Oli Coles was named to the Queen's Birthday Honours list to receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) for his services to the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic as the founder of the not-for-profit initiative Hospitality for Heroes.
He said: "I had to do a double take. I had just finished a morning swim and walking to my car I checked my emails on my phone to see one from the Cabinet Office, with the opening line 'The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you…'
"It was quite something and all a bit surreal. The letter went on to explain that due to Covid-19 the Queen's Honours list had not only been postponed, but that Her Majesty was also recognising an extra 450 people across the country for their community efforts during lockdown and beyond.
"I feel truly honoured and importantly feel that many others are equally as deserving of this medal, in particular Amelia Wix who came on board at Hospitality for Heroes early on, brought in a tremendous amount of funding and handled the purchase and distribution of all produce.
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He started the initiative when he was in the midst of launching OtherClub, and decided to put his business on hold. He prioritised protecting the hospitality industry and feeding the NHS by launching the not-for-profit initiative from his Chipping Norton cottage, Hospitality for Heroes, providing restaurant-quality, healthy meals for the NHS.
Whilst in lockdown in his Chipping Norton cottage, Oli kick-started Hospitality for Heroes by a simple Instagram “nominate” challenge whereby chefs challenge one another to share a recipe to encourage creative and healthy cooking at home.
Oli said: "I wanted to create a not-for-profit initiative that could keep London’s finest independent and furloughed chefs at work, support local suppliers, boost morale whilst ensuring our NHS heroes are well fed on a daily basis.”
Top chefs preparing daily meals from nine restaurants include Sally Abe, head chef of London’s only Michelin starred pub, The Harwood Arms; Matt Abe, chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay; Rose Ashby, head chef of Spring; Alex Head, head chef of Social Pantry and Ollie Templeton and Mark Tittiet, head chefs of Carousel to name a few. Other notable chefs involved in the campaign include Marcus Wareing, Adam Handling, Anna Haugh, Tom Griffiths and Jeremy Chan.
Oli Coles added: “This initiative and its organic growth has demonstrated the productive power of social media and the positive impact and strength the hospitality industry has when it is united.
"We’re looking to possibly set up outside of London, regionally where there is definitely a need. The long term plan for Hospitality for Heroes, which is now a registered community interest company, is to always provide those in need with quality dishes. And the restaurants we’re working with have already said they’re really keen to keep this going even after the current crisis.”
The inspiration to launch Hospitality for Heroes came after Oli recognised a need to help frontline workers and the hospitality industry.
He added: "The introduction of the furlough scheme meant that top chefs were being paid and had time on their hands. Local produce suppliers were suddenly out of places to sell their produce to. Marrying all of these together I saw an opportunity, albeit a challenging one and so set out to think about how best to raise money.
"Using my digital marketing experience we started an instagram 'nominate' challenge which saw chefs and indeed people at home sharing healthy recipes, nominating others to do the same and ultimately driving people to our website where we accepted donations. It snowballed from there. From our team’s efforts we were able to pump £150,000 into the hospitality supplier industry and provide over 80,000 meals to multiple hospitals.
"Half way through our campaign, a head nurse contacted me through our Instagram account asking if we could do something extra special for her amazing team of 30 nurses on International Nurses Day.
"Food was the obvious answer, so we did that, but we thought how nice it would be to get a number of famous faces together to say thanks to them on a special day. So we set about organising a surprise concert with the support of Chloe Delevingne which we streamed into multiple hospitals across the country on International Nurses Day.
"The concert was hosted by Laura Whitmore and included performances from Mel C, James Blunt, Clean Bandit, Anne Marie, Zara Larsson, Jack Savoretti and Elderbrook. It was great to be able to do something a little different for our heroes."