the Piano Works live music venues tells Jennie Milsom how his #UKGrandOutdoorCafe campaign is pushing ahead to transform public spaces and streets for alfresco dining across the UK this summer.
What is the aim of the campaign?
There are three parts: first, waiting for the green light from the government for blanket permission to put tables and chairs outside restaurants until September. Second, raising funds for food and drink vouchers for frontline workers so we can say thank you to them. Finally, to benefit hospitality. It's a simple idea that I believe can revitalise our industry.
What was the inspiration behind it?
I got the idea from seeing what happened in Vilnius, Lithuania. The mayor there said he would open public squares and pedestrianise streets and, within four hours, 162 operators signed up. It was done in a matter of days. They got enormous publicity – you couldn't get a table outside.
Who else is involved?
We're asking for roaming musicians to be able to entertain people sitting outside. Imagine an aerial photo of Trafalgar Square, full of tables and chairs, with frontline workers sitting next to the public, who are able to say thank you to them. It will show the world we are open for business again.
How will the vouchers work?
We've teamed up with Eagle Eye to provide two types of vouchers: one for the public, which will be funded by major drinks brands who want to encourage people back to hospitality with free drinks via a voucher; and, once we have raised the funds, vouchers for frontline workers.
How might the campaign look across the country?
We've contacted all of our operators and asked them to identify nearby open spaces. It could be village greens or cricket pitches that could have tables and chairs outside. It's for people to say: this is our community, these are the people who have been keeping the space – let's all come together.
How can operators get involved?
We'd like as many operators as possible to sign up – we'll have stickers to put in their windows so frontline workers know where they can redeem vouchers. Wireless Social, our other partner, will be providing free guest WiFi to any operator who wishes to redeem the vouchers.
What are your plans for the Piano Works?
Our Farringdon venue has a side street that would be ideal for the summer and our other site, just off Leicester Square on Whitcomb Street, could easily be pedestrianised, too.
What has been the biggest challenge with the campaign?
Not hearing directly from the government. I wrote to [housing minister] Robert Jenrick saying I'd be very happy to help with safety protocols but I haven't yet had a response.
What are you focusing on this week?
We've just created a video of 26 of our musicians performing Mariah Carey's ‘Hero' to raise £100,000 for vouchers for frontline workers. We are probably the largest employer of independent musicians in the country and we have a pool of incredible talent.
To watch the video and donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ukgrandsummeroutdoorcafe
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