Dr Lynsey Hollywood: ‘Regenerative hospitality’ and driving change through food

Ulster University’s Food and Drink Business Development Centre manager on promoting a mutually beneficial relationship between restaurants and their surroundings

Dr Lynsey Hollywood from Ulster University's Food and Drink Business Development Centre.
Dr Lynsey Hollywood from Ulster University's Food and Drink Business Development Centre.

Dr Lynsey Hollywood is a key figure in Ulster University’s food and drink programmes.

She is leading a movement known as ‘regenerative hospitality’, a future-shaping concept that promotes a mutually beneficial relationship between restaurants and their surroundings.

As the manager of the Food and Drink Business Development Centre and course director of the MSc food Ddsign and innovation programme at Ulster University Business School, Dr Lynsey Hollywood is committed to educating future hospitality leaders and developing better industry practices.

It’s a role that connects her closely with the university’s Academy Restaurant that harnesses that very concept.

The Academy is a practical learning space for students and supports local artisans and the community, as well as being a standalone restaurant, but: “It is more than a restaurant; it’s an immersive learning experience for students,” Lynsey begins, noting that it was the first restaurant in the UK and Ireland to be certified with Green Key — a title bestowed to those with the highest sustainability practices.

“That took a lot of work and is an exceptional achievement but alongside that we have a lot more going on at the Academy.

“The labs are used for teaching, other facilities can be used by local food businesses.

“It’s also located within an under-developed part of town that needed regeneration and this is the kind of regeneration we want to see in the future of hospitality. An establishment that makes change beyond the actual restaurant.

“We have an opportunity in this sector to create something more holistic and that’s what I want to explore further through what we call regenerative hospitality.”

Lynsey’s passion for thinking outside the box when it comes to food and drink began at Wellington College, Belfast where she found a love for home economics. This was followed by a BSc in consumer studies.

“During that degree I earned a scholarship with NIFDA, which sent me to the States to work with a company called Wawa and study at a centre of excellence for food marketing in Philadelphia - St Joseph’s University. That really ignited my passion for food,” she says.

“There was a whole sense of food as a driver for place and change at Wawa and that has always stayed with me. Their team-focused ethos inspired me.”

Her final year project on food retailing and local models then fuelled her interest in research, another big part of her role today.

“My supervisor recommended I pursue a PhD next, and that’s when I realised research was my true passion,” she says.

Though she enjoys teaching—having lectured on the BSc consumer studies and food innovation programmes—research remains her primary love.

“Teaching research-informed courses has been very fulfilling,” she adds.

“My role as manager of the Food and Drink Business Development Centre was set up in 2018 to support the local food and drinks industry.

“It harnesses all the research we do on food and drink. That could be food innovation to consumer insight and food safety.

“The centre’s creation came about from a need to harness and use that research for impact in the industry.”

Lynsey’s concept of regenerative hospitality led to the convening of a summit in Transylvania, Romania, last month.

“We had been engaging with regeneration specialists, internationally, and we believed this approach could help NI identify and realise its potential and help secure its position as a world-leading and food, drink and hospitality destination,” she says.

Ten students from three different UU BSc courses were funded to participate in the inaugural Regenerative Hospitality Summit where attendees explored how to harmonise the activities of hospitality, food and drink organisations, with the natural ecosystems, communities and places of which they are a part, to help them thrive.

“Regenerative hospitality reaches far beyond established commitments to sustainability.

“It puts the active revival of biodiversity, the empowerment of under-represented people, the protection of distinctive cultures and the vitality of rural and urban locations at its core,” Lynsey says.

It is an ethos of its time, which has the potential to provide food, drink and hospitality brands with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, in ways that resonate with employees, guests and clients.

“We have an opportunity to build something and the summit allowed us to convene a conversation with key thought leaders in the area about that.”

Among the delegates were respected hospitality lecturer Gavin Urie, FoodNI CEO Michele Shirlow, and acclaimed chef Sky Gyngell.

They collectively praised the event for inspiring the future of the industry.

Lynsey, her peers and students strive to take that inspiration further.

“I think now it’s about proposing next level initiatives including something like a year of regenerative food, drink and hospitality and really identifying collaboration projects on regenerative principles while training our future hospitality professionals to really embrace that thinking.

“My goal has always been to see the potential of the places where businesses are situated and to get hospitality professionals involved in this process,” she adds.

“I have a strong sense of place here in Northern Ireland, and we have quality products.

“Food can be a powerful driver of change and innovation.

“It’s about how we think collectively and really use our ecosystem through regenerative hospitality,” she concludes.