Liz Hogan: Our unique volunteer programme makes John Lewis a special place to work

10 Feb 2020 Voices

As it celebrates 20 years of the Golden Jubilee Trust Liz Hogan reflects on John Lewis' approach to employee volunteering.

There are many things that make the John Lewis Partnership a special place to work but one particular thing that stands out for me is the unique volunteering programme we’ve been running for the past 20 years and I’m lucky enough to be involved in.

The Golden Jubilee Trust was set-up in 2000 to honour the 50th anniversary signing of the John Lewis Partnership’s Second Trust Settlement. This was when our Founder John Spedan Lewis, transferred remaining shares and ultimate ownership into a Trust for the benefit of employees, known as partners. Providing community support and volunteering opportunities has always been an integral part of the John Lewis Partnership and it’s even written into our unique constitution, which contains principles and rules for how the business should run and behave in relation to partners, customers, suppliers, the environment and communities.

This year we’re celebrating 20 years of The Golden Jubilee Trust and during that time it has given practical help to over 900 national and local charities across the UK by placing our partners on secondments at a charity of their choice for up to six months, while still on full partnership pay and benefits. Over 980 partners have participated, equating to over 393,000 hours donated and representing a community value of over £25m. 

New skills, confidence and fresh insight

During the years, I’ve been able to work with and meet many partners who have gone on secondments and frequently they mention the same thing to me. That not only has the charity massively benefited from the secondment because of the much needed extra resource it has given them, but it has also benefited the individual too, providing them with new skills, confidence and fresh insight. 

One of the first partners to take part in The Golden Jubilee Trust was Heather, who now works as one of our personnel service centre advisers and was seconded to Hearing Dogs for the Deaf. Heather told me that she always felt like she wanted to help a charity local to her and this was the perfect opportunity to do that and a great way to also learn something new, without having to give up her career in the partnership. She’d always been fascinated by the work of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf and her six-month secondment involved working at their head office in their small fundraising team, helping to organise two events to celebrate the charity’s 20th anniversary - one for dog recipients and their families and the other for the general public. 

Another Partner was Kathryn who works as an administrator at our customer contact centre in Didsbury. Kathryn volunteered for Smart Works which provides high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need. Kathryn oversaw pop-up shops where clothing was sold that had been donated but was unsuitable for interviews.

Working closely with two charities 

Heather and Kathryn’s story are not unique and our partners are trusted with lots of responsibility and achieve great things when they are on secondment and I know 2020 will be just the same. To honour our special year, we have chosen two charities to work with more closely. Around 20 partners from all areas of the Partnership will be seconded for up to six months to FareShare and SeeAbility, to help these charities grow and develop. 

Partners will support food redistribution charity FareShare, to help improve their day-to-day operations to address food poverty. This builds on the support John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners gave last Christmas, giving over 1,500 people across the country, the opportunity to enjoy a community festive feast. Secondees at SeeAbility will help build, brand and market an employability toolkit for future employers which will help transform opportunities for people with learning disabilities, autism and sight loss to secure meaningful work.

The Samaritans have benefited from a similar set-up, where 25 of our Partners have supported the charity at various locations across the UK since 2017. This ranged from working in their head office recommending new retail approaches for online and in their charity shops, to developing a mental wellbeing guide for retail workers, to working in their fundraising shops across the country helping to re-merchandised shop floors.

For partners who aren’t able to participate in The Golden Jubilee Trust, we also provide other volunteering opportunities. For example, in 2019, partners based at our head office in London Victoria volunteered over 700 additional hours supporting local causes such as homeless services charity Centrepoint.

Our customers also help us decide which charities to fundraise for, through our Community Matters scheme. Running in Waitrose & Partners and John Lewis & Partners shops, they support local charities and organisations near to them. Customers nominate and vote using green tokens collected at the till points and this decides how donations are allocated. In 2018-19, £4.3m was donated via Community Matters.

Liz Hogan is partner and Golden Jubilee Trust manager for the John Lewis Partnership

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