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Q&A: Lorraine Copes, BAME in Hospitality founder and head of procurement, Corbin & King

Published:  15 September, 2020

Lorraine Copes talks to Andrew Catchpole about amplifying the voices of people of colour in the UK drinks and hospitality trade.

When and why did you set up BAME in Hospitality?

The idea for BAME in Hospitality was established at the end of last year, prior to the awakening that happened in June [following George Floyd’s death in May], focused on networking. I’ve worked in hospitality for 18 years, including Greene King, Shake Shack, Gordon Ramsay and Corbin & King – I’m in procurement and it’s quite outward facing, and throughout my career it’s apparent there’s been a real lack of BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] representation at all levels.

We launched on 1 June, which coincided with the realisation of what had taken place, with Black Lives Matter, we received a lot of attention, a lot of support, with people reaching out to us, saying they realised this was a challenge that needed to be addressed.

What approach have you taken?

One of the key metrics is amplifying voices of people that are not really visible; there are pockets of BAME individuals, and it’s key, we feel, to highlight those people until the mainstream really catches up and gives individuals a platform.

One of the reasons I’ve been in hospitality as long as I have is that it brings people together, and especially on the wine side. From the USA I’d watched a lot of debates about race on the wine side and I feel really clear about taking actionable steps. I feel that telling stories is really important, but also that the cultural background of food and drinks we all work around is important.

Is this how The Colour of Wine webinar series, running this September, was born?

No individual, regardless of background, should feel the need to work unsupported or on their own. And you rarely see people with Black or Asian faces talking about wine, which presents a barrier. It’s the reason why The Colour of Wine panellists were keen to pair wines with foods from their heritage – sharing stories helps people understand, bringing people together to talk about something they are all passionate about. Not everyone understands white privilege. White people working in hospitality often don’t realise how they don’t have to think about their heritage and background, which people of colour do. I can’t emphasise enough the education side – some people just don’t know what they don’t know.

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and Nyetimber are on board as supporters – how important are the messages that sends out?

The WSET courses have quite a few members of the BAME community, and Ian Harris [WSET CEO] took part in an American panel discussion around diversity in the hospitality sector, where he talked openly about where he wanted to go, turning words into action. Ian was really receptive to the idea. And with Nyetimber we felt really strongly about having the support of an English wine brand. With the internet, the world is really small, but I felt a lot of American conversations were dominating the airwaves – although there are similarities with the Black and Asian UK experience. So an English producer helps differentiate what we are doing.

Do you think the most recent global swell of support for Black Lives Matter and general highlighting of issues of inequality can mark a real turning point?

The awakening of people being more open to listen has provided an opportunity to make change. It absolutely is an awakening – not everyone wants to get on the bus at the moment, but for those willing to better understand and make progress this is a time when we can make real change.

How has lockdown and the ongoing pandemic impacted on you personally and professionally?

It’s been a really interesting time. I’m still on furlough and I’ve been able to actually concentrate the time on fleshing out the business model of BAME in Hospitality, which is a social enterprise, not-for-profit, and I’m also a life coach, helping people move forward. I think this time has made me realise how much I needed to reflect and how much still needs to be done.

The second webinar in The Colour of Wine series takes place on Wednesday 16 September, with a link to that YouTube channel here.