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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 12th Nov 2021 - Friday Opinion

Subjects: Industry collaboration is the only route to a sustainable future, hiring ex-offenders would help ease staffing crisis, understanding the Gravity of the situation

Authors: Rob Pitcher, Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott 

 
Industry collaboration is the only route to a sustainable future by Rob Pitcher

The hospitality sector this week came together at an event hosted by UKHospitality during COP26 that focused on our industry’s journey to a more sustainable future. The venue was our very own Revolution Mitchell Street Glasgow bar. For us, this wasn’t just an opportunity to capitalise on a significant international event, but also the culmination of two years of hard work from every single person, at every single venue, at every single level of our business.
 
In 2019, when we embarked on a journey to ensure Revolution Bar Group (RBG) was a sustainable operation, it was both a deeply felt personal decision and a sound business one for me. Personal, because I have an eight-year-old daughter to answer to. Business, because if they aren’t already, your teams and stakeholders will soon be asking questions – and guests already are. We knew if we were to be a brand of choice in the coming years, we need to be doing some heavy lifting on sustainability or run the very real risk of being left far behind.
 
And so, we have set ourselves some tough targets. Our fundamental promise is to be a net zero business before 2030. This means we have committed to, among other things, reducing our carbon intensity by at least 40% by that time; maintaining 100% renewable electricity supply; achieving a 30% reduction in water consumption; reducing supply chain emissions by 30%; cutting waste to landfill by 50% and overall waste volumes by 15%, all over the next eight years.
 
We are so committed that at no point have we contemplated taking an easier route. For all of us, this is a question of how low our emissions can go by taking action before considering offsetting the rest. It would be easy to embark on projects that plant trees on our behalf and take no further action. However, we feel the right approach is to prioritise reducing our emissions, renew our approach to business so it’s more sustainable and then rebalance the rest via offsets once that has been done. We have committed to a science-based target and are the first bar group in the UK to do so. These targets are independently verified, in line with the latest climate science, and aim to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
 
Setting targets is all well and good, of course, but the crucial point is how we are proposing to meet them. There are already so many initiatives live across the business that I cannot list them all here, but they include placing sustainability and energy-savings at the heart of each planned refurbishment and implementing recycling zones behind our bars. We’re close to completing the roll out of LED lighting across our bars and, as part of our commercial contracts, have reduced the number of vehicle drops to us. We are rolling out energy efficient equipment across all areas of the business, and all our direct electricity now comes from a zero-carbon supplier. Companies now need their commercial objectives to be aligned with their sustainability ones – not the other way round. By doing so, we can help prevent the worst effects of climate change. 
 
These are huge steps we’ve already taken, and we are proud that they were recognised earlier this year with a Gold Level Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice. But this is just the start for us. We’ve already got some exciting things in the pipeline we cannot wait to share with you, such as developing our Revolucion de Cuba bar in Reading into a flagship net zero venue, which we will use as a test bed to understand just how low we can go. We are very close to making our entire cocktail menu carbon neutral too.
 
I say we cannot wait to share these initiatives with you all because, in my mind, the fact that ours is a collaborative industry is the most powerful tool we have, collectively, at our disposal. It is only by acting together that we can really make a significant and meaningful difference. We have already benefited from this culture of sharing through our involvement in the Zero Carbon Forum, of which we are founding members. As one of the smaller operators involved in the initiative at the outset, we have been able to learn from bigger players – those with more resources than us and, in some cases, further along this road. In turn, we hope we can share our learnings with others as more companies in the hospitality community get involved with the forum.
 
On that note, our Zero Heroes programme is something I’d like to shout about as it has been an integral part of our success so far. The initiative means each one of our sites now has a designated member of the team – our Zero Hero – to bring sustainability to life. Currently, their responsibilities include a focus on reducing out-of-hours energy consumption. For example, turning off non-essential equipment, computers and lights overnight has helped reduce our energy consumption by 19% since 2017. They are also currently looking at ways to reduce waste and incentivise fellow team members to act even more sustainably. It has been an extremely powerful initiative for us, and I would urge any operator to look into implementing something similar.
 
We would be delighted to share what we have already learned to anyone interested. Coming together as an industry at COP26 was an important marker on the industry’s path to sustainability, and as we leave behind covid-19 (sooner or later), this will be the defining issue of our time. It’s one that our teams, our guests and our future colleagues really care about, and the world is watching.
Rob Pitcher is the chief executive of Revolution Bars Group

 
Hiring ex-offenders would help ease staffing crisis by Glynn Davis

Back in 2002 when shoe-repairing and key-cutting retailer Timpson employed its first ex-offender, it was deemed a somewhat risky move and certainly deeply unfashionable, which is precisely why the rest of the industry was reluctant to follow suit.
 
It transpired that such hires were incredibly grateful for being given a second chance and therefore proved to be extremely loyal, productive and hardworking. Such loyalty has engendered a retention rate of around 75% for Timpson employees who have been recruited from prison or who have a criminal conviction. They typically now account for around 10% of the company’s total workforce.
 
In the intervening years other companies, including Marks & Spencer, Greggs, Compass Group and Pret A Manger, have cottoned on to the benefits of employing such a policy and now actively recruit prison leavers. Social justice charity Nacro found that the worries of many companies considering employing ex-offenders were the issues of reliability, motivation, attendance and performance, but its research found that 80% of employers of people who have been in prison have positively rated these factors.
 
Despite such feedback, which contradicts widely held perceptions, the fact remains that more than half of employers in the UK would not employ someone who has been in prison, and only a paltry 1% have initiatives in place to recruit such individuals, according to Nacro.
 
Maybe things will change. The number of job vacancies in the UK hospitality industry was 50,000 before covid-19, according to the Office for National Statistics, whereas between July and September this year, it had dramatically shot up to 134,000 empty roles.
 
More organisations surely need to at least investigate what sounds like an incredible resource. Just consider that around ten million people in the UK have a criminal conviction. That’s a potentially very rich pool of people to consider for the stack of vacancies that are now causing serious problems in the industry.
 
This is particularly the case when considering hospitality, which sits very well within a prison re-skilling context. The government recently announced the expansion of a kitchen training scheme across England and Wales to provide inmates with the necessary skills within prison kitchens, while also enabling them to gain professional qualifications. Some such initiatives are being undertaken by external parties, including one involving Fred Sirieix, who founded charity programme The Right Course in order to transform restaurants in prisons to replicate high street businesses.
 
Its second venue involved the recent transformation of the staff canteen at Wormwood Scrubs into a high street-style training restaurant, imaginatively called Escape, with funding from the Mayor’s Skills for Londoners Capital Fund. The objective of these venues is to equip prisoners with relevant skills that will help to reduce reoffending levels, while also addressing the chronic staff shortages in the hospitality industry.
 
Another successful initiative involves Redemption Roasters – which operates a coffee roastery inside HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire, where inmates learn about the production process of coffee – along with a network of barista academies in various institutions around the country. The training of roastery and barista skills provides offenders with the necessary skills to successfully work within the growing number of Redemption Roasters coffee shops (currently numbering eight within London), or within the outlets of the company’s wholesale clients when they are released.
 
Companies like Redemption are not only operating with successful economic models but are also mission-driven businesses that are contributing to wider society, which is an attribute increasingly in demand by consumers. When there is so much competition in the marketplace, the choice being made by a growing number of people is the one that does the most good.
 
It’s clear that companies need to wise up and stop regarding offering free beer and pizzas alongside cocktail masterclasses, or simply poaching staff, as supposedly intelligent routes to recruiting in the present tough environment. Instead, they need to think outside the box by helping a group of people escape from the box in which they have been rigidly placed.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

 
Understanding the Gravity of the situation by Ann Elliott

I had my article all planned for this week – and then I listened to Michael Harrison from Gravity speaking at the Propel conference on Wednesday, and was really inspired to note down what I learnt from him. Although I haven’t been to Gravity, I do know the brilliant Vanessa Hall, who is their chair, and she has told me a bit about it.
 
Michael was born into a travelling fun fair, and education seems to have been fairly sporadic until, aged 12, his family finally settled in Bridlington (where we used to go on holiday when we were kids). He left school completely and started work in the business. He then grew up pretty quickly (he said) and learned about the dynamics of the business.
 
The family theme park expanded year after year, and anything they could do to attract visitors, they did. Crucially, they knew that if they hadn’t made their money by 1 September, after the end of the summer season, they were going to have a pretty hard winter until the season started again. Bridlington is beautiful, but the winters there are quite challenging. Michael and his family were always entrepreneurial – always searching for innovation, constantly looking for ways to make money and always working hard.
 
When he said he was a leisure expert and there wasn’t much he didn't know about it, he was telling the truth. It wasn’t a vain boast – leisure has been part of his life from the day he was born. He talks about the company being the leading active entertainment company in the UK, and that’s not a vain boast either. He started Gravity with his partner, Harvey Jenkinson, in 2014 and built his first Gravity Park in 2015. The trampoline parks remain the core of the business today. They now have 19 sites, including one in Germany. In January 2021, in a very bold move, some might say, they signed a lease to take over 80,000 square feet over four floors in the Southside shopping centre in Wandsworth, the old Debenhams site.
 
This site has bowling, crazy golf, digital darts, bars, restaurants, e-gaming, live music and a high-end cocktail bar. It’s aim is to “bring together children, friends and work colleagues through interactive fun”. The capital investment in Wandsworth was more than £6m, and it will pay back in 15 months. It’s a huge play in every sense of the word.
 
What I really liked about the business was its desire to work with other retailers in shopping centres. They use F&B brands around them, for instance, to provide the food for their customers. It means everyone around them benefits from their presence, they drive footfall to the centre (how many brands can say that?) and landlords love them in terms of their appeal to a wide range of customer types. They can take bigger spaces that not everyone can handle and they are looking to expand – not only in the UK, through managed and franchised options, but also in Europe and the Middle East.
 
There were a number of key themes for me from Michael’s presentation:

· He has an instinctive feel for what customers want. I liked the fact too that he talked to his team to understand his customers, as they distillate customer feedback. His intuition, combined with on-the-ground feedback, is very powerful.

· He works hard. He is prepared to put the hours in and is always thinking about how he can improve and make things better. He gives the impression of never stopping, never allowing an opportunity to pass him by and having awesome amounts of energy. For him, it’s never a matter of just opening the shutters and expecting customers to flock in. He goes and gets them.

· He is bloody-minded and will pursue ideas that other people are not willing to take on. He thinks big but makes it happen – he is a great believer in always following through and never stopping. A true starter/ completer if there ever was one.

· He works collaboratively, it seems, with others in the mall community – wanting Gravity to benefit everyone. Currently, he is working on an idea of giving points to his customers for games participation that can then be used in other retail outlets in shopping centres. That's really different thinking.

· He has huge self-belief and promotes Gravity as the future of leisure. I am sure he is right. Overall, it was an incredibly inspiring session delivered with honesty, self-deprecation and humility. I loved it!
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

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