Patrick Howley woke up one morning feeling unhappy.
This wasn’t unusual.
The hospitality worker had spent years climbing out of bed feeling tired, hungover or despondent. Sometimes, all three.
But he couldn't do it anymore.
The demands of the trade had initiated a pattern of destructive habits that Patrick didn't know how to manage. It was tempting to slam the door shut on hospitality and never look back, but instead, he decided to reach out to fellow workers.
Patrick posted to the Manchester bars page on Facebook… and the response was overwhelming.
As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one feeling battered and bruised by the nature of hospitality.
Long hours, fluctuating pay, lack of sleep, low exposure to sunlight, and poor diet have taken their toll on employees within the sector. But the outbreak of COVID-19 - and subsequent venue closures - has led to many fearing for their jobs. Others have been dismissed already.
Hospitality might be full of smiling faces on the surface. But the truth is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people within its ranks who are engaged in a silent struggle with their own mental health.
Patrick wants that to change. That’s why he set up: So Let’s Talk.
Anyone in hospitality can turn to this platform for support; whether they’re trapped in a vicious cycle of overworking and overindulgence, or feeling alone and frightened after being cut loose by their employer with no income.
Talking to The Manc, Patrick said:
“I know lots of people in hospitality feel like they might be judged for not being ok. Mental health in the industry is still not properly understood. Some people might think it sounds like a cop-out to say they can’t come in because they’re feeling down.
“It’s so easy to get involved in destructive habits that are hard to escape from in hospitality. I realise now that I was part of the issue when I was in that world. I’d take my staff out for drinks all night, and then shout at them when they weren’t on time in the morning.
“You have to put on a facade in hospitality, and forcing a smile when you aren’t feeling right can cause massive stress.
“We want to change that.
“So Let’s Talk is a place where people can express themselves and access the support they need; learning how to live a healthier, happier lifestyle in the process.”
After realising the huge demand for the platform, Patrick sought to find a group of people who would help him get the project off the ground.
“My idea was to create training packs revolving around mental health, sleep, nutrition and exercise,” the entrepreneur explains.
“I decided to get out, build contacts and set up a development team - which is now made up of business owners, local chefs, bartenders, coaches and therapists… many of whom were in hospitality themselves and left for similar reasons to myself.
“We held our first event at Impossible in February to tell people all about what we’re doing, and we’ve also partnered up with some amazing organisations like Healthy Hospo to provide these training packs. We’re working with the Manchester Hospitality Network, Sixty Eight People and the Female Hospitality Network, to reach more people online, too.
“Currently, we’re in the process of creating a digital activities log - which gives people in hospitality a way to enjoy themselves without falling into disruptive habits."
Some of the features set to appear on the exciting So, Let’s Talk platform include online cookbooks, podcasts, nutrition advice, virtual bookclubs (by Louisa Rodriguez), and exercise classes (from Train with Tati), as well as yoga sessions led by Kate Tittley and Jess Mordain. And it will all be free to access.
What’s more, when the current social distancing restrictions begin ease away, So Let’s Talk will be running activities where you can meet fellow hospitality personnel outside of work, organising visits to bouldering centres, virtual shooting ranges and smash rooms.
Going forwards, key personnel in hospitality will be getting involved and running sessions for So Let’s Talk themselves.
The Head Chef of Alabama’s Aaron Smart, for example, will be running an activity called “Come Dine My G” - cooking food from around the world with fellow experts whilst discussing mental health and hospitality.
Plans are in the pipeline for (low ABV) cocktail competitions that link together different bartenders from all around the city, whilst Patrick is also in discussions with a company to develop an app that will provide 1-2-1 mental health support for people in hospitality at any time.
There’s no doubt about it - So Let's Talk is something special. The platform is one of the most exciting, fastest-growing hospitality support networks out there today. It may just prove to be the vital lifeline for an injury-stricken industry.
“We’re taking a holistic and preventative approach when it comes to helping people with mental health,” Patrick explains.
“We’ve had a lot of early interest from bars saying they’d like to use our package inside of their workplace.
“Hopefully, So Let’s Talk can help bars and restaurants identify the telltale signs a staff member might be struggling and offer the advice required.”
We're in unsettling, unfamiliar territory here, but Patrick believes the support and infrastructure is there to help local hospitality push through to the other side and come out stronger than ever.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the way the Manchester community has bonded together has been incredible.
“We’re just trying to create all the best opportunities that we can. Our partners have been brilliant, and we’re also fortunate to have found our amazing designer Rick Barrett from We Are Ambitious who’s done the website and logo work at an amazing cost.”
The So Let's Talk platform will be coming alive over the course of the next two weeks, as classes emerge online and mental health support becomes widely available.
In order to grow and thrive, they're seeking support wherever possible - and you can get involved by contacting them online.
If you work in hospitality, and things aren’t quite right, So, Let’s Talk can help. Head over to their website to learn more.