Lorraine Copes: “Our BIH Spotlight Awards are the first of their kind to exist within the UK hospitality industry”.
Lorraine Copes is an award-winning advocate and champion of change in the hospitality industry. She founded her not-for-profit organisation, ‘Be Inclusive Hospitality’ in 2020, to increase representation of Black and ethnic minorities in her chosen industry. After 20 years in hospitality, she is launching Be Inclusive Hospitality Spotlight Awards to celebrate culturally diverse companies in the sector.
In our exclusive interview we ask Lorraine Copes about her thoughts on diversity in the hospitality industry and her ground-breaking new awards event.
What inspired you to get into the hospitality industry?
I didn’t intentionally join the hospitality industry. I completed a BSc in Logistics, and my first job was more aligned with my degree (so supply chain and forecasting) than anything. What I did discover upon entering the industry is that I was able to use my degree, whilst eating and drinking for free.
The greed kept me in the industry, and I was also able to develop a flourishing career over the years that followed as a Procurement & Supply Chain executive leader within notable hospitality brands including Gordon Ramsay and Shake Shack. What kept me going was a real love for the industry of hospitality and all that it encompasses.
Yes, the industry has problems to address, as with any industry, but I have met some of the nicest, most committed, fun, intelligent and hardworking people within this industry.
What is it about your career so far that you think people have recognised you and honoured you for?
I have only really started receiving awards since embarking upon the Be Inclusive Hospitality journey. I can only guess that I have received the recognition because I have created a space for community, that did not previously exist, along with igniting conversations and initiatives to advance race equity within the industry.
We have been a ‘first’ on many fronts, and as a result have become super visible, very quickly. Not taking away from the fact that my team has worked really hard to ensure that we can have the maximum impact in supporting people of colour within the industry as possible.
“We have been a ‘first’ on many fronts, and as a result have become super visible, very quickly.”
Can you describe the process of setting up Be Inclusive Hospitality and what were the biggest challenges?
The process firstly involved a lot of reading about the business structure that best aligned with my mission, but thereafter it was just like setting up any business. So, a business plan, financial projections, and a board were required. I landed at a Community Interest Company (CIC), so we are a social enterprise and not-for-profit organisation.
The challenges were those often faced by start-ups, which were being able to grow resources to have scale, but also accessing funding to support growth. The Kickstarter scheme was a lifesaver, and the young lady who joined the scheme has now been with us for a year and is brilliant! My support was my network, from my brother to contacts old and new that acted as connectors to ensure that we could access expertise, support, or funding.
What was it like setting up Be Inclusive Hospitality during the pandemic in 2020?
It was helpful in many ways because we all had time. Time to strategise, time to build a community. In retrospect, many of the relationships were forged with our key partners, ambassadors, and mentors during the pandemic.
Where it was far from ideal, was obviously, securing funding and supporting the community that we serve because so much was in limbo for so many.
“…if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, so write a robust business plan before you start.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to set up a new business/ social enterprise with the aim of supporting the Black community?
My advice would be firstly do your research as there are many business structures that could be adopted to have a social impact. The second is if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, so write a robust business plan before you start.
Thirdly is that your network is your net worth and so forge genuine and meaningful relationships with people and businesses whose values align with yours, and it will support your business to thrive.
How have you found being a Black woman in the hospitality space?
It has mirrored my life navigating this country as a Black Woman. I have lost count of the number of times, I have experienced microaggressions, and felt uncomfortable or excluded.
I appreciate that I say this from a place of privilege in having left my full-time job to start my own business, but I recognise and acknowledge the past situations I might have found myself in. But my focus is not on what might have happened in the past, it is to simply move forward, upwards whilst supporting people who look like me to ultimately do the same.
There is a nice mix of awards at the Be Inclusive Spotlight Awards celebrating diversity in the hospitality industry. How did you get the balance right?
We’re thrilled that the BIH Spotlight Awards judging panel is co-chaired by industry luminaries, TV presenter and celebrity chef Andi Oliver and co-founder of D&D London Des Gunewardena. The nominees are nominated by the public or self-nominations. And so, by nature of the diversity within our community, the shortlist and the finalists represent the community broadly. Is it possible to recognise every single ethnicity that identifies as Black or a minority ethnic across 13 categories? Of course not. Are our awards the first of their kind to exist within the sector? Yes.
“Are our awards the first of their kind to exist within the sector? Yes.”
This is our first awards show and just the start of things to come. Next year we have already started expanding some of the categories, the awards will double in size and who knows what else.
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What would you like the impact of Be Inclusive Hospitality to be in the next 10 years?
We have a plan for the next five years, which is to support 10,000 employees and 2,000 employers to become more upwardly social mobile through the initiatives we deliver. By this time, we will also be a global enterprise and not just UK, which we are now.
My hopes for the BIH Spotlight Awards are first that the finalists and winners of the BIH Spotlight Awards will see improved visibility, and a reputation boost, and ultimately attract deserving business growth and career opportunities. Secondly, that ethnic minorities will see more diversity in the hospitality industry so that Black and ethnic minority talent entering the sector can see celebrated industry role models that look like them.
The Be Inclusive Spotlight Awards show takes place on Monday 24 October at a live ceremony in Percy’s, Kensington, London. Learn more about Be Inclusive Hospitality here.