Any operators will have experienced a contrast from working long, hectic shifts filled with conversations, where they see many faces over the bar week in and week out to seeing only those they live with.
Charlotte Vincent, head chef at the Five Bells, in Clyst Hydon, Devon, says: “As chefs, we’re an institutionalised bunch and we are used to the same thing every day, the same stresses and the same routines.
“Our bodies get used to the pressure of service, we thrive on the endorphins and adrenaline so when all that is taken away we can experience something similar to a strong feeling of loss.
“But we all know there is a focus here. A focus to keep everyone safe, to do the right thing and save lives so we find new ways to help, new things to do and we keep busy.”
Justine Lorriman, who runs the Royal Dyche in Burnley, Lancashire, told The Morning Advertisershe had found being away from her award-winning site one of the most difficult aspects of the closure period and lockdown.
She said: “I try not to worry but when you’ve put your life and soul into something for so long, it’s hard not to.”
Help is available to everyone
Samaritans: 116 123
This is a 24-hour helpline that provides a safe place for anyone who is struggling to cope. It is a free number to call and does not appear on phone bills. You can also contact the charity via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393
This is an information and signposting service where you can ask about mental health problems and how to access help near you. Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
Licensed Trade Charity helpline: 0808 801 0550
For sector-specific advice, you can talk to an adviser at this charity. Its helpline is free on most mobile networks and available 24 hours. You can also contact an adviser by filling out a form on its website.
The Drinks Trust: 0800 915 4610
This helpline is open to anyone in the drinks industry supply chain, including drinks makers and distributors, as well as those working in pubs and bars. It’s also for people working in marketing and other office-based roles at licensed businesses.
Papyrus: 0800 068 41 41
This organisation helps people aged under 35 and is available Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays from 2pm to 10pm. You can also reach Papyrus by emailing email@example.com or text on 07860 039967.
Emergency services: 999
If you have seriously harmed yourself, you should call 999 for an ambulance or go straight to A&E. Or ask someone else to call 999 or take you to A&E.
More dilemmas being faced
It’s not just the lack of social contact and the lack of a routine that is to do that is causing uncertainty, which is exacerbating existing or contributing to new mental health problems. Many in the trade are facing dilemmas on how to page wages, rent and their own bills.
Operators have been telling The Morning Advertiser about the anxiety caused from this financial uncertainty, whether it is waiting for Government grants to be approved and paid, or worries about what the future has in store with consumers’ lifestyles and habits changing and where that leaves their business.
Samantha Norris, who operates the White Lion, in Weston, Cheshire, says the lack of clarity is one of the most daunting elements of the situation she is facing.
She says: “I just feel like we have so many unknowns at the moment, it’s so hard to plan forward. I’m sure I’m not the only one either. We’re just trying to stay positive and look at different things, how to diversify [our offer] when we open our doors again.
“I’m sure it’s not just me. Up and down the land, licensees are very stressed, trying to find money until it comes through from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to pay people.”
Another pub operator said she was losing sleep worrying about how she will pay her staff before the aforementioned furlough payments came in.
She explains her staff had been “terrified” that they would not receive any money.
“I am scratching the bottom of the barrel in order to make sure they can pay their bills in the meantime. It’s frustrating, and until the money arrives into my account, I will continue to lose sleep worrying about how I will pay the bills,” she says.
Demand for help increases
And, of course, it is not just the hospitality sector feeling the hit from the virus outbreak. Scientists have warned there could be long-lasting consequences of the coronavirus lockdown on society’s mental health, making it even more important for businesses to protect their staff.
The Licensed Trade charity has been responding to operators across the country over the past couple of months, with its 24/7 helpline seeing an exponential increase in demand.
Some 10,210 new people visited the charity’s website in March, an increase of 650% on the month prior. In addition, the charity received 536 enquiries by email, referral and its helpline – an increase of 300%.
The charity has added guidance about emotional and mental wellbeing to its website, signposting publicans to health services as well as self-help worksheets.
Its help document can be found on its Covid-19 webpage and states: “These events would test anybody’s mental health, even if you’ve never experienced issues with mental wellbeing at all before.
“Let’s face it, you are ‘people people’ so how do you cope when being on the frontline is taken away from you, not to mention the financial implications.”
Sarah Taylor, hospitality specialist at online training provider High Speed Training, said it was likely the situation facing publicans would continue to be challenging for several weeks to come.
She says: “Of course, protecting our mental health isn’t always as straightforward as taking up a new hobby. Wellbeing advice can sometimes feel frustratingly inadequate, however, the times when we feel most stressed are also the times when it’s most important to remember the basics.
“When there is so much emphasis on what can’t be done and what sits outside of our control, focus instead on what you can do and can control.”
All one family
The Five Bells’ Vincent says she has been keeping in touch with her team through Zoom video calls and WhatsApp messages.
She says: “We chat daily and I make sure they feel valued and are not alone through this. Although they all have family, one of my team members can feel very isolated so I like to look after him as best I can from afar.”
Like many chefs, Vincent says she does not like to “sit and stagnate” so has been working on the future to keep her mind focused.
She explains: “I plan for brighter days ahead and I bring in the team. Their help and advice is imperative to me. No matter what level they are within the network of chefs, commis to kitchen porters, they all matter and they all play a huge part in the kitchen and how it flows.
“So we plan together and brainstorm ideas together because, now more than ever, we all know we could still be many weeks away from being back at it.”
St Austell Brewery is one of many pub companies and brewers to have furloughed the majority of its staff. Its director of people, Tasmyn Hawkins, says while she does not believe the company is doing anything others are not, she is proud that they are engaging employees and promoting self-care. She says it is crucial for companies to keep up their work helping employees as time goes on.
She says: “We continued some of the things we were doing as part of our already-strong occupational strategy but when the whole thing kicked off, we were very front-footed.”
The majority of the company being under furlough has made it much harder to communicate and engage all staff, Hawkins says.
The company started updating the whole team every morning as Government advice changed and ensuring its people’s team was stood in place to be supporting staff as much as possible. It has now created a private Facebook group that is open to everyone, whether they are furloughed or not, something unprecedented for the brewery.
She says: “We haven’t really done anything like that before but that felt it was the easiest route to keep people connected.”
On ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’, operators are encouraged to share tips and direct others any helpful videos or apps they have been using.
Hawkins explains: “Our focus is about it not being one way and engaging all of our teams to make them feel like they are involved in conversation.
“The initial focus is on survival but we very much have one eye on how we recover brilliantly and keeping our teams with us is part of that.”
Hawkins believes that the pandemic will lead to technology having an increased importance in workplace culture.
Several other pub companies have created Facebook groups to keep operators connected such as Craft Union Pub Company, if they didn’t have them already. Other pub teams have organised weekly coffee chats or pub quizzes over video conferencing as ways of maintaining social connections and keeping spirits high.