HIT Scotland chief upbeat as charity marks its 30th anniversary

David Cochrane

By Dave Hunter


DAVID Cochrane MBE, the head of industry charity Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland is – it has to be said – a spectacularly upbeat person. 

Speaking to SLTN ahead of HIT’s Emerging Talent Conference last month Cochrane was on fine form – reflecting on his two decades at the helm of the organisation as well as the charity’s 30 years of helping hospitality industry professionals to develop their skills and careers. 

With 2024 marking HIT’s 30th anniversary, Cochrane is sifting through pictures taken at HIT events through the years when SLTN arrives. The charity will be publishing a commemorative book later in the year to celebrate its three decades. 

He says, looking back, there have been ‘an immense load of proud moments’. 

“I love the fact that there’s so many pictures of people smiling and having a good time,” he said. 

This is shaping up to be a busy year for HIT Scotland. To mark its 30 years in operation, the charity will be hosting 30 events throughout the year. That’s in addition to organising the scholarships that are handed out every year at the Emerging Talent Conference. This year, the organisation reached its 7000th scholarship, with 319 scholarships handed out in Glasgow in February. 

Graeme Gibson scholar Katie Booth with David Cochrane

Recipients covered a broad age range as well as a variety of industry sectors, with the subjects split into three areas: business, operational and ‘inspirational empowerment’. 

Applications open in September each year and close in November, with David and a small panel of experts sifting the entries and then interviewing applicants before the scholarships are awarded at the Emerging Talent Conference in February. 

The scholarships themselves are hugely varied, taking place at locations as disparate as London, Lausanne and Ithaca, US, with content tailored to the individual applicant. 

“We’re doing some unique things,” said David. 

“Someone was looking at brand repositioning, so setting them up with a Formula 1 team to look at a new team, how they put a new team together and how they position themselves, branding-wise, in the world.

“We’ve got some chef stuff, in a very specialised area, going to Sweden to (work on) chef skills. We’ve got a wine guy who just absolutely loves French wines, so we’ve got a very special vineyard set up in the south of France for this person. 

“Hopefully it’s really motivating and enjoyable for the individuals, but they’ll bring it back and they’ll enhance the business where they are.”

While these scholarships can often be once-in-a-lifetime experiences for the recipients, David was keen to point out that a lot of the time their most important function is to simply build the scholar’s self confidence. 

“A lot of it is just giving people the confidence that they’re actually very good at what they do,” he said. 

“They sometimes need to go away, see what else is out there and realise that they’re very good so that they bring it back and grow in the role.”

While the organisation has always been industry-wide, David said it wasn’t until the pandemic that applications started to come from a broader range of sectors, from hotel management to pub and bar workers. 

He explained: “Ironically, our biggest breakthrough was because of Covid. 

“During lockdown we couldn’t do any live events, we couldn’t do any live scholarships, so we budgeted for 1000 online scholarships and leadership management and supervisory skills and we had 2088 applications. 

“We couldn’t turn down almost 50% in a pandemic, so we pretty much put everybody through. We took on 28 online trainers to physically look after these 80 cohorts of 25 people. It was massive.

“And to prove it wasn’t just a one-off with Covid we did it again in 2022 and had 1600 people online again. 

“On one hand it proved that online worked, but also – particularly in the first year – we mixed up the cohort so we had licensed trade, we had visitor attractions, we had caravan parks, we had casinos, we had guest houses and hotels. And actually I think that slightly broke the mould. We noticed with the applications since then that there’s a lot more scholarship applications from across the sector.”

Funding for the scholarships comes from a variety of industry backers, as well as via fundraising events and dinners throughout the year. 

In 2022 David led a cohort of hospitality professionals on a fundraising hike up Mount Kilimanjaro with the goal of raising £100,000. 

Last year, HIT trustee – and Crerar Hotels chairman – Chris Wayne-Wills completed a similarly gruelling 450-mile cycle around Scotland in aid of the charity. 

Neither of those activities, we’d suggest, were likely to have been laugh-a-minute, but when asked if he’d ever consider trekking Kilimanjaro again, David answered with his characteristic good cheer. 

“It’s funny. If I was asked and I could do it, I would love to do that,” he said. 

“None of us, I would suggest, are natural mountaineers. I don’t bounce out of bed on a Sunday and think ‘let’s go and bag a Munro’. 

“But when you are out and there’s a collection of lovely people that you spend a lot of time with, there’s just that sort of team spirit, and achieving something that in our normal lives we would never do.”