Look for the helpers

Melissa Cole thinks it’s time to help the helpers stay afloat, and hopes you do too


Hello, it’s been a while. It’s nice to back on the pages of Ferment; anything interesting been happening whilst I’ve been gone? Any big news? 

Joking aside, I sincerely hope this finds you and yours well, but I know that won’t be all of you so, please, allow me to offer my condolences to those that have lost loved ones during this time.

There is no real way to describe what’s been happening other than surreal; a strange groundhog day. Even though, as I write this, there is talk of lifting some restrictions, no one yet knows what that will look like and the whole of the leisure and hospitality industry still faces enormous uncertainty for its 2.5 million employees. 

As the third largest contributor to the economy, it’s a vital cog in the wheels of our nation’s financial and social well-being, but it is one that is on a knife edge of uncertainty at the best of times, held hostage to every shift in the economy, the weather and the double whammy of this global pandemic and staring down the barrel of a no-deal Brexit. It must be causing a tsunami of stress for anyone involved. 

It’s a huge thing to try and capture in one column, and I won’t be able to, but as I was turning things to write over in my mind, I was transported back to my last plane trip, knowing that, as I landed, we were heading into this isolation period, when I made the slight mistake of watching the Mr Rogers biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr Rogers, I was only faintly aware of him from references by US friends. He was (and is) a children’s TV icon.

Now, I had been a bit wary about watching it because, frankly, pretty much 50% of the standout male stars from my childhood TV have been convicted of being sex pests of one form or another. But it turns out watching the movie wasn’t a mistake at all – it’s genuinely a lovely piece of cinema – the mistake was watching it at altitude, with a third gin and tonic in hand, but let me get back to the point. 

The film portrays a man who has next-to-no cynicism. All he wants is for children to be ready for the world; he didn’t shy away from the tough conversations and he wanted kids to know this came from a place of love, so they could process it and be ready for life. 

Yes, it’s schmaltzy, yes it’s almost unbelievable (until you read every single other thing ever written about him and you realise it’s true) and reminds you there is still good in the world. So, as much as I’d like to proselytise about the need to change the terrible inequities of our society, to overhaul it on a macro level, not to mention the notion that a large number of people need to be kicked up and down the various streets of Westminster right about now, what I can realistically hope for is action at a micro level. 

It’s possible your local pub, restaurant bar or brewery is going to go out of business, there is simply no avoiding this.

But before I get to that, like Mr Rogers, we need to have the tough conversations; there are going to be casualties from this, it’s possible your local pub, restaurant bar or brewery is going to go out of business, there is simply no avoiding this. 

In part, we have to look hard at the Government’s role in this: ignoring calls from SIBA to suspend beer duty, the lack of clear guidance on what was and wasn’t allowable in lockdown and, of course, how slow they have been to implement financial support or stop the spread of the disease. There’s also its astounding decision not to take the TRONC system (the system for even and taxed distribution of staff tips) into account, meaning the lowest paid staff, in mainly food-led venues, with approximately 60% of their usual pay. 

But we also have to look at companies still charging their tenants rent, those deciding not to pay their suppliers (I am not going to list them here, it’s widely available) or lobbying to return to ‘life as normal’ before any science backs it, in order to appease their shareholders. 

And once we’ve looked at those people who are happy to profit off the back of a pandemic, at the expense of the people whose blood, sweat and tears have made them their money, perhaps it’s also time to look at spending our cash elsewhere. 

Every day on my social media, or in my emails, I see stories of businesses that have been donating to the NHS, or giving discounts to key workers; I even heard a story of one brewery that delivered a bag in box to a hospital because a man’s dying wish was to have a pint of their draught beer before he passed (they don’t wish to be named). There has been swapping of beers for donations to food banks and I could go on, but I would literally fill half the pages of the magazine with their names if I could, and I think Richard (the editor) might actually break lockdown to find me and shout at me if I do. 

And so, mindful of word count, this brings me back to Mr Rogers, and a quote a lot of you may have heard, but not known who it is attributed to:

“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”

I think it’s time to help the helpers stay afloat, I hope you do too. Stay safe. 

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