The blood, sweat and tears of responsible hospitality

18 March 2014 by
The blood, sweat and tears of responsible hospitality

Hospitality companies are increasingly turning to the endurance event as their charitable format of choice. Janet Harmer, currently trekking in Nepal with Springboard, checks out how such activities can not only raise large sums for charity but also boost staff motivation, generate plenty of good PR for the business, and even enhance the bottom line

Not so long ago the Christmas raffle would have been about as good as a company's fundraising efforts got. These days, the focus is more likely to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or cycling from London to Paris.

Whether it is a challenge being undertaken by the hospitality industry's two main charities, Springboard and Hospitality Action, or a company holding a fundraising endurance event of its own in aid of a chosen charity, everyone agrees the benefits are enormous.

By the time you read this I will be in Nepal with Springboard, where 22 of us are undertaking a five-day trek up to a height of 2,500m through the Annapurna mountain range, followed by three days of volunteer work in a Kathmandu school. It is the fourth trek organised by Springboard, following earlier challenges in the Sahara desert, China and Peru.

Anne Pierce, chief executive of Springboard, who is leading the Nepal trek, says events like this are "hugely beneficial" for the charity, which helps young disadvantaged people to develop the skills and motivation to secure employment in the hospitality industry.

"They are a fantastic way to raise significant funds and make a lasting difference to the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves," she explains. "They also challenge our own abilities to cope under testing mental and physical encounters, are thought-provoking and widen horizons, as well as being a unique opportunity to develop relationships and cultivate teamwork and friendship in an unforgettable environment. We also hope they provide the opportunity for people to better understand the scope and value of the work that the charity does."

While each of us Annapurna trekkers has to raise a minimum of £3,500 to take part in the event, the challenge looks likely to generate an unprecedented £120,000 altogether. That will provide a huge boost to the charity, which this year is expected to turn over £2.4m.

Meanwhile, Hospitality Action, which supports people in the industry who have suffered a crisis through life-threatening illness, poverty, bereavement or domestic violence, has increasingly benefited from challenge events.

Last year its London to Paris cycle challenge raised more than £53,000, with the managing director of Chewton Glen, Andrew Stembridge, bringing in an impressive £14,000 of that. Individual skydives, London 10k runs and the Great Manchester Run contributed a further £10,900. It all helped the charity to achieve a total turnover of £1.1m for the year.

For Hospitality Action's chief executive Penny Moore, the endurance events are a great means of promoting the charity. They also provide an opportunity for companies to motivate their staff and do some team-building.

"They give a workforce a goal and something to aim for, numerous health benefits and the chance to try something new - which all helps boost self-esteem," she says. "They generate great PR for the companies that sign up to do the challenges and promote good corporate social responsibility in the workplace. Most importantly they make a real difference to the lives of the people they raise funds for."

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) would certainly agree, having been the beneficiary of Ask Italian's ambitious fundraising event, in September 2013, of a Grand Tour - an epic cycle ride, visiting every one of the company's 110 restaurants across the UK. Kicking off with a six-day, 560-mile ride from Aberdeen to York, the tour's second 600-mile leg - over seven days - started out in Peterborough and finished up in Truro. Ask Italian also organised a host of fun cycles and walks, a triathlon in Chichester, and three Italian food nights with chef Theo Randall.

The epic effort ended in a 25-mile walk around London, finishing at GOSH, where the Ask Italian team - greeted by McFly - handed over a cheque for £208,675. As well as raising this huge sum, the tour engaged the whole business in a fun and challenging event.


Steve Holmes, managing director of Ask Italian, who himself completed the Aberdeen to York ride and the London walk, says that the Grand Tour focused everyone at the company on helping sick children at GOSH. "It helped create a feeling of purpose and wellbeing and as a result the team developed a sense of pride in working for an organisation that encouraged them to do something meaningful while at work," he explains.

Although hosting the Grand Tour had no tangible commercial objective, the event generated more than 100 press articles with an estimated reach of 100 million people. "Customers enjoyed seeing more of the personality behind the business and it added a depth to the brand that cannot be built without something of this nature," says Holmes.

Meanwhile, Thistle Hotels raised £100,000 last year for five children's charities - Barnardo's, British Triathlon Foundation Trust, the Children's Society, Kids Company and Kidscape - through its Lite@Nite campaign. Given its name because night-time is when children are most at risk, the campaign was launched by Mike DeNoma, chief executive of Thistle's parent company GLH, as a means of engaging the group's workforce.

A team relay covering 1,400 miles from Inverness to London via swimming, cycling and running, and taking in all 36 Thistle Hotels, involved 1,000 out of a total workforce of 4,000. And children aged six to 12 took part in triathlon events in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. As well as sponsorship money, funds came from adding £1 to guests' bills and supplier donations.

DeNoma himself ran with the baton from Loch Ness to Inverness, and took part in a 14-mile night walk across London.

"If I wasn't willing to get involved, why would anyone else?" he says, while insisting his contribution was "insignificant" compared with the hundreds of miles completed by Thistle staff.

De Noma says the campaign proved a great means of team-building at a time of radical change at GLH with its launch of two new brands, Clermont and Amba.

"It was an idea that came from our CSR committee, who answered my call on how we could help vulnerable kids," he says. "However, there have been numerous commercial benefits, not least in the local communities where our hotels are central. Lite@Nite was a catalyst for new people to come and see what we have been up to."

The Lite@Night nationwide employee relay will run again this year, ending on 22 June with the City of London mile, for which Amba Hotels - one of the new GLH brands - has just been announced as the title sponsor.

What's driving the Springboard trekkers in Nepal


While each of the 22 Nepal trekkers agreed to raise a minimum of £3,500 when they signed up for the challenge, Mike Smith, a life patron of Springboard and chairman of Oakman Inns, immediately decided to raise the bar and set himself a target of £30,000. As a result of Oakman's decision to adopt Springboard as its annual charity, Smith is now set to smash his own target and raise close to £50,000.

Smith is not new to large-scale fundraising involving major physical challenges, having taken on the London to Brighton cycle ride alongside colleagues when he was managing director of BaxterStorey. The experience highlighted only too well the benefits for everyone from being involved, from those running the business - including Alastair Storey and William Baxter - to kitchen porters.

"We all ended up having a barbecue on the beach at Brighton," Smith explains. "It was a very unifying process. As chairman of Oakman Inns, it is my responsibility to set the company culture and tone. Hopefully my involvement in the trek will help encourage others to get involved in similar events."

As part of Oakman's support for Springboard, the group has provided its eight pubs with £200 apiece and set them each the task of turning it into £2,000. "It's been a great way to encourage competition between the staff, with each pub trying to outdo the other," says Smith.

Meanwhile, further funds are being raised by adding voluntary customer donations of 25p and £1 respectively to the price of every pork belly dish and bedroom. Two charity evenings have added their own contributions to the tally.

The Nepal trip itself has been boosted by an additional member of the Oakman team joining the trekkers. An internal competition - involving the writing of a 500-word essay and an interview - resulted in the selection of Emma Russell, assistant manager at the Kings Arms in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

While Smith says it is difficult to quantify the boost to business for Oakman, he believes that his and Russell's involvement in the trek has created a feelgood factor among customers. "The two of us have been talking to everyone about what we are doing and engagement like that is always good for business.

"Getting involved in these major challenges sends out a nice message as to what the hospitality industry is all about. Undertaking major endeavours is also the easiest means of raising money for a chosen charity."


As a Springboard ambassador, Rachel Banks has long been a supporter of the charity. So when a colleague at the five-star, 300-bedroom London hotel where she works as an HR administrator casually suggested that she should take part in the charity's trek to Nepal, she jumped at the chance and became one of the first volunteers to sign up to the challenge almost 12 months ago.

"On leaving school I stumbled into working in HR in a five-star hotel, where development opportunities are everywhere," she explains. "I took on the trek to help raise awareness about the opportunities hospitality can offer to young people and to raise money to help those less fortunate than myself."

At 21 years of age Banks is one of the youngest trekkers on the trip. She has thrown herself wholeheartedly into fundraising both the £2,000 cost of the trip and the £3,500 target for Springboard.

She has collected donations by shaving the beard of Keith Rice, the hotel's chief executive; held a Christmas fair and Valentine's Day craft event; and volunteered her gardening skills to an 83-year-old lady.

"Fundraising has been very hard, having to work for every penny," she admits. "However, I do feel I have managed to spread the word and raise awareness of the Springboard charity. The hotel has also backed me by giving me free rein to do what I want, when I want. It has been a real team effort."

Meanwhile, staff at sister hotels in the capital - Lancaster London and K West Hotel & Spa - have also given their support.


Having written about the hospitality sector for nearly 27 years, Janet Harmer decided to give something back to the industry that has provided her with such a rich variety of stories and events to write about. She has recorded her preparations for the Nepal trek with Springboard currently under way in a personal blog, which can be found at:

Harmer has already exceeded her fundraising target of £3,500, but would still welcome donations to help boost the overall Springboard target, which will help a minimum of 70 people to turn their lives around and overcome their barriers to employment. To contribute, go to:

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