Located on Euston Road, in central London, Friends House is the central office for Quakers in Britain and is a grade-II listed building, erected in 1926. Friends House (London) Hospitality Ltd was founded to provide fully managed facilities at Friends House and is the sole trading company of Quakers in Britain. The Company was founded in 2007. Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. All the profits are gift aided to the charity of Quakers in Britain.
Our vision is:
- to sustainably develop the resources of Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall to make them the ideal environment for the centrally managed work of Quakers in Britain;
- to make Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall the choice for all organisations or individuals seeking an ethical and green venue in London or Cumbria;
- to ensure that our employment practices and the service offered to customers reflect the Quaker values of integrity, equality, simplicity and sustainability;
- to reach out to Quakers and non-Quakers alike;
- to clearly communicate our plans to staff, customers and visitors.
Outline the company’s range of services and facilities supporting the operation including the number of staff.
At Friends House, the Company is in charge of the:
- Meeting and conferencing services (31 meeting rooms and 1,000 seater auditorium, The Light);
- Retail services (café, restaurant and bookshop).
- From 2015, the company was asked to manage Swarthmoor Hall, the cradle of Quakerism in Cumbria. Facilities at Swarthmoor Hall, include:
- The historic Hall;
- A conference room;
- Guest accommodation;
- Retail services (café, shop).
The Hospitality company has 62 staff in London and Ulverston.
Give details of the most significant developments that you have been involved in recently
- In 2015, the company introduced “the friendly way” concept. This set of values expresses the company’s commitments to the community, customers, suppliers and staff. It relies on four main values: heartfelt, loving, pioneering and responsible. The company’s partnership with Douglas House Project (DHP) is a direct testimony to these values. DHP helps people diagnosed with personality disorder transition from hospital or prison back into the community;
- In 2015, the company helped them to set up a social enterprise bakery and offered them work placements at Friends House. Through this life-changing experience they acquired new skills and qualifications. Now trading as “Chefs in the House”, they sell tray bakes and fudge in the Quaker Centre Café, located within Friends House;
- In October 2017, the company received the Support the Community award from the Sustainable Restaurant Association for its work with DHP. The company is currently working on extending the programme next year.
The company’s total income has constantly grown over the last few years. Starting at £1.3m, the company’s total income reached £3.7m in 2016.
Since 2009, the carbon footprint at Friends House has been reduced by 29 percent. To do this we used 100 percent renewable energy, LED lighting and a zero waste to landfill policy.
In the beginning of 2017, the Meetings Industry Association, the leading association for meetings and events professionals, awarded us an AIM Higher Silver accreditation. It is the first mark of excellence obtained by Friends House for its conferencing business.
On Friday 20 October, Friends House was presented with the Bronze award for “Best New or Refurbished Venue” at the London Venue Awards 2017. Entering for the first time, Friends House was one of seven venues to run for this award. It was also shortlisted for “Best London Event Venue – 500 to 1,000 attendees”.
Other significant developments include:
- Refurbishment and launch of The Light auditorium in 2014;
- Redevelopment of the garden in 2016 (reopened in May 2016);
- Completion of the venue’s full refurbishment in October 2016 (new first floor meeting rooms unveiled).
Describe the company’s customer base
- mainly Third sector (not-for-profit organisations, charities, government bodies, local authorities, NHS…).
- for the café/restaurant/bookshop:
- people travelling via Euston station;
- students from the neighbouring universities, including Birkbeck, as we host some of their courses here at Friends House;
- staff from universities and companies around, including UCL;
- Quakers, also known as Friends;
- vegetarian and vegan customers (most of the food in the cafe is vegetarian or vegan);
- customers looking for sustainable food.
For Swarthmoor Hall:
- business travellers (guest accommodation);
- hikers, cyclists (guest accommodation);
- tourists visiting the Lakes (guest accommodation and cafe);
- locals (café);
- Friends, Quakers and people interested in Quakerism (retreats and courses);
- local government bodies and authorities, organisations (conference room).
- In 2013, Friends House Restaurant won the “London Restaurant of the Year” award at the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA)’s awards. In 2015, the SRA also awarded the restaurant with Three Food Made Good Stars. The Restaurant achieved an overall score of 83% for its sustainability efforts and commitments.
What is your current assessment of the current marketplace and what major trends have you noticed recently within the sector and what do you believe have been the main drivers behind them?
Business levels indicate a strong growth but it’s a very competitive market where customers’ expectations are high. They are looking for good location, facilities and value for money. We have strong unique selling points such as cost, location and sustainable/ethical credentials. This helps us to stand out in comparison to more corporate venues.
What major trends have you noticed recently within the sector and what do you believe have been the main drivers behind them?
A major trend we have noticed is the demand for more sustainable and ethical practices in both the services provided and the companies who provide them. We attended the Sustainable Events Summit in 2017 and sustainability has definitely become a topical subject in the Hospitality industry. How can we provide hospitality more sustainably? How to maintain profitability in an eco-friendly business? These are the major questions we are trying to respond to at Friends House Hospitality.
These issues have arisen as the latest news about global warming are alarming. People have realised that we cannot delay any longer our interventions and green policies to counter the effect of global warming. Natural disasters and catastrophes have also, unfortunately, made the issue more real to people we think.
In terms of ethics in the Hospitality industry, there has been a general growing concern over salaries and social issues over the last few years. More and more people are struggling to make both ends meet. This led to question the system we live in. Is there a better and fairer way to do business? We have taken this concern into account, just as Quakers have done centuries ago, and this is why we pay staff above the real Living Wage. Quakers in Britain are the first major religious body to be a Pay Compare Mark employer. The Pay Compare Mark is awarded to employers who disclose the gap between their highest and lower paid workers on the Pay Compare website. A submission from Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) for Quakers in Britain, shows there are two pay scales, for those based in or outside London, both with a maximum of 1:4 ratio between the highest and lowest paid member of staff. This results in an overall ratio for BYM employees of 1:4.7 (one to four point seven). This covers staff (but not contract workers) in Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, Cumbria. Displaying our pay scales is important, all the more so because we are part of the Hospitality industry, where many workers are on very low pay.
Social concern has also led us to work with DHP and be inclusive of disenfranchised groups and communities. This is why offering opportunities to marginalised groups is important for us.
For the café and the restaurant, we definitely noticed a demand for organic, sustainable, ethical and locally-produced food and drinks. This is obviously linked to environmental issues and the need for people to know where their food comes from. In 2016, Friends House Restaurant maintained its Gold Food for Life Accreditation. Audited and assessed by the Soil Association, our Restaurant successfully responded to sustainable and qualitative criteria. Friends House was also one of the first venue to receive a “Good Chicken Award” and “Good Egg Award” from Compassion in World Farming. This ensures that the egg products and poultry we use in our catering were cage-free.
What are the key differentiators between your company and the competition?
We are ethical, fairly-traded and sustainable which is quite seldom in the Hospitality industry. We are guided by our Quaker values in everything we do. We are a performance driven and value led business. We are showing that a business can be sustainable and profitable. Profit does not always have to be made at the expense of people or the environment. This is what we call “the friendly way” of doing business.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing the company?
We are concerned about the possible effects of Brexit as many of our staff are EU nationals. Recruitment is becoming challenging in the current climate and we worry this could be worsened by the uncertainty over Brexit.
What are the main aims of the company for the future, both in the long-term and the short-term?
- To continue to be a venue of choice for the Third sector;
- To put faith back into business by exceeding customers’ expectations and offering a quality affordable service;
- To continue to reduce our impact on the environment;
- To offer our staff the best opportunities and help them develop to meet their full potential;
- To continue to grow our profit currently and make the highest contribution to date to the charity of Quakers in Britain in 2018, which means more than £817k.
Any additional information you wish to include?
Our figures show that 2018 will be the best year to date for the Company.