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Lorraine Copes – Founder and CEO, Be Inclusive Hospitality
Social Entrepreneurship

Lorraine Copes – Founder and CEO, Be Inclusive Hospitality

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SPECIAL FEATURE FOR THE ‘MIDLANDS ENTREPRENEURS SHAPING THE FUTURE’ CAMPAIGN IN PARTNERSHIP WITH LLOYDS BANK

In an era when diversity and inclusivity are more important than ever, few individuals have impacted an entire industry as significantly as Lorraine Copes, the CEO and founder of Be Inclusive Hospitality.

 

With her unwavering commitment to breaking down barriers and fostering equality within the hospitality industry, Copes has emerged as a trailblazer, leading the way towards a more inclusive and welcoming future for all.

 

Lorraine’s journey began with a vision of a hospitality industry that transcends traditional boundaries and embraces people from all walks of life. For the past two decades, Lorraine has worked within the hospitality sector, on executive leadership boards for brands including Gordon Ramsay Restaurants, Wolslsey Hospitality Group (formerly Corbin & King), and Shake Shack.

 

Be Inclusive Hospitality was started to ignite conversations surrounding the problem of race equity and then to deliver initiatives to move the dial forward on this problem Lorraine had witnessed. Hospitality is super diverse in all of the lower-paid roles. Still, the more senior you become, that diverse team quickly disappears.

 

In 2022 Lorraine was named the GQ Food & Drink Innovator of the Year winner. She received a special award in the Code Hospitality 100 Most Influential Women in Hospitality list (and had been on the list for the past three years). Other accolades include Entrepreneur of the Year at the Precious Awards, and in 2023 she was named NatWest and Pioneers Post WISE100: Top Women in social enterprise across the UK. Be Inclusive Hospitality was recognised by NatWest’s SE100 last year as one of the UK’s most impressive social enterprises.

“In any decision-making room I have sat in, including events, awards and the supply chain, no one looks like me in any of those rooms.”

With a digital community of over 10,000, they have 500 members, including partners, mentors, and ambassadors. The organisation has delivered initiatives to support 2,050 POC employees and founders with grant funding, mentorship, scholarships, and events. In 2022 they launched their first awards in the UK recognising People of Colour and their cuisines, e.g. African Food and Caribbean Food Awards.

In the three years since its inception in 2020, the social enterprise has delivered educational workshops to over 1,000 hospitality leaders throughout the UK on race, inclusion and language and launched the Inside Hospitality Report in 2020, the only survey of its kind to examine the experiences of POC in hospitality. This year the survey captured the views and experiences of over 3,000 hospitality people.

 

Tell us about your childhood/teenage years and any experiences shaping your entrepreneurial journey.

I grew up in Ladywood and attended Lee Bank (Highgate) and Quinton. This massively shaped my outlook on life. At school, the teachers encouraged Black children into sports instead of academia (even when they were highly academic).  My peers were suspended from school for having lines in their hair because it was a Black style, yet my white peers could come to school with purple hair, which was acceptable.

 

Even though I witnessed things like this all the time, thankfully, I was in a highly diverse school, so we had each other, a community with shared experiences and a support network.

 

Fast forward to today, and two of the key pillars of my business are community and confronting inequalities, using both qualitative and quantitative data to use insights to inform action. Work I do exclusively within the hospitality, food and drink sectors, but the problems we are trying to address, are unfortunately mirrored in all parts of the country and sectors. However, my first encounter was with the school system.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced running your own business?

Starting a business amidst a global pandemic was tough, but it continues to be challenging. The economic climate is really harmful to the country and extremely tough for my industry. Scaling a business during a time when companies are growing in reluctance to spend money will always be a challenge we face. That’s business, though, and the creativity of business is what I love. So yes, some companies cannot invest as they typically would – how else can we add value, deliver our mission and drive change? The question I am forever asking myself is why despite these challenges, we are continuing to grow year after year.

 

What have been the highlights of your entrepreneurial journey so far?

There have been many highlights. One is being incredibly proud of the community I have built, which comprises individuals and businesses who care about race equity and are willing to take action to drive change. Our community is more than 500 people, including members, partners, ambassadors, partners and mentors. It is nice to be recognised for awards. Still, my why and my motivation is to change the industry for people of colour within the industry, so seeing the fruits bared from the work that we do, is a constant highlight. In five years, we will be a global brand, delivering social impact initiatives throughout the hospitality industry across the UK, Europe, America, the Caribbean and Africa.

 

If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?

No, I wouldn’t do it differently. I view every experience, good or bad, as a lesson. So with more lessons under my belt, I feel more equipped today than I did one day ago, one month ago, or one year ago to run and scale this business successfully.

 

The Importance of Mentoring

I have a few mentors in both official and unofficial capacities. I continue to benefit from having mentors and advisors, including knowledge transfer, accountability, objectivity, advice, cheerleading, and problem-solving.  I firmly believe that no one is an island, so in all areas of my life, I am always trying to build a circle of people who can help me be at my best – and equally, I play it forward and do the same for others.

 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to scale their business beyond six figures, what would it be?

Have a clear mission, vision and plan.

 

Advice to Start-Ups

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

 

My Favourite Holiday Destination

Zanzibar

 

Black-Owned Business I Love

Chishuru – Favourite restaurant in London owned by a beautiful and talented woman named Adejoké ‘Joké’ Bakare. It will open a permanent restaurant in central London in July – imagine the first Black-female-owned restaurant in central London!!!

I have eaten at her restaurant (formerly Brixton) more than a dozen times, and the food is phenomenal.

 

Favourite Thing to Do for Self-Care

Exercise regularly, and never sacrifice sleep. I am that person who is in bed from 8:30 pm-9 pm.

 

What are you currently reading/listening to or watching?

I am currently listening to ‘ Rest is Resistance’ by Tricia Hersey.

 

Find out more about Be Inclusive Hospitality on their website bihospitality.co.uk

 

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