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Patrick’s on a mission to get hospitality industry talking

Patrick Howley is driven. Not so long ago cocaine and alcohol helped him fly through a 70-hour week. These days ambition for change is his motivation.

Like many in the hospitality industry, Patrick lived by the archaic ‘work hard, play hard’ code, often spending up to 65% of his hard-earned wages on booze and drugs.

If he wasn’t working as a bar manager, he was cruising bars looking at what his competitors were doing and, naturally, sampling everything on the menu.

At 25 he was managing a team of 60. At 29, he felt his life meant very little and after a three-day work and drinking binge it imploded.

“I was living a lifestyle that wasn’t congruent with how I saw myself in my head. I still turned up for my shifts and no-one knew that I wasn’t compos mentis which was scary as I was through the roof, ” says Patrick.

“My recreational drug use was off the scale. I had a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it didn’t matter what the emotion I’d always end up drinking

“My recreational drug use was off the scale. I had a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it didn’t matter what the emotion – happy, sad, stressed – I’d always end up drinking. All of my connection with people came through alcohol. I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly and was lacking human connection. I needed to get back to human being rather than human doing.”

He attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but realised he wasn’t addicted to alcohol. He tried changing his job and went into recruitment, but it wasn’t the answer. He loved the hospitality industry, but he had to change his behaviour. But there was no-one there to offer a helping hand.

“We have some archaic learned behaviours in the trade which are difficult to tackle, 70 hours a week, crack open a bottle of tequila and still turn up for your shift. We’re classed as non-skilled workers and in some cases employers don’t value us when there’s this saloon door of staff coming and going all the time and everyone is replaceable.

“So I got angry. Why wasn’t there a body to help people in our industry. I wasn’t a minority, the industry is full of people who struggle like I did.

The So Let’s Talk team

“It wasn’t about the money I was spending. It was the lifestyle I was leading. I thought if I’ve been doing this for 10 years and there hasn’t been an avenue for help readily accessible to me then let’s create one.”

So he posted on the Manchester Bars page on Facebook, which has 15,000 followers. He wrote how he wanted to create a platform where people could talk openly about their mental health. He was looking for a venue and wanted people to come and have a chat.

“The post got hundreds of likes and everyone said it’s what’s needed. I signed off the post with ‘So Let’s Talk’ and that’s where we got our name.”

A preventative and holistic way of improving the lot of workers in the industry was desperately needed.

So this not-for-profit company was formed in February and Patrick has worked relentlessly to get it off the ground. He’s impressed some top names in the industry too.

He networked with anyone who was prepared to listen, hospitality bosses, grassroots workers, chefs and the fundamentals became clear. A preventative and holistic way of improving the lot of workers in the industry was desperately needed. Bosses, too, needed to play their part. It wasn’t just a cure that was essential, but education and prevention.

To that end, he has a team of 19 industry bods in the So Let’s Talk development team. They also work with Tim Everington Judge founder of Healthy Hospo, Sport Sleep Coach Nick Littlehales, who is Cristiano Ronaldo’s personal sleep coach and works with Manchester United, Craig Fern, who advises the EU on mental health and NHS psychotherapist James Marquis.

Together they’re working on training decks which concentrate on core wellbeing principles – sleep, nutrition, exercise and mental wellbeing. Keeping connected to nature and each other are vital in that mix. There’s also advice for employers how to reduce staff turnover and ultimately increase profitability.

The raison d’etre is #86TheSilence. For those of you that don’t know, 86 is code in the industry for when something has run out. 86 the silence means they want to eradicate the silence around mental health in hospitality.

It’s good to talk

During lockdown So Let’s Talk has offered online classes to distract hospitality workers from unhealthy habits – yoga, cookery, online-therapy.

There are also plans to work with a planned mental health café in Manchester to offer music therapy, aromatherapy, cooking, and lots of other classes.

And an online content page within the website will give contributors the chance to write about aspects of the industry that matter most to them.

Let’s Talk as a not-for-profit company will operate an open book policy, creating a company that works with no set working hours, unlimited vacation time, and everyone being paid the same salary .

Did you know that night time shift work is a class 2 carcinogenic? That’s the same as lead paint.

“I believe in people getting paid what they’re worth. Our core values have to be aligned with it all.

“Some of the stats are horrific. Did you know that night time shift work is a class 2 carcinogenic? That’s the same as lead paint.  The 13th most dangerous profession in the world is a bartender. 16th is a patrol police officer in the US. You can see people tearing up when they hear these stats. These behaviours and ways of working need to change. We’re not here to wag fingers just to support.”

Taking part in a peaks challenge for So Let’s Talk

So, could this be Patrick’s Best Life Project? “Yes. I’ve been sober for 263 days now and my life has completely changed. I wake up happy on a daily basis and that’s not cheesy. I’m creating opportunities now not problems. I wake up with the intention of adding value to one person’s life and that represents success to me.”

For more info: https://soletstalk.co/

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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