Rita Fox has worked in hospitality for half her life, since she was aged 15, doing bar work and waitressing for a number of pubs, restaurants and hotels. “Hospitality,” she says, “has always been good to me.”
Having completed a Masters in Classics in 2017, Rita returned to the hotel sector to find work and in 2019 she secured a position at Hampton by Hilton in Leeds, where she lives. “It was a new hotel opening in the city centre in November 2019,” she says, going on to explain that just a few months later, the pandemic hit. She was initially furloughed, but ended up losing her job in the summer of 2020.
Undeterred, she managed to secure herself work at a Leeds’ call centre, while also finding shifts here and there through Indeed Flex UK, a work-finder app. But as the country entered the final and long winter lockdown of 2021, she found herself living alone in her one-bedroom, housing association-owned apartment with no work prospects and her money running out.
Luck wasn’t on her side, either, as one after the other her cooker, washing machine and toaster all stopped working.
As the weeks went by, Rita remembers: “I felt as if I had no prospects and no future. I couldn’t get Universal Credit for three months after my last placement had finished, so I was in this survival situation. I was trapped in a loop-hole in the system, with my rent arrears rising.”
She continues: “It was terrifying. I was someone who had never had a backlog in rent. I had always saved and had been careful with money. The culture I grew up in was working class and I had seen the effects of living without any control of your finances. I had always believed there was something I could do about it, but this time I just couldn’t see a way out.”
Desperate, Rita started Googling to find out what grants or help there might be available for someone in her position, and that’s when she came across the Licensed Trade Charity.
“At first I wondered if it was legit, as I’d not heard of the charity before. I filled out the online form and then someone called me back and sent me the full application to complete. I didn’t hear anything again for two weeks when, I guess, they had been carrying out all the necessary checks to make sure everything I’d said was honest and truthful,” says Rita.
“When I received an email congratulating me on receiving my award, it was just amazing. The charity provided me with a new washing machine and a cooker, plus a voucher to buy some new clothes – and the charity helped clear some of the rent backlog.
“I cried for days with relief. Honestly, after all the worry and stress, watching my savings disappear and not being able to find work, I was being given a fresh start,” says Rita.
“Universal Credit also kicked in and it meant I was able to reset my life – it was like being given a blank slate.
“I can’t tell you how good it felt to buy myself a new pair of jeans and to be able to put on something that was clean and fitted me! After my cooker broke, I wasn’t eating properly and I lost so much weight. I’d been going to job interviews and taking any shifts I could get with hair bands and pins holding my clothes in, to make them fit,” says Rita.
“I can’t articulate how bad it was for those three months, when I had been unable to find any work and didn’t have an income. It was so hard. I went from working every hour I could, not having any social life and trying to hold things together, to having nothing. I was so lonely. I don’t have any family.”
The support from the Licensed Trade Charity changed everything for Rita – it was the light at the end of a long, dark and lonely tunnel.
Aged 30, she is now back studying and is due to graduate with her doctorate in 2023. She then plans to undertake a Research Fellowship at the University of York. And, of course, Rita continues to work part-time work in hospitality. She also mentors second year under-graduates, sharing, as much as anything, her life experiences and telling them that everyone can make a difference and find a better life. Just sometimes, she will agree, you need a helping hand and a boost – and this is when, for anyone employed or having been employed in the licensed hospitality sector, they can pick up the phone and seek help from the Licensed Trade Charity.