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This year M&S stores across Essex worked as one to make a difference for colleagues, customers and their local communities, Sparking Something Good through fundraising and volunteering as part of M&S’s Plan A commitments. On September 22nd Essex Region was recognised for their Outstanding Contribution to Plan A at the annual Pride of M&S awards, Regional Plan A Champion David Berry explains what they did to scope the prestigious accolade….

Essex has had a fantastic year delivering its Plan A Strategy. We are still evolving as a region having been formed in 2014. In our first two years, I don’t think we were truly engaged with Plan A as a team and as a result, we couldn’t deliver our Plan A Strategy and there wasn’t a clear drive or vision to improve. Whilst we clearly had passionate colleagues in our stores we were not able to drive and help shape Plan A to truly make a difference.

Our first step to improve was agreeing our regional Plan A strategy - driving our People Plan A efforts, improving relationships with schools and driving recognition through engagement with the Pride of M&S awards.

We believed that through this vision we would harness the passion that was evident across our region, drive improvement in our Plan A credentials, have a positive effect on the engagement of our colleagues and deliver a benefit to the local communities in which we trade.

Through our initial get-up-and-go on our employability programme, Marks & Start, we started to feel the real passion and appetite for Plan A across our region. With our Charity partner Gingerbread we set the target of running programmes across every store on our region. It was the first example of where we had seen our Store Management Team show a united passion for one of our Plan A priorities – all of our Store Plan A champions were invited to a Marks & Start engagement day run by Gingerbread and it was clear from this day that with the Champions and Management teams working together and the programme giving colleagues the opportunity to support and develop these individuals, that we had unlocked a passion within our teams to go on to deliver great things.

From here the momentum really built and resulted in colleagues across the region becoming driven to go above and beyond with every community initiative – from our Macmillan Coffee Mornings (where we raised over £51,000) to our Charity of the Year fundraising (with stores such as Romford leading the way raising £5,500 for their local charity The Dream Factory). Colleagues started their own initiatives too, such as Jackie Norbury’s ‘Big Breakfast’ combining educational engagement and a healthy breakfast and as a region volunteering went from strength to strength – last year we delivered over 113 charity volunteer days. Without doubt our regional highlight was our store manager charity volunteer day which supported three charities – Tendring Hospice in Clacton, Welcome Centre in Ilford and the Paradise Wildlife Park.

Our plans continue to grow, driven by our business values (integrity, in-touch, inspiration and innovation). Our Plan A Store Champions come together annually to make sure they get the chance to input on the plan and have the right knowledge to move this forward. They are also connected on Yammer to share success and support each other.

On the 22nd September we were privileged to attend the Pride of M&S Awards 2016.  The evening was a fantastic celebration of the work that goes on around the business in making a difference for our customers.

We were honoured that the Essex region was recognised, and won an award for Outstanding Contribution to Plan A.  Here’s to an even better year next year!