2020 is going to be remembered for an awful lot of wrong reasons, but whatever the last few months has thrown at us we’ve all had to cope, react and do what we could to help ourselves – and those around us. It’s also been a year like no other for innovation and getting things done. Which is what our end of year interviews with leading figures in the drinks and hospitality sectors are all about. Individuals who have all responded to Covid-19 for the greater good. Who better to start with than Ross Carter, who in his role as chief executive of the Drinks Trust has been at the heart of how as an industry we have all come together to help as many people as possible through this crisis.
Ross Carter of The Drinks Trust looks back on 2020 and how he hopes to relax, just a little bit, over the festive period.
We have all had to adapt to a very different year due to Covid-19, but none more so than the Drinks Trust – how do you look back on 2020?
It’s still a bit of a fog to be honest. I find myself telling friends that it’s been a year like no other for me professionally, and then realise what just came out of my mouth. I’ve been in full time employment, and retained my salary, it’s important to remind yourself. That said, and I think it’s true of a lot of people in the same situation, there has been more to do and fewer people to share the load with, so it’s been tough whatever your circumstances are by and large. I’ve been lucky to have a team of people who have risen to the occasion.
We’ve definitely had to adapt, although we announced in early March that we were planning on doing as an organisation, a week later we realised we would have to adapt bigger and faster than planned. Lot’s of new digitised assessment tools, encrypted servers, new CRM, welfare policies etc etc. That coupled with a tenfold increase in applications and fivefold increase in beneficiaries.
It’s not been a great year for highs – but anything stand out in terms of the support and help you were able to give?
It’s perhaps not an obvious one, but being able to support the people who we call ‘ongoing beneficiaries’ and ‘one off grant beneficiaries’, as opposed to the ‘emergency grant beneficiaries’ that 2020 has been most visibly about.
The trustees and I wanted to start supporting more people in work and offering professional skill based services, which we have and are doing, but when this all kicked off I worried that we wouldn’t raise enough to keep supporting our ongoing beneficiaries, who are amongst the most vulnerable cases.
We also provide grants to people who are struggling with significant hardship and changes in their life circumstances. These are often expensive cases to fund and we don’t do a lot of them typically. I had concerns we might not be able to provide many of these in 2020. But I was wrong and I’m pleased I was.
We had one case in particular which involved the entire family of an industry professional who lost their hospitality business as a result of the pandemic. This lead to severe mental health concerns for three people and the need for urgent assistance as the result of the worst of outcomes.
For me this was the worst of Covid-19, none of these people were ill with the virus, but the outcome was still life threatening and has probably changed their lives forever. Many people are talking about the rebuilding now, but the human cost of the pandemic will be felt for a generation to come and it’s important we don’t forget these people in our desire to move on from all of the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us.
That support is continuing – can you remind people of the new Drinks Community and what difference that could make ?
The Drinks Community is a project that started to be formed 18 months ago. When I took the role on I put it to the trustees that an industry charitable organisation should be about alleviating hardship and wellbeing of the workforce, but it should the that and more, specifically it should be about opportunity.
There are many people in the drinks and hospitality industries who could achieve more given the opportunity, so offering them services across skills, training, mentoring, networking and vocational grants felt like an important way to grow their opportunity and in turn grow the industry. This, as well as alleviating hardship and helping with wellbeing is all opportunity; the opportunity to be the best you can be.
The Drinks Community is the culmination of many months of hard work. It’s a platform to deliver services directly from The Drinks Trust, but also to allow the people in the industry to create opportunity for each other. It’s a space that will allow for the cross pollination of knowledge and ideas, where bar staff, drinks marketeers, brewers and everyone else can learn from each other and develop professionally.
We thought this was a much needed service in 2019 and now it’s happening it couldn’t come at a more important time.
If people are looking for support over the festive time you have a helpline that they can turn to?
Our grant application service closed on December 17 and reopens in the week commencing January 4. It was a decision I made as I think the whole team at The Drinks Trust have worked exceptionally hard this year, and we all deserve a rest, so that we can come back ready to carry on the work in the New Year.
What are you going to be doing for Christmas and New Year?
I suspect there will be a lot of sleep. That and the overeating and watching the kids open presents that I bought with myself partly in mind. Examples being Matchbox race track and Amazon Echo, which they enjoy quizzing on things such as a sloth’s swimming speed.
I also have a holiday booked in January, which I’m hoping is third time lucky.
What will you be eating and drinking on Christmas day?
Apart from the obvious, it’s the bacon on the turkey, bread sauce, red cabbage and vulgar quantities of mature cheese that stand out. On the drinks side, my partner’s father and I will no doubt engage in a wine-off. I’m quietly confident that the jeroboam of Graves 2009 will establish me as a clear winner of the 2020 competition (pride comes before the fall).
In the interest of professional balance, I will also be enjoying several days off alcohol with non-alcoholic cocktails, and other days sampling some saison beers and small batch spirits. It would be wrong of me to name brands and producers, as I love all our donors equally.
Any favourite Christmas films – or films you watch at Christmas time – and why?
I’m too often disappointed watching films I loved growing up, so I’ve found it’s best reserving them to nostalgia. I’ve become obsessed with box sets (who hasn’t?) and have consumed just about anything available, good and bad – highlights have to be Succession and The Queen’s Gambit.
If anyone has any suggestions please let me know, although I’m likely to sleep through most of them this year.
Favourite Christmas related songs?
I like a carol as much as the next agnostic.
Any family or festive traditions?
Any favourite guilty pleasure to drink?
Ready mixed margaritas from a well known American discount retailer, frozen, then blitzed in a nutri-bullet. This is the only thing the bullet is used for. I hope admitting this lessens the guilt.
What are you most looking forward to doing once Covid-19 is over?
I fear I may have become a bit a hermit, I’m at the age when men traditionally self-isolate in the shed, so this couldn’t have come at a worse time. I’m depending on my partner to slowly reintroduce me to society, although given her current thinking this will be anything but slow. We already appear to have all sorts of things booked from mid-2021 onwards, so I’m hoping it’s not too overwhelming.
Friend hugs will be nice though.
Where are you most looking forward to travelling to?
I’m not going to tell you where I’m going in January, partly because I don’t want to jinx it and partly as I fear risking the ire of your readers. But it has sun, and sand, and maybe looks tropical and on an unrelated matter if anyone knows any good rum distilleries in Antigua please let me know.
Restaurants and bars you want to go to with friends?
I’m looking forward to returning to East London and eating out as much as I can afford to, from the Lahore Kebab House to Brawn and supporting as many places as possible as we start to see new openings. I think we have a professional obligation to do so, not bad as professional obligations go.
Anything else to say?
Thank you to everyone who has donated to The Drinks Trust, not just money, but time, effort and in-kind; your good self and The Buyer team included.
And Happy Christmas everyone. Try to enjoy it, you deserve it, look after yourselves and let’s celebrate those we’ve lost, resilience, the people on the frontline, our colleagues who have had it the worst, amazing vaccine scientists and 2021.