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The Burnt Chef Project

The Burnt Chef Project: tackling mental health in hospitality

by Kris Hall 18 May 2020

Kris Hall, founder of The Burnt Chef Project, explains why he set up the hospitality-focused mental health non-profit business and how people can support the cause.

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I've been working closely within the hospitality industry for around nine years and have seen first hand the struggles of mental health issues within the trade, with both clients and friends.

Margins are slim and with increased focus on saving money, both employers and employees feel the effect of this on their mental health. Long antisocial hours, tough environmental conditions and pressures to perform are just some of the issues that hospitality professionals are fighting against on a daily basis.

Hospitality staff should be able to discuss the state of their mental health and gain support from their peers and employers. It's important that although mental health can't be seen it is regularly discussed and policies reviewed. This should be the new definition of 'badge of honour'.

My own personal experience started in a bout of depression lasting two years whilst I was in college at eighteen years old. I’d lost my direction and felt that I had no place in the world. At my worst I spent a week struggling to get out of bed and felt that I didn’t belong here anymore. My levels of anxiety were through the roof to the point where I was suffering from paranoid episodes, thinking that strangers were looking at and talking about me. As I came through this experience and started to improve my mental and physical health through exercise, creativity and diet I was still left with a niggling concern that this was something that I had suffered alone; that everyone else I saw walking around couldn’t have possibly gone through what I had experienced.

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This lasted with me all the way through until I was thirty, when I again experienced a relapse of ill mental health and sought CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to get some help. It was at that point my therapist helped me realise that we all have an internal monologue and thoughts that we deal with on a daily basis which we don’t advertise to others. This is further compounded through the use of social media.

Working in the hospitality industry I saw the effect that the working conditions were having on its workforce through my own learned experience. Chef friends who were struggling with relationships, suffering from alcohol or drug abuse and an unfortunate number of suicides prompted me to stand up and give the trade a voice – to let people know that they are not alone.

Using my photography skills I decided to start taking black and white photos to show, in a poignant way, that you never know what goes on behind the scenes. It quickly became apparent that more needed to be done to lift the lid on this Pandora's box on a national level, so I made the move to start The Burnt Chef Project and give the hospitality industry a voice to challenge the long felt stigma of mental health and act as a beacon for those who feel that they are alone with one clear message: it’s OK not to be OK.

The Burnt Chef Project raises awareness through sales of Burnt Chef Project merchandise whilst also hosting regular stigma-breaking talks on mental health throughout the country. As a non-profit we dedicate any profit we have from sales and donations into mental health training courses, as well as management training courses so that we can upskill the workforce into how they manage both themselves and their teams. We’ve found this to be very useful as many who find themselves in management positions tend not to have had much formal training in people management.

Whilst the UK market has responded well to the aims of the business, we have found engagement has grown worldwide, reaching countries including Australia, Japan, Canada and across Europe.

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We have just launched the Burnt Chef Ambassador program which aims to create a UK network of mental-health-trained ambassadors who can further spread the work of the Burnt Chef Project and provide help to those who are suffering. In addition, we are due to launch the Recipes for Mental Health cookbook with over twenty recipes from chefs including Adam Handling and James Golding before the end of May 2020. We've also teamed up with Savernake Knives in Wiltshire, to create a limited edition custom knife – ten percent of all proceeds will be used to deliver The Burnt Chef Project's aims within the industry.

It's clear that something needs to be done. In a recent survey of 1,273, eight out of ten respondents said that they had experienced at least one period of poor mental health as a result of their role within hospitality. In addition, 86% of respondents said that they thought The Burnt Chef Project would make a noticeable impact in de-stigmatising mental health within hospitality. The link to The Burnt Chef Project’s mental health survey can be found here, where the full results are available: theburntchefproject.com/survey

To support the Burnt Chef Project and encourage others to challenge the stigma of mental health within the workplace, head over to theburntchefproject.com and follow us on social media.

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The Burnt Chef Project: tackling mental health in hospitality

 
 

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