It’s a sunny April afternoon, and Charlotte Kidd from the Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign sits in Loading Bar’s outdoor area with Co-owner, Alice Nevermore. (Loading Bar, if you didn’t already know, is a gaming bar that offers a range of video and board games to its customers for free, with locations in London and on Brighton’s seafront). Times have been tricky for hospitality, but Alice isn’t afraid to unpick the challenges that come with being a Living Wage employer and a hospitality business. Whether it’s contending with less business due to the cost-of-living crisis or keeping reasonable pricing amid higher energy costs, Alice says the fact is, ‘you have to pay people more if you care about them’.
Can you tell me a bit about Loading Bar and your journey?
I joined Loading ten years ago. Doesn’t feel like it. We’ve had a bit of a tumultuous journey, rapidly expanding, moving locations from Brighton to London. Growing and then scaling things back a little. We’ve learnt relatively early on the differences between managing a small team and a bigger team.
Hospitality is about people. Yes, you can play games and have drinks, but you can do those things at home – it would be cheaper. Hospitality is about hospitality. We don’t have capital behind us, and we’re quite indie in that sense but I don’t think people necessarily know that. In our case people tend to think we’re a lot bigger than we actually are. But we’re still independent at our core. We’ve had opportunities from investors which we’ve turned down because of the way we want to go.
And what about your role at Loading?
Well as they say, no one day is the same. I’m not as hands on now, which in some ways is a shame, because I miss those times. It was a lot of fun. Being there; talking to your customers; making friends. Now we’re bigger it’s more spreadsheets; calls with suppliers; things like that.
What have been the challenges to paying the Living Wage whilst navigating the cost-of-living crisis?
There are sacrifices we’ve had to make. When we signed up to the campaign, we asked the external supplier we used (Stint) if we were able to pay a higher wage to those coming in to work for us. (Stint is a supplier who provide jobs for students working in the hospitality sector). They weren’t able to and that was inconvenient, as they were useful for providing extra staff on the days we needed it – but it highlights the sacrifices some businesses are willing to make to do the right thing. Even if it’s a hard thing to do, the fact is, you have to pay people more if you care about them. I can’t imagine paying people minimum wage knowing how hard it is.
What would you say the best and worst parts of the sector are?
It depends on the context. In terms of the industry, I guess we’re less likely to suffer in the way other businesses do in terms of payment: you get paid straight away for a service – it’s not all about chasing up invoices, so cashflow works well. If you establish business, you’ll be paid. But hospitality has been hit more and more with the cost-of-living crisis. Energy bills going through the roof, people not having money so therefore going out less, people changing their careers and leaving hospitality altogether. But then again, I think we’re in a good place right here.
What have you still got to learn?
Where to start? It’s about people: I’m fascinated with how people work together. So, I guess learning about how to harness the power of when amazing things happen when people work together. Not even for the sake of my own benefit, but for the sake of seeing something growing and working. I guess it’s important to create a culture where people come together – and everyone has a share of the success.
Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
I don’t think so. Every now and then you think about what might be different if you’d made a different choice. I’m not sure it’s useful, I think that even in a parallel universe you could easily be sitting asking yourself the same thing.
Anything to add?
Since we’ve arranged this interview, I’ve been imaging the ways the Living Wage could have a bigger impact. Perhaps lobbying the government? There doesn’t seem to be a point to minimum wage if you can’t live on it. I’d really want to take part in something that is creating even more momentum for this campaign.
Find out more about Loading Bar on their website , and head down to the Lower Promenade on Madeira Drive for a visit!