A charity boss has spoken of "horrendous" frustration and panic suffered by workers in the hospitality industry during the pandemic.

From a man with six pence left in the bank to another who couldn't afford to top up his phone, Chris Gardner said the hidden stories of the industry are "heart-breaking".

And the CEO of the Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society has warned the struggle is far from over.

She said: “People see their favourite places opening back up and they think that everything is back to normal, but this year is actually going to be even tougher for us.

“It’s important to remember that there are still restrictions in place even at level zero that will have affect businesses, whether that’s because of reduced footfall, staffing issues or trying to make up for last year's losses.

“Once the furlough stops we’re not really sure what will happen or how many places might have to close without that added support.

"We’ve got a long way to go before the hospitality industry is in the clear.”

This next hurdle comes after a long year of supporting hospitality industry workers all over Scotland who would otherwise have had nowhere to turn.

Having worked with the charity for 33 years, Chris says she has never experienced such an uncertain and tumultuous time.

She said: “I think last March just hit me right between the eyes.

"The week that Boris Johnson said ‘Don’t shut the pubs, but don’t go to the pubs’ was just horrendous because people had no idea what to do.

“One day I came in to the office and replied to 97 emails asking for advice individually.

"I’ll tell you, the keyboard was red hot.

“The frustration and the panic was awful. People just didn’t know what to do.”

Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society (also known as The Ben) is a 150-year-old charity working with individuals from every level of the hospitality and licensing industry.

In their work, they are dedicated to assessing each case individually and offer support far beyond handing out lump sums of cash.

The charity owns 18 houses in Pitlochry which are permanent homes for industry workers.

One of these houses is reserved for respite for full time carers who can visit for a much needed countryside break.

Glasgow Times:

Pictured: The Ben's Pitlochry housing

Over this year alone they have helped to repair the car of a restaurant worker who could not afford to travel to work, bought hairdressing tools for a bar worker who had retrained to find employment and paid phone bills for one worker who found himself on the verge of complete isolation.

Chris, who is the sole full time worker for the Glasgow-based company, said: “I speak to everyone who calls The Ben on an individual basis.

"I could tell you hundreds of heart-breaking stories about this year.

“I phoned a man who told me he only had six pence in the bank and he just burst into tears when I said that we were going to be giving him money.

“There were also multiple times where people didn’t even have money for food and were being told to get access to foodbanks.

"You don’t realise just how much people are struggling and the reality of the situation unless you’re dealing with that every day.

"You’re not hearing about this in the press.

“Just taking the time to speak to people and hear what they’re going through is so important because a lot of people just don’t know who to turn to right now.”

Glasgow Times:

Pictured:The voice at the end of the phone - Chris Gardner from The Ben

Although the fight to protect hospitality workers is far from over, Chris hopes that the easing of restrictions will mean the much needed return of charity events to support The Ben's tireless work. She said: “We’ve gone through half of the financial year with next to nothing in terms of fundraising.

“Usually we host the annual ‘Ben dinner’ which gives us enough money to help us keep doing what we do throughout the year, but because of covid that hasn’t happened.

“We do have our first big event coming up in August which is On Trade Scotland’s First Birthday Bash.

"They’re donating all proceeds to The Ben which is just fantastic.

“In October we’re hosting a ‘Ben week’ where we’re sending out fundraising packs and will be visiting the units who are getting involved.

“A lot of the people we’ve helped this year have said that when they get back to work they want to help raise money for us as a thank you which is so lovely.”

If  there has been one positive outcome for the hospitality and licensing trade this year, Chris hopes that it is the fact that more people than ever now know that they can connect The Ben for help.

She said: “We want people to know that we are still here to help because we know that times are tough.

"It’s a personal service so if you phone us up, your information’s not shared anywhere.

“We will help anybody within the trade. You don’t have to be a bartender or waitress.

"We work with folk all the way from a chambermaid right up to a licensee.

“I’m a human being. I don’t have airs and graces and I certainly don’t think I’m better than you. So if you phone me up to ask for help? That takes courage and I fully respect that.

“We will always be here to help.”

If you’re looking for support or would like to get involved with fundraising for The Ben, click here

For more information on the event hosted by On Trade Scotland, click here.