Established for 184 years, Hospitality Action is the benevolent charity of the UK’s hospitality sector. The charity experienced a perfect storm that will be familiar to many ACO members of a wave of demand for services set against a background of their income streams collapsing overnight.
Since the moment the word ‘pandemic’ entered our vernacular and the first nationwide lockdown was introduced in March 2020 the hospitality industry has been arguably the worst hit. The various phases of lockdown, increased regulation, curfew, and regional restrictions led to the widespread closure of countless businesses causing hardship, redundancy and uncertainty for millions of UK hospitality employees. Hospitality rapidly became the lens through which the public viewed the pandemic.
In response to the first national lockdown and prior to the introduction of the furlough scheme, we launched an emergency appeal and grant to provide emergency relief for people who had found themselves suddenly unemployed. Within a few hours we experienced an unprecedented level of applications with several years’ worth of calls for support in just a few days. Hospitality Action has remained active throughout the pandemic, adapting our service provision and operations to meet the demands of an industry in crisis. We have transformed our fundraising, doubled grant expenditure, grown our brand, made rapid changes to our processes and picked up a clutch of awards along the way.
We were lucky insofar as much of our work over the previous year had unwittingly prepared us to respond well to the pandemic. We had recently concluded an organisation-wide project to look at our values, service provision, and how we addressed our market. We had recently re-branded the charity, rebuilt our website, selected a new CRM system and launched some strong campaigns to raise awareness and encourage our industry to take a fresh look at who are and what we stand for. All this meant the building blocks were in place and the team were very much on the same page and able to respond quickly when the world turned upside down.
News spread quickly through the industry that we would be launching an emergency fund and 3 million Facebook users turned into 147,000 website visits, 20,000 enquiries and many more applications than we could cope with. We pulled down the grant section of our website and replaced it with a single emergency grant of £250, with relaxed eligibility criteria and a much simplified application form. The entire team were seconded into the grants process in some way or another. The ability to quickly redeploy team members has remained one of the most important learnings from the entire process. As the crisis has evolved so have our grants streams to recognise the nature of cases presenting. We have recently launched new streams in recognition of the cuts to Universal Credit and we’re about to launch a revised Winter Fuel Grant for 2021/22
Hospitality Action receives no government funding and the vast majority of our income is generated from events all of which had fallen away. In the short term we were able to seize the wave of support for hospitality people in crisis and turn that into cash donations from sympathetic suppliers and the public which allowed us a small window to develop new fundraising propositions.
In the peak of lockdown one in June we launched the 20,000 Mile Hospitality Challenge. This bespoke event called upon supporters to collectively cycle, jog, run or walk the length of the entire UK coastline. Our challenge caught the mood of the industry and saw 560 participants travel 20,296 miles and raise over £75,000 in our honour. In June 2021 we reprised the event as 30,000 Miles to Hell & Back, which recognises the hellish year the industry has faced and celebrates our collective resilience in returning from the brink and made over £160,000 in income.
As venues re-opened in summer 2020, we asked operators to stock Invisible Chips as a menu item, as a light-hearted alternative to adding a charity donation to the bill. All sales help us to support hospitality families in financial crisis: by buying a bowl of nothing, customers are helping HA make a tangible difference to hospitality lives. Our Invisibles are 0% fat and 100% charity.
Invisible Chips are part of our fundraising strategy to generate ‘a little from many’ as consumers can chip in to help the industry whenever they enjoy going out. The campaign is fronted by First Dates star Fred Sirieix, Heston Blumenthal & Tom Kerridge. As the industry has re-opened Invisible Chips continue to go from strength to strength with sales well over £100k so far this year and high hopes for the scheme to grow as the industry recovers.
We also benefitted from hundreds of companies, foundations and individuals who raised many thousands of pounds in our name. Our supporters brewed beers, distilled gins, baked cookies, and stitched facemasks, all to help our hospitality brothers and sisters through their innovative and imaginative fundraising.
We marked the anniversary of the first lockdown with the launch of Chefs at Home, a cookbook which features over 100 recipes from more than 50 celebrated UK chefs. The book is being distributed via Amazon, and in established bookshops, supermarkets and other high street retailers.
Total income for 2020 topped £3.07m and looks set to exceed £2.3m in 2021.
What does this all mean for the future?
The values and the culture we have created over recent times have proven to be resilient, our teams have a much greater appreciation for each other’s roles and there’s a lot more transparency and focus than ever before, with greatly improved systems and processes too. It is becoming increasingly clear that our industry will take a long time to recover and therefore our events programme won’t simply bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.
However, our strategy to develop a wider breadth of fundraising products is paying off, with many more businesses expressing interest in Invisible Chips, or making us charity of the year either exclusively or putting Hospitality Action fundraising alongside their incumbent charity partners. We plan to grow our virtual challenge further in 2022 and to use it as a platform to increase awareness of our mental health and advice content.