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The Buddy Network is an employee-led group, set up to give those of us managing health conditions alongside our work the opportunity to share our journeys and support each other’s wellbeing.

This is done primarily through our Buddy Network Yammer group and face to face ‘Coffee and Chats’, which we’ve hosted in all our London offices and our HR Shared Service Centre in Manchester. We recently tried our first conference call, as over half of our 160 members are based in stores, which was a great success. It’s an inclusive group so anyone is welcome, whether you’re dealing with a mental or physical health condition, are a line manager, a carer or just interested in wellbeing in general.

I co-founded The Buddy Network with Lorna 18 months ago, who like me is living and working with a health condition. The idea grew from the coffee and chat that Lorna and I had every six weeks or so to support each other.  After six months of meeting up, we decided to see if we could grow the concept to others in the business like ourselves.

We contacted Beth Ryder, the Wellbeing Manager in HR, for her help in starting the network. Lorna and I decided to stick with the Buddy concept. We designed posters to advertise the Yammer group and our ‘Coffees and Chats’ which we displayed throughout our local offices, as well as on our employee intranet site. The word started to spread.

Last September we were nominated for the Pride of M&S Awards which led to a series of meetings with the senior team to discuss how we can best support colleagues throughout M&S, including influencing our business where necessary. We took part in M&S’ Diversity and Inclusion Summit in September - this has led to monthly meetings supporting the business to affect change and sharing best practice between the five employee led networks -  LGBT@M&S, BAME@M&S, Gender Equality@M&S, ParentsNet and The Buddy Network. We’ve also enjoyed engaging outside of M&S, attending events around Disability in the Workplace – for example those run by Purple Space.

Our next steps are to make the Buddy Network part of the wellbeing landscape, available to every employee. That means communicating to every site and store in the business. And we’ll continue to simplify the process for affected employees and line managers to easily locate the resources available to support them in their working life. Our mission is simple – we want to encourage colleagues to not just to be a colleague – but to be a buddy.