Aberdeen bar and hotelier who went above and beyond during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown has been recognised for his efforts.
In common with almost every event in recent months, the awards were held virtually, but were a “great night in” for the winners and those nominated for the gongs.
Naturally, Stuart, 30, was thrilled with his award, but stressed the work that went on during lockdown must continue to deliver a wider and vitally important message for the north east hospitality industry.
— SIBERIA BAR & HOTEL (@SiberiaAberdeen) November 25, 2020
“The award was for a combination of things really,” said Stewart. “I have created a group called Aberdeen Hospitality Together which is an information-sharing body to assist in communication with local authority, government and licensees.
“As part of that group I am also working across a few other groups, such as the Scottish Hospitality Group and the Night-time Industries Association for Scotland. It’s just a good bit of recognition for all the work which is extra-curricular for our day-to-day work.
“It’s about giving people that appropriate voice as well. If you look at other businesses and associations they join together to amplify their voice so when I reference Aberdeen Hospitality Together I am speaking on behalf of 140 other businesses which are in our sector which allows us to solidify the points we want to get across and speak on behalf of others who, on their own, might not have as loud a voice otherwise.”
The initiatives focused on by the group, in particular dealing with the drastic effect the Covid-19 outbreak has had on businesses, have given licensees a bigger voice.
“This particular group was formed during the local lockdown we went through in August. We initially set up a standard that all our licensed premises would follow, a 10-step plan that went above and beyond the government guidelines and how we would operate to show that we were doing something proactive and different to any other city,” added Stuart.
“In the first instance it was to get the city open again and since then we have made positive representation across a number of issues – a failed campaign, essentially, to try and get an extension to Eat Out to Help Out for Aberdeen and then working across the national groups who are having conversations with the Scottish Government to filter in the difficulties that we are experiencing.
“We were very influential when the central belt was locked down as their funding was different to the funding that we received in Aberdeen so we made demonstration on that to say that we needed to see parity here as there was no difference in the value of the business. We were closed for the same length so we should receive the same amount of funding, so we were able to get backdated funding for that.
“On a weekly basis, I meet with the local authority, environmental health, the police and all the stakeholders who would be involved in this to ensure there isn’t a repeat of the first lockdown we went through so that is very useful as we can get together and any things that are forthcoming, we can discuss any potential issues and how we can tackle them and I can communicate that back to all the venues that I speak to.
“It’s a very fluid situation which we put together because it was a necessity and I think the work we are going to be doing over the next month and into January is going to be about solidifying and seeing what we can do to benefit the city in the future.”
Hard work continues
With the tiers system now in place, the hard work continues for Stuart as he attempts to find ways for businesses to operate under tough conditions with the hope that they survive.
“Nobody asks you to do that work that I have been doing – you do it out of the goodness of your heart. There was a need to set standards to try and promote Aberdeen as a safe place as in after the first lockdown rebuilding customer confidence,” Stuart continued.
“But in the longer term there is so much good that a group like this can do and there are a lot of positives that the hospitality sector bring to the economy and the ecosystem of a city centre and we are seeing that being challenged on a daily basis at the moment.
“We hope that this will be shortlived and the vaccine will be coming over the hill and we can get back to some sort of normality in the spring time. It will just be down to who survives the distance between now and then.
“The hope is that as many people as possible do, but given that things are changing on a weekly basis at the moment our main campaign on a Scottish level is a bit more of a levelling out of the tiers and levelling the playing field so that even level three areas have the potential to trade slightly longer.
“We have moved away from managing the risk around Covid, but we have brought about a rather damaging economic policy that does need to be constructively challenged.
“We are not here about saying who’s right and who’s wrong. It is about engaging in constructive conversation with the people who the policy directly impact and seeing from them first hand what can be done under the current restraints to improve things.”
Virtual red carpet
The 2020 Scottish Bar & Pub awards blazed a trail by going virtual for the first time in 25 years last Wednesday.
Hundreds of industry operators, staff and, for the first time, members of the public from Applecross to Dumfries tuned in live to gather on a virtual red carpet.
A record 9,000 people voted this year and host showbiz journalist Beverley Lyons presented a total of 20 awards with unsuspecting recipients surprised by a knock at the door and a socially distanced congratulations from one of the awards team.
Scotland’s longest-running industry “Oscars” are organised by publishers of DRAM and this one was determined to honour the fighting spirit and resilience of the people that make up Scotland’s hospitality industry during this heavy Covid weather as well as their all-round excellence like they usually do.