Interview: Mark Lewis, CEO Hospitality Action (June 2019)

Mark Lewis, CEO Hospitality Action

Mark Lewis is
the current CEO of the charity Hospitality Action.  Mark’s family home was in Maidenhead, situated
close to Boulter’s Lock by the river Thames. 
So it was a trip down memory lane for Mark to be at Roux at Skindles,
next to Maidenhead bridge on the opposite bank of the river, in the redeveloped
grand old hotel building of one time fame, fortune and mixed repute, less than
half a mile from his childhood home. 

On this
particular evening, Michel Roux Snr and Brian Turner were ‘in conversation’
over food, wine and Jazz, in the beautiful, contemporary bar found upstairs at
the new eaterie.  These two legends of
the industry were working with Mark to host a charity dinner.

At the turn of
the 1990s, Mark’s career begun as a travel writer, including responsibility for
the Rough Guides to Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.  Having decided to settle down in the UK, Mark
started a long association with Reed Publishing, initially working at Computer
Weekly before making the 2004 move across to Caterer Magazine.  Mark started at Caterer as deputy editor before
rising within a couple of years to editor and then from 2012 onto the role of

Overall, Mark
has invested fifteen plus years in working closely with the hospitality
industry, developing a strong industry understanding combined with a broad
network that has naturally provided the perfect platform for his current role
with Hospitality Action.  Indeed for the
last decade of his time at The Caterer, Mark was also on the board of trustees
of Hospitality Action.  So in 2017, when
Mark’s predecessor Penny Moore decided to retire, the role of CEO of
Hospitality Action was one that Mark could naturally add significant value to,
as Mark suggests, “along with the industry knowledge and network, I am writer
by trade and telling compelling stories of peoples experiences is a key part of
communicating the message of the charity.”

The beginnings
of Hospitality Action are to be found in 1837 via the coffee shop owners of the
day.  This was a time predating modern
restaurants and these owners were not focused on the business of charity but looking
at pulling together a communal pension pot. 
As the age of Victorian Britain progressed and the notion of
philanthropy spread, so the pension pot became more charitable in the
recognition of a duty of care to employees. 
Over time hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs and food service have all
fallen under the umbrella of hospitality and so relevant to the charity.

Principle Patron Jason Atherton, once supported by the PM Club

Initially the
charity owned a portfolio of properties up and down the land to help house
those industry workers who were perhaps retired or who could not afford
accommodation any other way.  A further
example of a former Hospitality Action property was the PM Club in London’s
Earl’s Court, which was designed to provide young chefs aged 16-24 years with
somewhere to stay in return for a token rent. 
In their early days, after arriving in the capital in search of work,
Jason Atherton and Stephen Terry were both residents at the PM Club.  Now the principle Patron, Jason Atherton has
become proactive in his advocacy of the Charity, as an example starting what
has become the popular Hospitality Action event called ‘Social Sunday’ (So
named after his international Social Company).

In recent decades
the charity has now moved away from a portfolio of property and into providing
a raft of products from an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) through to the
delivery of grants to help people.  The Hospitality
EAP is an outsourced full service offering with significant adopters like
Whitbread and Costa among 250 business clients large and small.  The cost is £5 per person per year to the
company, who absorb the cost centrally as part of the welfare benefits to staff.  Historically, Hospitality Action support has
been reactive to those that had existing acute challenges.  Poverty, physical and mental health issues
are the most common challenges. The Hospitality EAP is designed to offer help
to prevent the problems becoming acute, so to both assist the welfare of staff
and help the employer maintain a happy, healthy and productive workforce.  

Hospitality Action

At the other
end of the spectrum the charity offers a contact scheme aimed primarily at the
retired called Golden Friends, providing events like group afternoon tea
gatherings, lunch trips through to contact via newsletters, birthday and
Christmas cards. All of which helps keep loneliness at bay later in life.

Family Days Out
is an event programme where the charity recognises the knock on impact to the
family unit of hard times affecting the hospitality worker.  So, to support the family unit to have days
out together, events like family theatre or cinema trips with some pocket money
are granted to provide much welcomed support.

The general
awareness in the industry of the existence, work and projects of Hospitality
Action may be ready to take the next step, today these are fairly well
understood in the more senior echelons of the industry.  The success of events such as Back to the
Floor, Social Sunday and In Conversation with Michel Roux Snr are testament to
the wonderful support from that peer group. 
However, were you to ask those that actually work the kitchen or floor
of hotels and restaurants up and down the country “Tell me about Hospitality
Action,” perhaps a number may not have even heard of the charity. 


To go some way to
remedy, there are bodies that represent the industry such as UKHospitality (including
BHA – British Hospitality Association) and The Institute of Hospitality, through
to the more bespoke bodies representing branches of work such as Housekeeping
or Concierges. Mark feels the distribution of these bodies offer vital lines of
communication as part of a strategy to spread the force for good message. Sally
Beck’s quote (General Manager Lancaster Hotel), “When people know about
Hospitality Action they fall in love with it!” resonates with Mark as applying in
a very relevant way to three distinct categories of people: those in the
industry who are giving, those in the industry who qualify to receive and
beyond to a wider potential fund raising audience outside of the hospitality industry
going forward.

There are
natural movements in the world that are helping as the lines continue to blur
between the hospitality industry and the wider public. What does this mean? Consider
for instance, thirty years ago when waiters were at arms length and a chef
never appeared out of the kitchen. In contrast recent years have witnessed the
rapid growth in the awareness and accessibility of personalities in the
industry.  The role of television and
modern social media has been extraordinary in changing the dynamic of the public
to industry relationship. Naturally those key personalities have an opportunity
to use their enhanced voice to support causes such as Hospitality Action: From
top end chefs like Jason Atherton, Tom Kerridge, Heston Blumenthal, Michel Roux
Snr and Brian Turner who are all strong charity Patrons and advocates.

Beyond this,
the UK have seen a cultural change epitomised by the general trend away from
formality to a more relaxed, informal and inclusive hospitality experience,
which engages the general public more effectively with the industry and creates
that desired natural empathy with industry charities like Hospitality
Action.  “An example is tonight where the
guests have been delighted to hear from industry legends and great Patrons like
Michel Roux Snr and Brian Turner but moreover, from the feedback I’ve heard, those
guests have a much more natural understanding and empathy for the charity they
are supporting,” reflects Mark.

Looking ahead, a
partial brand refresh is afoot that is to involve, as Mark puts it, “surrounding
the industry by being visible where those most in need can find us” such as
delivering the hospitality equivalent of the Samaritans poster at the end of
Clapham Junction station, “which may be from arranging with suppliers to have
The Hospitality Action details printed on the blue paper towelling used to wipe
down surfaces in kitchens up and down the country.  That would be our equivalent of that poster,”
considers Mark.

There are
around 3.2 million people in the hospitality industry in this country and the
charity raises approximately £2m per annum. 
The scope for greater involvement and touch is a clear objective and
with the passion, knowledge and skill set of Mark Lewis leading Hospitality
Action forward it will only go from strength to strength through his tenure,
making a positive mark on a 182 year old charity before passing the baton to
the next custodian of the good works of such a worthy charity.

from Fine Dining Guide