Interview with Sarah Kavanagh, HR Director, Southern Co-op

March 23, 2018

It was incredibly generous of you and the team to give so much time to the volunteer project, what was your motivation to get involved?
Without wanting to sound cliche, getting involved in this project gives us the opportunity to ‘give something back’. We are colleagues and members of Southern Co-op, and Southern Co-op’s sustainable business approach underpins a commitment to providing a fair, fresh approach for all which is
manifested through fundraising for local charities, supporting environmental and community owned organisations and working with local food producers, so it’s in our DNA to invest time and resources for the benefit of those around us.

Feedback on the quality of the HR workshop was extremely positive, what did you take from it as a team?
The one thing that I have become aware of over many years working in HR in a number of organisations is that the people issues are fairly standard; how to attract, manage, retain and motivate the people, which is a challenge for any organisation, large or small.

What did you find was the overall biggest challenge for small charities when it comes to HR?
I think for small charities who have very small teams, it’s often the same person who is responsible for hiring and managing the people, developing strategy and delivering services to those who need them. That’s a tough ask! As the charity grows, it’s also important that the organisation evolves
and changes to ensure it remains relevant and capable of delivering its goals.

Would you recommend the HR Workshop delivery project to other HR teams as a way to utilise their volunteer days?
Absolutely, it was great fun. As well as sharing skills and knowledge with others, we learned a great deal from the delegates about the charities sector and the challenges they face, which stretched our thinking, so there are benefits for all.

How important is community investment to Southern Co-op?
At Southern Co-op, how we do business is as important as what we do; our community investment programme ‘Love Your Neighbourhood’ actively encourages our 4500 colleagues to become involved in projects that help to create greener, healthier, safer and more inclusive neighbourhoods. Our food stores, funeral homes, and Central Support Office work with local charities of their choosing, volunteering, fundraising and becoming involved in activities to provide the support needed to those charities. This is underpinned by our volunteering policy which gives every colleague the opportunity to get involved in volunteering within working time. We also recognise the enormous benefit that community activity brings to Southern Co-op such as providing team building opportunities when whole teams can come together to work on a project, skills development and employee engagement.