Financial uncertainty has left operators feeling 'helpless'

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags mental health lockdown

After the pub sector experienced a year like no other, The Morning Advertiser (MA) spoke to operators about how they are protecting their mental health moving forward.

Months of last-minute announcements and heavy trading restrictions have left many licensees in a precarious financial situation and constantly fearing more bad news.

Pubs are currently closed across the country under a third national lockdown to tackle rapidly rising coronavirus infection rates.

Kris Hall runs the Burnt Chef project and said those in the industry’s mental health “was already being stretched as it was” before the pandemic.

“Covid has introduced a complete stop on people's working weeks and stripped them of opportunities to have a purpose and being, to get up for work every day,” he added. 

“It also provided both health and anxiety around finances at the same time, which further compounded any underlying mental health issues that may have existed to begin with.”

He heard many reporting an increased attention to their physical and mental wellbeing in the lull period or when they returned to a busy reopening, fuelled by the Government’s discount meals scheme. 

The start of the pandemic meant many hospitality workers were “for the first time, left in a position where they had little distraction,” Hall described.

The Licensed Trade Charity helped to provide emotional support to about 1,000 people between January and October last year, including more than 50 courses of counselling sessions for those in need.

It saw a 265% increase in visits to its website and 156% increase in people contacting our helpline for support in the twelve months leading up to October 2020, it told The Morning Advertiser​ (MA​).

Calls about personal issues were up by 75%, and within those, the number of people contacting the charity with concerns about their emotional wellbeing more than doubled (123% increase).   

There was a particular increase in demand for emotional support in March, as a strict national lockdown was imposed. 

Social life taken away

One operator to recognise the impact of furlough on her staff early on in the first lockdown last spring was Sally Pickles, owner of the Bowgie Inn in Cornwall.

She explained: “For a lot of people working in hospitality, their entertainment or leisure time is combined with their work because at work we are in a social environment with our colleagues and our customers. So to suddenly have that taken away [...] I was very conscious staff may get bored or feel lonely.”

Staff at the Bowgie Inn have stayed connected in periods of closure by doing online exercises and video calls.

“We were concerned about losing our team atmosphere from the daily contact we normally have, the banter,” Pickles explained. “We just did our best to try and keep everyone engaged and make sure they felt part of a team, tried to give them a sense of security and reassure them that we were doing our upmost to make sure they had jobs to come back to.”

The MA​ asked readers to share their experiences of mental health and workplace culture through an anonymous survey. 

Readers described the uncertainty around trading restrictions and Government support, with many big decisions leaked in the press several days before any official confirmation, as one of the major detrimental pressures.

“The biggest problem in these uncertain times is we cannot plan for the future,” one operator said. “If we could see what’s around the corner at least we could put a plan in place. We feel the end is near,” they added.

Another explained: “It’s the lack of definition and uncertainty that for me leaves people helpless. The not knowing scenario, having nothing to look forward to.”

Some 75% of readers surveyed by The MA​ said they had experienced worry over financial issues in the past year while 62.50% said they had experienced concern about health issues.

Some 19% said they had accessed mental health services in the past year while 40% of those who said they hadn’t said they had considered it.

What’s more, just under half surveyed (47%) said they had been affected by loneliness during the pandemic and just shy of one third (31%) said they were impacted by a lack of stimulation.

Positivity over Zoom

Licensee Marc Hornby from the Virgins & Castle in Kenilworth, Warwickshire opened his site just weeks before the lockdown came into effect in March, leaving him with a newly hired team on furlough.

He described his aim as an employer during this period as aiming to help everyone “have a sense of normality even though things weren’t very normal.”

“We used Zoom and were doing group calls, trying to share some positivity because everyone was in such different situations. We were sharing what things we were doing to cope with lockdown and what kind of worries we had.”

Andy Lock is the general manager at Hornby’s site and said the pandemic taught him his mental health was more “fragile” than he previously thought.

“It’s surprising what things can maybe start to make your mental health suffer."

Lock said he was grateful to have a strong support network at home and one “just as amazing” at work. 

He added: “Having those people around you that you can be completely open and honest and vulnerable with, that genuinely care, makes a massive difference in making you feel you are not alone.”

“Sometimes when I’ve been having down days or weeks, more so this year, the sense of community and empathy has been absolutely incredible. We’ve been innovative and supportive and jumping at the chance to help each other."

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