“There is unfortunately still a stigma around mental health”

Alex South

Alex South


The Burnt Chef Project has fast become a vital tool and resource for the hospitality industry and in just three years it has raised awareness around mental health and continues to have a positive impact.

To keep doing this the charity needs help with funding, and hospitality businesses can help with this in lots of different ways.

The team at The Grand Hotel in York recently hosted a dinner with all proceeds going to the charity, they raised £6,000 on the night which included ticket sales, a raffle, and a secret auction.

Chris Cooper, Hotel Manager at The Grand Hotel in York along with Siobhan Spoon, HR Advisor and the ‘Grand Plans’ team (the team member committee) organised the event after attending a similar evening at Doncaster College.

Some of the lecturers and students came along to help at The Grand, with students creating two of the courses themselves alongside the hotel’s head chef Ahmed Abdalla and his team.

Discussing the night in more detail, Chris said: "The idea of hosting this evening was to just spread the word around what they do, they do such a fantastic cause and we really just wanted to kind of promote that and use the platform that we've got in some way to try and help eradicate that kind of whole stigma around mental health."

The night was the first of its kind for Chris and team and has already been labelled by staff and guests as a big success all round.

“We did this to test the water and it was really successful. There is unfortunately still stigma around mental health and we'll continue to help spread the word about the great work that The Burnt Chef Project do,” he explained.

Commenting on why its important to raise awareness around mental health and support charities like The Burnt Chef Project, Chris revealed: "I'm not ashamed to say I've suffered mental health issues in the past. It's something that really resonates with me. I think you've got a sense of responsibility in some way, if you're leading teams that you need to be able to give them the support structure that they need to be able to cope with these things."

Simon Barton, Chef Lecturer at Doncaster College, is an ambassador for The Burnt Chef Project and has hosted and worked on numerous fundraisers for the charity.

Explaining how he got involved in the charity, Simon said: “I've been really interested in mental health and just helping out other people. I know in the industry how tough it can be from previous experience in industry, the hours and how hard it can be and stuff like that.”

He added: “When I work in a catering college teaching hundreds of students every year that are potential chefs or waiting staff or hospitality members, I thought what better way to get that knowledge into them at a young age.”


Looking to the future both Chris and Simon are enthusiastic about holding future gala events in aid of The Burnt Chef Project.

For Chris and the team at The Grand, they were blown away by the success of their evening and are keen to continue hosting similar events in the future.

“I think this is certainly something that we’ll do annually. We did it in the cookery school this time, it's possible we might look at opening it up in the Grand Boardroom. I think the scope of it is huge, so we'll certainly look to do it in the future,” explained Chris.

Commenting on his plans for the future, Simon said: “We've got the next one booked in I believe March time next year. Again, we want to raise as much money as possible but not just the money side, we want to raise as much knowledge about the project, of what they're doing and stuff like that.”


The work of The Burnt Chef Project and their ambassadors have thoroughly improved the hospitality industry across the country ensuring that managers and senior staff are properly equipped in how to best support their colleagues.

Despite this ongoing success, challenges still remain.

Research from the charity revealed work-life balance is the most frequently mentioned barrier to working in the sector cited as a common reason for leaving.

For Chris, everyone who works at the hotel is part of the “Grand Family” meaning that all staff are supported and treated as relatives instead of employees.

Explaining initiatives that the hotel has bought in to achieve this goal, Chris said: “All the managers have open door policies, we've got great employment assistance programs, we do a lot in terms of promoting wellbeing, we've got wellbeing days, we also do charity walks, we've got a five aside football team.”

He added: "I think as leaders in industry, we need to make sure that we are committed to creating a healthier and happier and more sustainable workforce by really just putting their wellbeing first."

In 2021, The Burnt Chef Project revealed that hospitality doesn’t currently come highly recommended with one in five planning on leaving in the next 12 months and around more than a third (37% of respondents) unsure whether to remain in the industry.

Looking back his career before joining the Grand Hotel, Chris revealed: “Throughout my career I've had people come to me and I've had to really try to get them to open up to talk about it, and actually they're surprised to hear how common it is for other people to have demons they're battling.”

He added: “I've had various people come to me with different issues that they're dealing with. I think on the back of COVID you definitely see that people thankfully are talking about it more. I think people being at home cooped up in that environment, as you know, it's been good for some people but it hasn't been so good for others."

For Simon as a mental health ambassador and qualified mental health first aider, mental health awareness isn’t defined by numbers or hitting quotas, supporting even just one person out of every hundred is a success.

“If we can just get it across to one person out of that hundred then we've done our bit because that could save that one person's life and ultimately, that's the goal,” Simon said.

He added: “If they do decide to do something to hurt themselves or ultimately take their own life, if we can signpost them so they know that there is somebody they can talk to or go to, then we've done our job.”


Thanks to efforts over the last few years, there’s now more resources than ever before for professionals seeking to safeguard their mental health as well as training for those who want to undertake formal training suitable for the workplace.

Highlighting some of the best resources available right now Simon said: “Download The Burnt Chef academy app, which is free to use for everybody. We use it with our students, there's modules on there from helping staff with menopause for managers, debt management, sleep deprivation, resilience, you name it."

He added: “It's not just about mental health but there's lots of different things on there, like anxiety and breathing exercises on there as well.”

In terms of formal qualifications suited to professionals and lecturers alike, Simon suggested people interested in broadening their experiences could take part in a Mental Health First Aiders course.

"I would also recommend the Mental Health First Aiders course. It's absolutely phenomenal, just the textbook you get with it alone is worth the money," explained Simon.

He added: "Once you've done that training just make sure you explain to people, you're not an expert in mental health. Sometimes you just need somebody to talk to and that can make a massive, massive difference somebody's life."

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Alex South

Alex South

Editor 10th October 2022

“There is unfortunately still a stigma around mental health”