PILOT LIGHT: Sparking conversation around mental health in the hospitality industry

We love to relax with a crisp glass of white wine or a craft beer after a hectic week at work. However, whether it’s exercising, taking a bath or enjoying your hobby, ‘switching off’ without booze is something we recognise as increasingly important in today’s environment. 

The start-up world is fierce and fast-paced and the traditional 9-5 structure doesn’t necessarily suit the way we run our company. 

At Dalston’s we have moulded a team culture that empowers and energises – providing everyone with control over how, where and when they work to get the job done. This means taking the occasional day off to re-charge our batteries is mandatory.

The hospitality industry, as we all know, is renowned for its ’work hard, party hard’ culture. Inevitably, for many this can have a negative long-term impact on mental wellbeing. Sweeping feelings of anxiety and depression under the carpet has been the norm with 1 in 4 suffering with a mental illness in silence….until now. 

Pilot Light is a campaign focused on changing the way people think and act about mental health through addressing the industry specific contexts and environments found in professional kitchens and the broader hospitality sector.

Founded by Chefs Andrew Clarke and Doug Sanham, the campaign is unapologetically bold in its approach to combating mental health stigma and hopes to act as a beacon of support to those affected by common-place issues such as depression and addiction.

We’re proud to announce our partnership with Pilot Light – supporting the team in their mission to rid the stigma around mental health in the hospitality industry. 

We caught up with with chefs and founders Andrew and Doug. Scroll down for the full interview >

FIRSTLY, WHY IS THERE A STIGMA AROUND MENTAL HEALTH IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY? WHY HAS IT NOT BEEN ADDRESSED UNTIL NOW?

Andrew: I can’t say that there’s any more stigma in hospitality than any other industry, but talking about mental health has always been an issue.

The modern world changes so fast and it’s having an enormous effect on our mental wellbeing. The only good news being, there are more of us instigating change. Now is the time to make it happen.

Doug: The industry has a masculine and strong culture – working long hours and pushing through to get things done at all cost, and to never be ill. The second you take a day off it becomes harder for the rest of the team, which builds resentment and bullying.

PLEASE COULD YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR CAREER JOURNEY AND HOW YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY – LAUNCHING PILOT LIGHT.

Andrew: I have been a chef for 20 years and had my fair share of ups and downs. But it was just 3.5 years ago when depression hit me. I was suicidal and in my own private hell, but I fast-tracked recovery through sheer determination and not wanting to pass my pain on to anyone else. I was very lucky to have some good support around me, but that only came through speaking out. My journey with Pilot Light is to help others find their voice and speak out, breaking the stigma.

Doug: I’ve worked in pubs from the age of 18, which is where I learnt a lot from one head chef in particular, who encouraged me to act as a sponge and just absorb knowledge. However, this was where I caught my first glimpse of substance abuse in the kitchens – alcohol to be precise.

I moved on to work on launching a hotel. There was a lot of pressure but I worked hard to quickly move up the ranks.  Working breakfast straights (5:30am-11pm/12am) I would then go out, get pissed, not sleep and do it all again the next day. I didn’t look after myself, which turned me into a bit of a dick really.

I eventually moved to Norfolk where I worked at a fine dining gastro pub for two years before getting my first head chef role. It was here that I won the Caterer’ Acorn Award for best 30 under 30 in the industry.

I then met Andrew, though a mutual boss and 18 months later, Pilot Light was born.

CAN’T IMAGINE IT’S BEEN PLAIN SAILING GETTING TO THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER. WHAT’S BEEN THE TOUGHEST PART / WHAT HURDLES HAVE YOU MET ALONG THE WAY?

Andrew: It’s a tough job that’s for sure and I could talk for hours about tough moments, but I don’t blame the industry for anything that has happened to me. In fact, it was cooking that saved me. But I do recognise that it has damaged a great deal of people too. We need to find a compromise. There are some things we can’t change, but let’s work on the things we can. We need more sustainability with our staff!

Doug: On one occasion, when I thought I was dreaming, I necked a bottle of straight bourbon and then took every pill in the medicine cabinet. It wasn’t a dream and I woke up in hospital. This was the toughest time for me because I was asked by the hotel to keep it quiet. My head chef was very supportive when I went back to work. But I was just treated differently, like everyone knew but no one would talk openly to me about it.

IF YOU MET SOMEONE WORKING IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY TODAY AND ONLY HAD 2 MINUTES TO GIVE THEM YOUR BEST TIP FOR STARTING A CONVERSATION AROUND MENTAL HEALTH IN THEIR WORK PLACE. WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Andrew: Listen without judgement and opinion. Being able to talk without fear of stigma is  very liberating and an important step towards getting help or healing.

Doug: Be open, gentle and honest with others and with yourself. If you can come across as genuinely sincere in your approach when asking someone how they are, then it will become easy to talk about. Don’t give up if people aren’t open with you straight away.

HOSPITALITY IS FAMOUS FOR ITS BOOZE CULTURE. IS THIS HERE TO STAY? OR HAS THE NARRATIVE AROUND HEALTH AND WELLNESS CAUSED A SHIFT IN BEHAVIOUR AT ALL?

Andrew: We’re told the new generations are drinking much less these days and I think that’s noticeable. But it does still exist and may never quite go away. The accessibility is greater in hospitality, so that will always be a temptation.

Doug: I believe the narrative will help to change the culture, but it’s on us to make the small changes – no beers at the end of service and not encouraging the nights out during work shifts will help.  It’s just showing people there are more ways to relax then a few beers every night.

 

WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON THE NO / LOW ALCOHOL TREND?

Andrew :I’m all for it. I spend 6 months of the year sober and the other 6 I relax the rules and enjoy myself.  During my sober months, I’m far more productive and feel better both physically and mentally. I may end up staying sober one day.

Doug: I like a drink. I don’t drink heavily anymore and I rarely go out and get on it but love a glass of wine or a pint. I think it’s just about looking you and knowing when to slow down a bit.

HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?

Andrew: I’ve made a lot of changes with my life. Firstly I made sure I was the most important person in my life and not put my happiness in other people. It sounds selfish, but it’s really not. You don’t have to be an asshole but being happy with yourself is the most important thing.

I meditate regularly and this has been an enormous help in keeping calm and a level head and giving me perspective.

Eating the right foods made a big difference too. Every now and then I have to rein in my eating habits and get back to good healthy things.

Doug: I try to meditate for 5-10 minutes most mornings to try and get steady for the day. I am making a conscious effort to make more time for family and friends that doesn’t revolve around a night of drinking. I’m also learning new things. Currently I am trying to learn the guitar. Giving myself a hobby, and something good to put into my days is like a reward system to myself.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?

Andrew: Everyday we’re faced with challenges in life that could affect our mental wellbeing. It’s much better to exercise prevention than constantly look for a cure. Do whatever you can to stay as healthy in mind and body to give yourself a fighting chance!

Doug: I think the most important thing that we can do is encourage talking about mental health. The more we do, the more likely it will become just like talking about physical health. Breaking down the stigma and normalising the conversation will help and allow us to genuinely look out for each other. This will hopefully have an impact on all industries, helping to create longevity in jobs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *