Community / Corporate Social Responsibility / Employment / 22 March 2019

People are key to hospitality, so we should do more to support charities like Only a Pavement Away

A version of this blog originally appeared in Propel Hospitality

This week, I had the privilege of attending a conference about Only a Pavement Away (OAPA) – an inspiring charity looking to help homeless people, ex-prisoners and vulnerable military veterans find work in hospitality.

Greg Mangham set up OAPA after walking through Covent Garden one night with his wife, who commented that not all the homeless people they saw could possibly be unemployable.  She challenged him to do something about it (!) and OAPA was born.

OAPA’s ambition is to employ 500 homeless people in the hospitality industry within its first year.  Greg’s mantra is that through employment people gain stability and if you find them the right job, they will be loyal for life. The name Only a Pavement Away comes from the fact that we are all just a pavement away from seeing homelessness and the crime and loneliness often associated with it on the streets. We are also just a pavement away from cafes, bars and hotels that are crying out for staff.

The statistics surrounding homelessness and unemployment make for difficult reading. 12,000 offenders commit their first offence whilst homeless.  On average there are 5,000 rough sleepers across the UK each night. 7% of the homeless are ex-service, 33% are ex-offenders. Offenders cost the tax payer on average £46,000.  Average life expectancy on the streets is just 46 years old. 92% of service personnel leave the services in good health, but 48% of leavers are unemployed 6 months later. A third of prison leavers have no-where to stay when they leave prison (but say they do to ensure they are released). 25% of the population have a criminal record.

Now just imagine what a difference we as hospitality businesses – whether it be pubs, bars, cafés or restaurants – could make if we opened our doors to this untapped talent pool?

OAPA plays a key role in enabling this, by acting as conduit between charities like Crisis, Centre Point and The Clink, and hospitality businesses or sector representatives like ourselves. It helps overcome potential hurdles by ensuring that prospective employees come via a charity or association prepared to continue their support into employment.

As Kate Nicholls rightly points out, the hospitality sector is faced with critical recruitment and retention challenges. I firmly believe it is schemes like OAPA that will help us make up the shortfall we face in talent, combined with our focus on wellbeing for employees, best in class employment packages and flexibility.

The first movers who have taken on Only A Pavement Away candidates are already seeing the benefits. Abi Dunlop from Young and Co spoke passionately at the conference of the benefits their business has had from the scheme, which far outweigh the additional time and investment it took to get it up and running. The role of the charities in providing ongoing support to candidates is absolutely key according to Abi, but we as a sector need to keep our side of the bargain by showing candidates the opportunities we provide through OAPA.

Of course, even more important than the talent pool OAPA opens up for our sector is the fact that it is helping vulnerable people in real need of support.

Just how vulnerable some of the people in the OAPA network can be was illustrated by Ed Mitchell at the conference, a former journalist whose marriage had broken apart. This, combined with an alcohol problem, had resulted in him living on the streets.  His story of how he came out of this situation with help from charities and OAPA was touching and a real inspiration for hospitality businesses to get involved in OAPA, although he was the first to admit that he still felt very vulnerable.

Tim Foster of Yummy Pubs – another pub operator working with OAPA – summed it up best: the success stories of those who come from OAPA far outweigh the failures, and at the end of the day, people are at the core of our businesses, embracing them is vital. OAPA is certainly a charity we should all support.  Many are doing so already and should be commended as such.  Without doubt there will be challenges to make it work, but we all need to remember the brilliant employee we will have at the end and the wider benefits of providing vulnerable people stability and support through employment.

Written by

Brigid Simmonds

Chief Executive

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