Greg Mangham

Greg Mangham explains how the work of his charity, Only A Pavement Away, is more vital than ever for the homeless and hospitality. Mel Flaherty reports.

“A homeless person costs the Government £20,000 a year – when we put these people into jobs, not only do we alleviate that cost but we help the economy because these people then pay rent, taxes and for leisure and so on. So far we have added £2.2million to the economy.”

As an East End boy who left school with just four ‘O’ levels, Greg Mangham is keenly aware of how “taking a left turn instead of a right” can have a massive impact on the course of one’s life.

He often wonders where he might have ended up if he didn’t have a stable home life and if he hadn’t been encouraged into the hospitality industry. One thing he is pretty sure of – if he hadn’t walked through The Strand after a night out with his wife, Gill, in 2017, right now he would probably be enjoying semi-retirement.

Instead, Mangham is Chief Executive of Only A Pavement Away (OAPA), the charity he set up in 2018 to get homeless people into careers in hospitality. That fateful night in London was when he first recognised the opportunity to help rough sleepers like those he saw, while addressing hospitality’s problems in filling 80,000 vacancies; and when Gill challenged him to do something about it.

Mangham now spends the vast majority of his time on the charity, doing everything from handing out filled flasks to people sleeping in the streets, to mixing with celebrity chefs and top end restaurateurs. Neither had been on his agenda just a few short years ago when he was running his own successful consultancy business, and, he reflects, he has never been busier, even compared to when he was Operations Director for Tote, overseeing 260 betting shops and £1.4 billion of sales.

Change of focus

Something that certainly wasn’t on anybody’s radar was the giant coronavirus-shaped curveball thrown at the world in 2020. At the time of writing, a second wave of Government enforced closures is looming for already embattled hospitality businesses. OAPA’s focus has already changed since the start of the pandemic – clearly vacancies in pubs, bars and restaurants are few and far between these days – and now its workload looks set to rise further, on top of the likely fallout from the end of the furlough scheme.

“What is going to happen to hospitality workers losing their jobs?” Mangham asks. “A lot of them are on the minimum wage and maybe sofa surfing. What if their friend who is letting them stay at their flat loses their job and then can’t pay their rent? They could end up out on the street.

“At the beginning of the COVID crisis, there was a new wave of rough sleepers and a lot were hospitality workers; that could easily increase.”

It is a conundrum that could overwhelm many with its enormity, but Mangham’s pragmatism and his evident skill at getting on with people from all walks of life – a quality he says has been enhanced by the presence of his wife, originally a teacher who worked with children with special needs – mean he is determined, not fazed.

The charity has recently completed its Winter Warmth campaign, which saw the distribution of over 1,100 items of clothing, 1,200 flasks and back packs and 23,000 food pouches to rough sleepers. Greene King and Feel Good Drinks have donated significant funds to this endeavour.

Back to basics

OAPA still ultimately exists ‘for the employment of the homeless, ex-offenders and vulnerable veterans into careers within the hospitality industry’ but it has had to go back to basics to help not only its 20 current members but other current rough sleepers and those in the industry at risk of becoming homeless.
After first diverting funds to make up the 20% pay shortfall for any of its members who had been furloughed, in April the charity launched its Hospitality Against Homeless initiative. This followed an approach by the London Borough of Haringey to assist with cooking for 20 rough sleepers it was accommodating in a hotel.

Very quickly, Yummy Pubs came forward to cook and distribute meals; Thomas Franks, the contract caterer, donated meals and supplied microwaves to give cooking facilities to those placed into hostels and Paul Pavli Consultancy secured supplies via its network of distributors and retailers.

Demand across the London boroughs exploded. In the first 15 weeks of the campaign, the team provided 55,000 meals, 110,000 drinks, 86,000 snacks and 2,000 Easter eggs. Stocks of hand sanitizer and shampoo were also distributed. Now, 800 homeless people a week are receiving three meals per day and Mangham estimates the total retail value of all the assistance given to date to be around £500,000. Little wonder the scheme scooped the Most Dynamic Collaboration gong at September’s Hotel, Restaurant & Catering Awards.

Mangham is constantly at pains to give credit where it’s due; this article could easily comprise not much more than a list of all the people and companies he is grateful to. Dulal Ahmed, the employment services manager at homeless charity Crisis, now also an OAPA trustee, is someone whose name comes up a lot. Mangham is a big admirer of Crisis and says Ahmed has taught him a lot about the complexities of running a charity.

Industry support

He says he has been “taken aback rather than surprised” by the generosity of the industry he previously spent 40 years working in, particularly by the amount of pro bono work offered: “I do stop and think, why did someone like Anthony Pender at Yummy Pubs, when they were staring down the barrel of a gun and could have been thinking only about saving their pubs, agree to come and cook 375 meals a week? It costs them money! Their staff were furloughed and came and volunteered their time for nothing.”

He thinks the charity has garnered as much industry support as it has partly because so many people, like himself, started right at the very bottom of it and realise how easy it can be to fall on hard times. Also, he says, they appreciate OAPA’s non-bureaucratic set up – there are no expensive offices and he and Gill still don’t take a salary from it (his pension from one of his former employers, Bass, has come in very handy). He is humbled that so many high-profile operators, and senior industry figures from organisations like the British Institute of Innkeeping and UKHospitality, are so active in their support: “I worked in pubs and betting shops, so I’d never dealt with the likes of The Ivy Collection and Gaucho. Their involvement took us into different realms of hospitality.”

Tom Aikens, the Michelin-starred chef, has become an ambassador for the charity. In May, he teamed up with OAPA for the Tom Aikens Charity Cooking Challenge. Participants were invited to cook a meal in five minutes, donate £5 and to nominate five other people to undertake the challenge. The initiative raised more than £5,000 and looks likely to evolve into a book of recipes with QR codes to take users to videos of the dishes being made.

Future facing

At the same time as getting creative about responding to the pandemic, OAPA has not taken its eye off its long-term objectives. To that end, in July it launched a free Jobs Board on its website incorporating a Candidate Profile Page to serve as a conduit for charities looking to promote people for employment within the hospitality industry. In its first four weeks, four people were placed into jobs and Mangham is hopeful it will continue to prove effective, despite the current difficulties. He points out that the benefits of it doing so will go far beyond the individuals involved:

“A homeless person costs the Government £20,000 a year – when we put these people into jobs, not only do we alleviate that cost but we help the economy because these people then pay rent, taxes and so on. So far we have added £2.2 million to the economy.”

In addition, OAPA has taken on another Relationship Manager – it now has two – to build and maintain contact with hospitality employers. Mangham explains that while most do not have jobs to fill at the moment, he wants OAPA candidates to be front of mind when the time comes. He adds that he is aware many have moved into areas such as retail or distribution instead, but that OAPA wants to keep dialogue open for ex-hospitality workers who may want to return when the market allows. He adds that he would also be happy for other sectors to advertise on the job board.

And it doesn’t stop there. Mangham has set up an online one-stop hub which can be found on the OAPA website, offering advice on everything from how to apply for Universal Credit, to CV-writing and links to potential employers, all in 10 different languages. No-one could accuse him of lacking vision and judging by where he’s already taken OAPA so far, and indeed how his own career before evolved, it would be foolish to suggest that anything he puts his mind to is over-ambitious.

Pre-Covid, OAPA’s target was to get 300 people into jobs in 2020; circumstances may have interfered with the timing on achieving that goal but with the combination of Mangham’s determination and the industry’s growing support, it will get there, and beyond, as soon as is practicable.

Mangham says it is unlikely a charity as relatively little-known as OAPA will ever attract a white knight, super-wealthy philanthropist but just how big it eventually becomes depends on a whole myriad of left or right turns that could be taken by the virus, by individuals, the industry, Government and the economy. He laughs when he remembers that when he started all this, he never thought it would be a long-term project. Retirement, it seems, is not just round the next corner for him.