Retail Trust development director Michael Green tells us about its new initiatives for 2015, the challenges of relaying the charity’s message to a wider audience and getting to grips with social media.
Having spent 20 years as senior estates and store development manager at Marks & Spencer and a further 11 as chief executive of the British Council of Shopping Centres, last November Michael Green embarked on a fresh challenge with charity Retail Trust in the newly created role of development director. He is tapping into his property contacts to widen the charity’s reach, establishing projects to help young people find employment and raising much needed funds, with the final total for 2014 set to beat the £11.8m raised in 2013.
What has been your priority since joining Retail Trust?
There are 4.5 million people working in retail in the UK - in retail itself, property development, finance, the list goes on. So as a charity we need to widen our reach to access more of these people. That is one of our driving forces for the next two to three years - how do we make people in organisations and at a grassroots level aware of what we offer?
Retail Trust has been going for more than 180 years. It was originally an organisation that had retirement homes for workers in the retail industry and that is still part of what we do - we have five estates in Mill Hill in London, Derby, Salford, Liverpool and Crookfur in Glasgow with 400 properties - but it is not just about that. It is also for those who worked in retail yesterday, helping those in the retail industry today and educating and developing the retailers of the future through the Oxford Summer School programme.
How can you help raise the profile of Retail Trust?
Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard to get people to give money to charities unless they know what they are giving it for. We can’t take it for granted that people will donate, we need to show people what we stand for and get to work on increasing awareness. I was brought in because of my background in retail and property to increase that awareness of what we do. We need to start a dialogue with people in the industry by getting out there, going to events and visiting companies to show how our services help people across different walks of life.
What services does the charity offer?
We have a Retail Hub helpline where we offer grants that can range from something as small as £50 to £500 for more extensive needs [he declines to reveal details but this can be anything from helping with school fees to rent]. They are assessed on a case-by-case basis and at times we have given more to relieve hardship and for legal advice to anyone who is coming up against major problems. At Retail Leap, which includes a helpline, we offer help and counselling to those who may be having domestic issues. Things are hard out there and everyone has difficult times. What we can offer is dependent on what we can raise but we would never turn anyone away.
At our Oxford Summer School we have courses for those who are well established in the industry as well as those on the early stages of the ladder. An example of the retail topics we cover include building confidence and competence in the first line retail manager. We help a wide breadth of people and want to appeal to a wider audience to increase our financial status so we can give a better service.
What initiatives are you launching in 2015 to appeal to a wider audience?
We’re trying new things to grab some interest. We launched a lottery last August and it is accepting entries for its first draw in the summer. It costs from £1 and every week £500 is won by someone in the industry. It is a win-win situation for both the charity and retail.
We try to adapt to the needs of the industry so we’re driving education through Retail Right. This is a free 10-week pre-employment course, designed to prepare unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds for work in the retail industry. Participants go through a mixture of classroom-based training and practical work experience with retailers that could potentially get them a job. We’re working with smaller independents right through to the big boys like John Lewis and M&S. By working with retailers and colleges we’re trying to give these young people a chance. The scheme was piloted last year in Leicester and of the 45 young people that went through the programme, 40% moved into employment within retail immediately upon programme completion. We aim to place a further 1,000 young people through the programme in 2015 across 20 locations in the UK and we want to get 400 of them jobs in the retail sector. To see someone transforming from a shrinking violet into someone who can present and deliver a speech is phenomenal.
How are you reaching out to more young people?
We have to adapt our product and our presentation to the changing needs of the market. We are living in a more digital era. We have to make the website more accessible. For the last three months we have also been pushing our social media channels. We now embrace Twitter and use it to reach out to younger people who may need our help, and we also have Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s all about spreading the word.
At our big fundraiser ball in January [the Retail Trust Celebration on January 29] we had 750,000 people following our Twitter feed but we’ve got to convert those people into supporters of the charity and income givers. That’s one of our major targets, to become more digitally savvy and to make people aware of what we’re doing. Nothing will transform dramatically over a few weeks or months but we are always trying to improve our ability and to become more relevant to the market today.
It is an essential service - we are the charity of the industry and we’re there to help anyone in any guise.
•Founded in 1832, Retail Trust looks after the needs of all of the 4.5 million people in the UK who work in the retail industry and related sectors. The Queen is its patron. To donate go to https://www.justgiving.com/retailtrust