Living our values A review of the activities of the Quiet Company in 2020

"Be patterns, be examples"

George Fox in Quaker faith & practice

[Image: flowers at Swarthmoor Hall]

A word of introduction by Paul Henderson-Grey, CEO of the Quiet Company

Paul has recorded a message which you can watch below.

[Image: portrait of Paul Henderson-Grey at Friends House]

A message from Val Brittin, Clerk to the Board of Directors

As my time as Clerk to the board of the Quiet Company comes to an end, I would like to pay tribute to all the staff who have contributed to the success of the company. Staff have ensured its financial success and made our Quaker values alive at both Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall by providing a warm, hospitable and ethical service.

This year has been unprecedented. Throughout the period, staff have faced challenges: some were furloughed while others were part of a much reduced team, maintaining both sites and preparing for reopening.

When restrictions were lifted, our team ensured people could meet at Friends House and enjoy self-catering guest accommodation at Swarthmoor Hall in a covid-safe environment.

I would like to thank those members of staff who have decided to take voluntary redundancy. I know that this has not been an easy decision to take. I wish them all the very best in the next steps they will take.

As we move forward with a smaller team, there will inevitably be challenges. However, I have great confidence in the proven dedication and commitment of this group of people.

On a personal note, I have very much enjoyed my seven years on the board. I will follow with great interest the activity and developments at both Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall in the future.

[Image: Val Brittin in her garden]

Being an ethical employer during the pandemic

Rooting our decisions in Quaker values

Our values informed our choices and enabled us to take the right decisions during the pandemic. We were truthful, transparent, and honest to our staff, customers and Friends.

[Image: view of the Friends House garden from the Euston Road entrance]

Paying staff fairly

We topped-up the salaries of furloughed staff on the lowest grades by 20%, so that no one was negatively impacted financially.

[Image: the Swarthmoor Hall gate and old hall in the background]

Voluntary redundancy scheme

We proposed a voluntary redundancy scheme to staff offering substantially more than the statutory minimum.

[Image: banner on the Friends House facade with the words "a place to meet" written on it]

Supporting staff and their mental health

Staff had the opportunity to take resilience and mindfulness online trainings.

[Image: double room in the Wansfell suite at Swarthmoor Hall]

Maintaining relationships with staff

We set up a Zoom chat for furloughed and non-furloughed staff to talk about everything (but work!).

[Image: the Seed Kitchen Chef putting the final touch to a dish of potato skins]

Saying thank you to staff

We would like to thank our staff, past and present. Their commitment to the company has been remarkable throughout this difficult period.

We are grateful to the members of staff who took a voluntary redundancy. This will allow us to reduce our size, adapt, and get through the storm.

Thank you to the remaining members of staff. They helped us adapt to the many restrictions in place.

Working at Friends House: in their own words

Elizabeth Sowah and Agata Galik have taken a voluntary redundancy. They tell us about their experience working at Friends House.

Elizabeth Sowah, Friends House Chef

How many years have you worked at Friends House?

I have worked at Friends House for 31 years and a few months.

What did you enjoy the most about working at Friends House?

Being creative in my cooking and baking. I loved making vegan and vegetarian food, rock cakes, desserts and speciality cakes. I was making everything from scratch.

What was your funniest moment?

My funniest moment would have to be what happened during a Yearly Meeting afternoon session in the 90s. The taps suddenly stopped running in Friends House and we had to go get water from the Quaker International Centre!

What was your most memorable moment?

When l first started, l had a one-week induction course, where the General Secretaries, as they were called back then (managers now), from various departments told us about the Quakers, their ethics, values, and respect for each other.

How would you describe your colleagues?

We worked like a family. We had different opinions on the way to do things sometimes but we managed to overcome our differences without yelling at each other. We always worked things out through calm communication and respected each other's viewpoints.

[Image: Elizabeth Sowah in the former Friends House restaurant, holding a tray of homemade Baklava for a Greek-themed lunch]

Agata Galik, Quaker Centre Café Supervisor

How many years have you worked at Friends House?

I have worked at Friends House for five and a half years.

What did you enjoy the most about working at Friends House?

I enjoyed the opportunity to work in different roles. This enabled me to gain more knowledge of the hospitality industry and get more skills along the way. I did a few secondment jobs too, which helped me expand my knowledge in completely different fields.

What were your most memorable moments?

One of the things I will miss terribly will be not being involved in the big meetings me and my team were handling. There were days when we had to efficiently and quickly serve hundreds of people for hours. Sometimes it was really hard but the satisfaction I had at the end of my shifts and the fantastic feedback from customers made it all worth it.

Friends House is one of those places in London where you can see a wide range of people, whether attending meetings or just spending some times with their friends in our café. I was lucky enough to meet and have a chat with a famous scientist whose work I really respect.

How would you describe your colleagues?

Friends House gave me the possibility to meet and befriend so many amazing people. Regardless of our cultural or other differences, we were always able to find a way to understand and respect each other.

[Image: portrait of Agata Galik]

Adapting to new ways of working

Communicating with our staff during the pandemic

The pandemic has completely changed our ways of working. For furloughed staff, it also meant not working for a very long period of time. It was important for us to maintain a bond and support all staff members.

Nicola Purdy, Head of Service Delivery, on new ways of communicating with staff during the pandemic:

In the first week of the first lockdown, we decided that we needed to make communication a priority. However, we know that phone calls are not for everyone so every manager spoke to their team members to ask what would work best for them, what frequency (if any) of calls they wanted. Some wanted to speak to us weekly, others monthly, some preferred Zoom, some preferred WhatsApp.

We also set up a weekly coffee and chat call for everyone to join if they wanted to and even did some online quiz nights. Without the usual conversations about delegate numbers and rotas, we got to know much more about each other than ever before.

I believe that when we are able to work together again, we will have a much closer and stronger team because of this.

[Image: portrait of Nicola Purdy at Friends House]

Covid-secure accreditations

Staff worked hard to get Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall ready for reopening. Both sites received covid-secure hygiene accreditations from two leading bodies in the events and hospitality industry:

  • The Meetings Industry Association delivered the AIM secure accreditation to Friends House.
  • Visit England delivered the "We're Good To Go" accreditation to Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall.

[Image: zoom on the hand of a cleaner cleaning a surface with the AIM Secure and "We're Good To Go" logos as overlays]

COVID-19 resource centre

We set up our COVID-19 resource centre on the Friends House website to inform customers and Friends about all our covid-secure guidelines. We update it regularly.

[Image: screenshot of the COVID-19 resource centre page on the Friends House website]

Flexible cancellations

Our Sales and events team offered flexible cancellations to event organisers, who could also postponed their events to a later date.

[Image: hand holding a microphone in the Sarah Fell meeting room]

How did we do this year: a few facts and figures

It has been a very turbulent time for the operations at Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, but we have adapted our services, continued to sell books, coffee, meeting rooms and accommodation.

Swarthmoor Hall

We turned Swarthmoor Hall into self-catered accommodation which involved making all rooms covid-safe and cleaning the whole site. We cleared three months’ worth of spiders and cobwebs!

We have had 33 self-catering bookings since reopening in August. Guests were able to book their stays on Cottages.com.

[Image: inside the old hall at Swarthmoor Hall]

We received some great feedback from guests:

"The Wansfell suite was brilliant and completely unique, in having accommodation for 6 people with 4 bathrooms! It made it so much more comfortable without having to timetable everyone through the shower. Location is also brilliant. Ulverston has everything you need just 5 mins drive from the cottage, yet it feels very rural and peaceful."

[Image: the Wansfell suite living room at Swarthmoor Hall]

Tamsin Miller, Reservations & Administration Coordinator at Swarthmoor Hall, on reopening:

We transformed Swarthmoor Hall into self-catering holiday units. This involved not only changing and adapting the accommodation but also the way I worked. I took on different types of tasks due to some staff being on furlough. I worked remotely with regard to administration and finance and also worked on-site, cleaning between guest stays. I have missed seeing the rest of my colleagues but the work has kept me focused. It has shown me that we were able to adapt quickly in order to welcome people back in the peaceful environment of Swarthmoor Hall.

[Image: a double room in the Wansfell suite]

Friends House

After many weeks preparing the building to be as safe as possible, we reopened the venue on the 1st of September.

We checked the temperature of every staff member upon arrival in the building.

[Image: Paul Henderson-Grey being temperature checked]

We successfully held 49 events since reopening. These events received excellent feedback:

"Our event was organised extremely well and ample measures were taken to make sure that all delegates felt safe and welcome. The rooms were set out with plenty of space for social distancing and hand sanitiser stations were readily available. The staff were on hand to assist with anything and the day ran very smoothly. Looking forward to hosting many more events here in the future."

Anu Chandy (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)

We provided delegates with covid-safe catering stations, including bento boxes made of compostable cardboard.

[Image: catering bento boxes]

On 30 September, we took part in #WeMakeEvents, a day of global action to help raise awareness and support for the events industry. We lit the facade of Friends House in red for the occasion.

[Image: the facade of Friends House lit in red]

In mid-September, we also launch the new Friends House website.

[Image: the homepage of the Friends House website]

Quaker Centre Bookshop and Café

We refurbished the Quaker Centre Bookshop and Café during the summer, reopening in September at the same time as Friends House.

In September and October, the café sold 3,000+ items.

We got creative and came up with a seasonal drinks menu, including pumpkin spiced latte and salted caramel hot chocolate.

[Image: the newly refurbished Quaker Centre Café]

Between April and September, we sold 1,221 books on our online shop.

We sent books over to Canada, China, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Finland and many other countries.

[Image: the children's books section of the Quaker Centre Bookshop. The display tree was made by a team member using recycled materials.]

The road to recovery

We need to diversify and reinvent ourselves in order to get through the storm. We are exploring the following options for the future.


We need to review and remodel our current service offer and resourcing to make them more resilient in a post-covid world.


  • We will review our terms and conditions and offer more flexibility to our customers.
  • The Sales and events team at Friends House has just launched the "Peace Of Mind" promise, an offer enabling cancellations at shorter notices for events taking place between January and March 2021.

[Image: hands holding The Light auditorium brochure]


We need to communicate with our customers and Friends to show them how our ethical brand will help us build back better.

  • We will communicate with Friends and stakeholders via our new Quiet Company website where our strategies and policies will all be available.
  • We will fully integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals to our recovery strategy.

[Image: screenshot of the Quiet Company website to be launched in January]


We need to expand our service offer and bring our wealth of experience to others, talents and skills included.


  • We will explore new avenues of revenue at Friends House. We think filming is one of them. We also intend to open up to new customers, when restrictions are lifted.
  • We have successfully run Quaker buildings in London and Cumbria. Our wealth of experience could lead to offer consultancy services to other value or faith-led businesses.

[Image: a guest room at Swarthmoor Hall]

Looking ahead

Matt Baker, new Clerk to the Board of Directors

With 2020 behind us, we turn our attention to the new year and the potential it holds. We go into January with a smaller team, but just as focused on the things that matter.

Our purpose remains unchanged: we support the work of Quakers in Britain. We do this through the way we work; every interaction with a customer, with a supplier or between colleagues contributes a little to the way we see each other, and the way the world sees Quakers. We do this through the funds we raise for Quaker work, in the UK and abroad. And we do this through our custody of Friends House and Swarthmoor Hall, maintaining the fabric and the spirit of both buildings. This much has not changed a bit.

But the way we achieve these things can evolve – we have grown as a business over the last 12 years, welcomed new people to the fold, and refined our service offering. Our resilience saw us through a challenging year, and we will keep developing that strength. We now have the chance to reengage with our customers, to seek out new opportunities, and to continue the work of building a company that does good. I do not think I will forget 2020 in a hurry, and I suspect that is true for you, too. But that is just one year in our shared history, one to keep in mind as we review our position. And now, we start the next chapter.

Concluding the 2020 review