Nestled in the heart of London’s Docklands, the Good Hotel is easy to spot. A long, black shipping container with an AstroTurf roof, it stands out against the industrial expanse of Royal Victoria Docks.
This is no ordinary hotel. Late last year, the floating platform was transported by submersible barge over the North Sea from Amsterdam, where it had been launched as a 12-month pop-up. The hotel, which organizers describe as “a premium experience with a cause,” will stay in London for five years.
Inside, the Good Hotel is sleekly designed and comfortable, with stylish features, wooden floors and an emphasis on shared spaces and community. This is fitting, given that the hotel is a social enterprise that aims to help people out of long-term unemployment.
During its one year stint in the Netherlands, around 100 long-term unemployed people were given training in hospitality. They were given three-month contracts at the hotel, during which time they were assisted with applying for jobs in other organizations. Around 70 are still in full time employment.
The training program is broad-ranging: Not only are trainees briefed in all aspects of hotel work, but also more basic skills where necessary, be it English training, or learning how to open a bottle or wine or make a coffee. “It’s very focused on self-development,” says Marie-Julie Craeymeersch, the Good Hospitality Group’s marketing director. “Some people have completely lost all their confidence because they’ve been trying to get a job, been rejected so many times; they might come from difficult situations at home. Their confidence is nonexistent, so we help with that. It is remarkable what a difference it makes.”
In London, the hotel plans to take around 15 people every three months for a similar scheme, working with the local council in Newham.
Newham has long been one of the UK’s most deprived boroughs. In the late 19th century, the social reformer Charles Booth described Newham as “lowest class; vicious, semi-criminal,” identifying it as one of London’s worst areas. Following the destruction of the Docklands in the Second World War, the wider area was a wasteland until reconstruction started in earnest in the 1980s.
Despite successful efforts since then to encourage businesses to establish bases in the Docklands, Newham has remained high on various deprivation indices, with a vast gap between rich and poor. Until 2015, it was ranked as the second most deprived borough in England.
Things are improving: It is now ranked as 25th most deprived borough, a significant change in a short period of time. This is at least partly due to a new jobs scheme which actively involves local employers in recruiting and hiring Newham residents – unlike a traditional work scheme, which focuses on applicants. The 2012 Olympics, which took place predominantly in Newham and saw regeneration projects and strong local employment quotas, may also have helped.
This emphasis on tackling unemployment makes Newham the ideal setting for the Good Hotel. This was a happy accident; the Royal Victoria Docks were originally chosen because of the site’s proximity to a lock. Elsewhere on the Thames, the tide levels change so significantly that it would have been unviable for the hotel to function.
In conjunction with the council, Good Hotel management is in the process of recruiting long-term unemployed people for the first training program. “We don’t simply look at the resume and experience, like a regular hotel,” says Craeymeersch. “We look at people: We don’t just say what you are able to do; we would ask for, example, how they would react to a certain situation or how they think about things.”
Building on Amsterdam success
In the dining area, large photos display the smiling faces of graduates of the Amsterdam training scheme: the young mother who struggled to get back into work after pregnancy; the man who couldn’t find a job after caring for his dying mother. The Good Hotel aims to give people like this a second chance.
London is not the final stop. After five years here, the hotel will float on to another, as yet unconfirmed, destination. In the meantime, the Good Hospitality Group, founded in 2012 by Dutch entrepreneur Marten Dresen, plans to open a 30-room hotel in Guatemala, where Dresen was inspired to start the company. It aims to open eight further hotels around the world by 2020.
The hotel runs as a social enterprise, meaning that all its profits are reinvested back into the project. It has some parallels with Fifteen, a restaurant run by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver that gives training to unemployed young people.
In Amsterdam, the hotel was so successful that the group is now looking for a permanent home to continue the training program. They would like to see other organizations follow their model.
“We try to be an example for other hotels, and to show that social business can be combined with a premium experience,” says Craeymeersch. “And when our trainees find jobs elsewhere? That’s the biggest compliment we can get.”