Greenwich Pantry - Making Sure Their Employees Get A Fair Share Of The Dough

Greenwich Pantry is an independent food business with a cookery school that offers various classes to people of all ages and levels; from kids to adults, from beginners to advanced cooks. The school offers a wide range of events, including Bake-Off-style birthday parties, After-School classes for kids and teens, classes on preserving and fermenting foods and Couples Cooking Workshops. More recently, the Greenwich Cafe pivoted into operating cafes and currently run the Arts Café located in Thames-Side Studios. Thames-Side Studios is home to the largest collection of artist studios in the UK and this is a very exciting venture for Greenwich Pantry. 

We spoke with Lara Omojola, Founder and Operations and Marketing Director, about why being a Living Wage Employer is important to Greenwich Pantry. 

The biggest reason we pay people the Living Wage is because it reflects the quality of their work and their commitment to my business. Work is a huge part of our lives, and people sometimes spend more time at work than at home. I've always believed that you should be doing work that helps you develop as a person, and that the work you are doing should feel purposeful. That's why the time that you are giving that work should be remunerated properly. I have had personal experiences previously where I wasn't paid what I should have been paid, and that set me back in many ways. Ultimately, we pay the Living Wage because we really believe that people should not just live to work. The Living Wage is an essential movement for a modern society, and it reminds people that there is a group of people who still need a decent wage, and we can't do without it.

Employees at Greenwich Pantry

It's a big commitment for a small business to make. Thinking back to when we first started our Living Wage accreditation process, I remember wondering if the Living Wage Foundation would consider us a serious business. Thankfully they did and were very open to small organisations. 

Being a small business means you have to manage your funds and finances very carefully, and that has been hairy at times. In the beginning, we received some support from the Royal Borough of Greenwich as we were one of the first organisations in the area to commit to the London Living Wage. 

Many businesses that support the Living Wage are also very focused on well-being at work, offering other benefits like flexible working. From the start of the business, we offered flexible working hours and we found that helped bind people together and improved relationships. It means employees have to have consideration for each other's time and they understand they are all in the same situation.

I have people on my team who have been with us since we started Greenwich Pantry, and they’ve grown immensely in their roles. They have been able to raise their economic profile much more than if they hadn’t been earning the Living Wage and been provided that flexibility.

The hospitality industry is facing a big problem and a lot of it has to do with how people are being paid. We conduct work trials on a regular basis because it’s important for us to have people who are available to come to work at short notice. The outcome of the work trials is that you learn what’s driven people to come in and work for you. Most of the time, it’s because other businesses in the hospitality sector are offering lower wages. Wages have been quite low in hospitality for the last decade, but the current cost of living crisis is making it impossible for people to live on those wages. Hospitality workers are looking for employers who pay decent wages, so this helps us with recruitment. 

What people are paid has a huge impact on their work. If wages are too low they might have to work very long hours which can affect their mental health and make their home life unstable. People on my team have given me lots of insight into how they’ve been treated previously and the salaries they have been offered in the hospitality industry. This is an issue that the hospitality industry must face.

The cost of living crisis has had an immense impact and has really affected our business and its people. Both the employer and the employee are in a similar situation when it comes to the cost of living. However, businesses need to think about the long term. We’ve offered cash advances to our staff, and tried to be flexible. For us, it’s about returning to the principles of “we have a right to work, and a right to be valued in the workplace”. The cost of living crisis is something that can potentially cause a dent in those principles, but if you work together with mutual understanding, we can make decisions to mitigate the impact on our everyday life.

I think it would be good for the Government to take notice of organisations that are part of the London Living Wage movement and look into how they can support them going forward. It’s circular, if you don’t pay someone well, they feel undervalued, they get more stressed and they may need support from their community for illnesses and we all have to pay for that in tax money. I really think it’s important for our Government to support businesses like ours who are trying to do the right thing.

If you’re an employer considering getting accredited for the Living Wage, I would say do it. It doesn’t matter how small your business is, and if you’re struggling to do it, look at whether your Local Authority can support you. Think outside the box, think long term and imagine yourself in a situation where you’re struggling to make ends meet. Ultimately, accrediting with the Living Wage Foundation means you can align your businesses values and characteristics with its values.

Sometimes as the business grows, the demand from the business grows too and it can be challenged to put everything in its place financially. Growing businesses pay more VAT, more PAYE costs and this can be challenging. However none of this has stopped us from wanting to remain a Living Wage Employer. Even with the challenges, what keeps us going is the knowledge that what we’re doing is changing people’s lives, and that valuing them helps them remain committed to their work and as employers we will eventually reap the benefits of that.

Find out how to become an accredited Living Wage employer here.