A Friday Chat with Searcys’ Head of Health & Food Safety, Helen Davies9 April 2021
Having worked in hospitality for over 30 years, Helen knows a thing or two about the industry. She heads up everything safety-related across the Searcys portfolio, a role which has never been more important than right now, as we look to re-open safely and compliantly this spring. Helen has been in this position since 2014 and firmly believes that education is at the core of all good safety.
Helen, tell us a bit about yourself.
I am commonly referred to as the ‘mistress of the dark arts’ in my role, which I quite like! Food safety and especially Health and Safety have historically been seen by some people as quite dry or boring. My goal has always been to engage others into taking responsibility for their own safety, which in turn protects our most valuable assets – namely ourselves, our colleagues and the guests we serve.
Tell us about your role at Searcys, the challenges and what you love about it?
As Head of Health & Food Safety, I have overall responsibility for all things related to the discipline, as well as food safety. Where do I start, and how can I explain how much I love my job!? I am a true believer that knowledge is power. If you tell a team member to be careful when, for example, they are moving a heavy load from one place to another, the typical response may have been something like ‘I haven’t got time’ or ‘it’s only a box of stock, what’s the issue?’ My role is to educate and give the team members the knowledge and skills to enable them to complete their activities in the safest way possible. This empowerment and cultural change have seen real-time benefits in reducing injuries and improving worker morale.
And how did you come to work in this role?
I have worked in the hospitality industry for nearly 30 years! Initially, my career started in a small way making celebration cakes for friends and neighbours. This eventually grew into a full-on wedding cakes and events catering business with an average of 300 + commissions a year. When my children grew up and started to fly the nest, I began the next stage of my career. In around 2000 I started working for WSH Group in operations, doing everything from washing up and food prep, to managing venues and events. The next move within WSH was to become a training manager and be part of the amazing team of trainers, namely Tim Sturk, Sue Kennie, and Zoe Yard, under the fantastic leadership of Graham Eveleigh. As I had now specialised in food safety and health and safety, these skills were put to use as one of the safety managers at the 2012 Olympics. In 2014, I was asked to Head up Food Safety and Health and Safety for Searcys.
With the hospitality sector working on the reopening in spring 2021, can you tell us how Searcys is preparing for the journey ahead?
It is great news for the hospitality industry that the government road map provides specific dates for us to re-open. We are currently refreshing the training of our teams, so we can comply with the guidelines, as well as provide a safe environment for our customers to enjoy once we re-open. In addition to the training and development of our teams, every venue has an individual plan. This provides our managers with a comprehensive step-by-step guide to re-opening and welcoming back their teams, customers and guests. Our measures include enhanced cleaning regimes, tightened access control, revised our event room capacities to support social distancing and increased wayfinding signage and touch-free menus.
Over the past 12 months, we have been working hard to ensure that we have rigorously implemented COVID-19 government guidance to ensure that our restaurants, event and meeting spaces are safe for our guests, our teams and suppliers. Each Searcys venue receives “We’re Good to Go” industry accreditation, launched by VisitBritain, which confirms that we adhere to the Government and public health guidance. More so, all Searcys venues are regularly audited and accredited by NAVITAS, our nominated independent health and safety consultancy for compliance in line with our secure safety framework.
Also in March, Searcys was awarded a SafeContractor certificate. It is the market-leading health and safety accreditation system, helping contractors and organisations become healthier, safer, and stronger. This accreditation means that we have met all the health and safety standards and regulations to carry out the services at the client premises.
What is special about Searcys and its people?
This may sound a bit cliché, but I truly believe that Searcys people look out for each other and pull together as a team. 2020 has been challenging for Searcys on so many fronts, but it has also demonstrated the amazing spirit within our senior team, managers and venue teams. I have seen so many examples of our team going above and beyond in order to meet a goal or deadline, which makes me proud to be associated with Searcys and its team.
Can you tell us your favourite Searcys location and dish and drink?
To use a strictly Come Dancing phrase…. you’re my favourite! Every venue that I visit is my favourite at the time I’m there, so I’m always changing my mind on this one. From the awesome splendour of Blenheim Palace and its’ amazing afternoon tea, to the St Pancras Champagne Bar with their wonderful glasses of bubbles and Searcys smoked salmon, through to the Gherkin with its amazing views, food and cocktails… how can I single out one venue or dish?
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on team member inductions and training. Team members and managers have provided feedback that they would find it beneficial for some of the safety compliance documentation to be completed online prior to starting in our venues. By getting this done in advance, it will allow our managers and the new team members to spend more together in their first days covering the more exciting and fun subjects such as our food and drinks, the venue and its history and customers. So we’re working right now to make sure this can happen.