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At the start of 2014, all M&S stores were tasked with making Plan A more ‘local’ to really make a difference within our immediate communities. This is now happening across the UK with every store working with a local charity that matters to its employees and customers. Since taking on the role of store manager in Leeds last year, I have been engaging with customers to help make Leeds a better place to live, work and shop.

With the ultimate aim of making Plan A resonate with our staff and our local communities, I began exploring wider opportunities within the area and came across Child Friendly Leeds; a partnership between Leeds City Council and UNICEF to deliver the ‘Child Friendly Cities’ initiative, which aims to make the city centres across the UK a safe and welcoming place for children and young people to grow up in.

The initiative has several aims, including making Leeds a welcoming and safe place for young people, where they feel respected and fairly treated, and ensuring that there are job opportunities and work placements available for young people in the city.

As a key retailer in Leeds and with our long standing heritage in the city, I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to get involved in supporting the future generations and felt that there were specific areas of Child Friendly Leeds that I could really add value to with the support of my team:

• Youth employment is something that we already support with the “Make Your Mark” programme and, as a store, we have a target to get 50 new people through the work placement scheme this year. In addition, we have also been engaging with our retail contacts in the city to maximise employment opportunities and place young people who have gone through our work experience programme with permanent positions with a retailer in the city. In this way, we have still been able to support local youngsters who haven’t been able to secure a position at our store with a job in the city.

• We now have two ‘Child Friendly Ambassadors’ at our store who proactively speak to our customers and staff about how they can support the initiative. From offering our store as a venue for Child Friendly Leeds events to promoting adoption and fostering, they are the store’s dedicated advocates for the scheme. 

• Staff have recently selected Martin House Children’s Hospice as our Charity of the Year and will be raising funds for this local cause over the next 12 months. This fits nicely within the wider theme of what we are trying to achieve with young people via Child Friendly Leeds.

• We are also lucky enough to have the M&S Company Archive right here in Leeds. The Education and Outreach team that operates out of the Archive works very closely with local schools and young people to educate them about business, innovation and retail, so collaboratively as M&S, we are making an impact with young people in the city.

I genuinely believe that, as store manager of one of the largest retailers in the city, my store has the opportunity to make a real contribution to Child Friendly Leeds and our wider community. This is why we have made our 2014 Community Pledge to help make Leeds child friendly.