Writing the Script for the ‘XYZ’ Employee Awards

Last year, I was thrilled to be asked to write the script for a client’s annual Employee Awards ceremony. I’ve written for public speaking engagements before but only for my own delivery – and I’d only ever written with elements of comedy in wedding speeches. I was also conscious that, in writing for two people, the laughs need to be shared.

I learned that writing like this requires you to judge the personality of each speaker and mould the words around each person’s natural character. There’s no way you can expect even the best line to be read convincingly by someone who’s not willing to be ‘in character’ at the point they’re reading it. Equally, whatever characterisations are required to be brought to the lines can’t be too far from the speakers’ ‘normal’ personae. I found that it works best when I was writing a slightly exaggerated version of each speaker.

Thankfully, in [Jane] and [Peter] – not their real names – I had two people who were willing and able to play their roles in a not-entirely-vanilla way and I was able to riff slightly on that, making [Peter] a more self-absorbed version of himself and [Jane] a more waspish version of herself. On the day, they both played their roles brilliantly – although it was the most nervous I’ve been watching someone else’s performance since I was a parent at a Year 2 Nativity Play!

I should also address the confidentiality issue. For lots of good reasons, this client would rather not be identified and that is, of course, absolutely fine. For that reason, I’ve had to ensure there are a lot of [Pseudonyms] and [Redacteds] in the copy. I hope that doesn’t interrupt the flow too much.

If you have a public speaking requirement and you need to get the tone *just right*, maybe I can help. Give me a shout and let’s see what I can do…

<[Jane Surname] and [Peter Surname] are introduced by the CEO and start the ceremony>

[Jane]:  Good afternoon, everyone and thank you, [Redacted], for that warm welcome. 

In case you don’t know me, I’m [Jane Surname] and I’m [Redacted]’s [Redacted] Director

As I’m in charge of compliance and rules, I tend to spend a lot of my time telling people they can’t do things.  

So it’s wonderful for me to stand in front of you all, in these challenging times, and be able to bring a bit of happiness, this afternoon.

[Peter]: And I’m [Peter Surname], the Chief [Redacted] Officer at [Redacted].  As I’m in charge of systems and technology, I’m often busy working out how things have gone wrong, so we can fix them. 

So it’s also great for me to take part in this celebration of the many things that have gone really well, this year – and to recognise the fantastic people who made them happen.

[Jane]:  So without any further ado, let’s bring on the awards, applaud the nominees, cheer the winners and spend a little time enjoying the warmth and positivity of their achievements. 

Are you ready to do that, [Peter]?

[Peter]: I think we should, [Jane]. In fact, I’m positive!  

Let’s get started!

Award category 1: Most Supportive Colleague

[Jane]: The first award is Most Supportive Colleague.  It’s an award that recognises the true essence of being a supporter.  

You could describe supportiveness as a long-term commitment to offering positivity, without any expectation of a reward. 

[Peter], you’re a Blackburn Rovers supporter.  Would you agree with that?

[Peter]: I certainly would, [Jane].  I haven’t had my support rewarded since 1995. 

But not all supporters are long-suffering, like me.  Some are truly appreciated by all around them, for being unfailing beacons of positivity. 

Here is [Alan Surname], our [Redacted],  to tell you about five of them:

<Music & Applause>

[Alan]: The nominees for Most Supportive Colleague are…      

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 2: Best Demonstration of Leadership

[Peter]:  Next up is the Best Demonstration of Leadership award.  I found a great quote about leadership on the Harvard website, [Jane]. 

“A leader is best when people barely know they exist.  When the work is done, and the aim is fulfilled, people will say: ‘we did it ourselves’.”

You’re a great leader, [Jane] – so I was wondering:  Does anyone know if you exist?

[Jane] Sometimes, I wonder if I do, [Peter]. 

But even if “barely anyone” knows about my existence – or yours – this award is to ensure that we celebrate the existence – and the leadership contributions – of five very special people. 

Here is [Brenda Surname], our [Redacted],  to tell you who they are:

<Music & Applause>

[Brenda]The nominees for Best Demonstration of Leadership are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 3: Best Value for Money Initiative or Idea

[Jane]    Our third award of the evening is for Best Value for Money Initiative or Idea

We’re all very aware of the rises in cost of everything this year so, more than ever before, it’s so important to recognise anyone who can think laterally, to save the business money or get the very most from everything pound we spend.

[Peter]  That’s right, [Jane].  Who doesn’t love the idea of attending an important seminar on cost-effectiveness, in the Seychelles?  But these days, you’re more likely to be invited to an economy drive in a Starbucks. 

But if you think that’s a radical idea, here are three nominees who have had an even greater impact on providing value for money, this year. 

Here is [Colin Surname], our [Redacted],  to tell you who they are:

<Music & Applause>

[Colin]  The nominees for Best Value for Money Initiative or Idea are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 4: Best Safety Initiative or Idea

[Peter]:   Our fourth award is Best Safety Initiative or Idea.  We often hear how ‘ensuring everyone’s Health and Safety is paramount’ – which means it’s more important than anything else.

But this award recognises people who have actually improved the safety of colleagues.  Which makes it even more important than ‘paramount’ – but how would you describe that?  

I was watching TV the other day and suddenly, that answer just came to me:

‘Paramount Plus’.

[Jane]   That’s not really the kind of safety idea that will win you this award, [Peter].  In fact, you should have risk-assessed that joke before you told it because I think you’ve just been ‘burned’. 

While I report this incident in the Accident Book, here is [Debbie Surname], our [Redacted],  with the nominees for this award:

<Music & Applause>

[Debbie]  The nominees for Best Safety Initiative or Idea are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 5: Outstanding Individual

[Jane]:   Our next award is our Outstanding Individual award. This is our Employee of the Year award, awarded to somebody who consistently exhibits each of our values: [Value_1], [Value_2], [Value_3] and [Value_4] – in everything they do. 

It’s a huge accolade to be nominated for this award.  Can you imagine being that highly regarded, [Peter]?

[Peter]:  I can [Jane], but you’ll be pleased to learn that, this year, I’ve decided to rule myself out of the running for this award – to let somebody else have a go.  And five of our colleagues now have exactly that chance.

Here is [Eric Surname], our [Redacted]  to tell you who they are:

<Music & Applause>

[Eric]   The nominees for our Outstanding Individual award are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 6: Excellent Example of Inclusion – All Values

[Peter] Our sixth award is the Excellent Example of Inclusion, something that we should all be passionate about.  I could certainly talk at length about how we’re very aware – and proud – of the importance we place on inclusion.  

I could explain in great depth about the need to avoid having the same worldviews dominating our thinking, not allowing anyone else’s voice to come to the fore… 

…[Jane], I think I should probably include you at this point. 

[Jane] Yes, [Peter], I think you probably should.

It’s great that we can all agree that a commitment to Inclusion is a vital part of any healthy organisation. 

And to demonstrate that, we’ve excluded all but the following nominees, who the judges feel have demonstrated their commitment to inclusion more than anyone else.   

Here is [Fanny Surname], our [Redacted],  to tell you who’s on this exclusive list.

<Music & Applause>

[Fanny]  The nominees for the Excellent Example of Inclusion are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 7: Team of the Year

[Jane]:  Our next award is Team of the Year.  The teams we work in form a vital link between ourselves as individuals and [Redacted] as a whole.

 Achieving the goals of the team not only gives more meaning to the things we do, it can be a source of greater satisfaction when we do things well.   

Good teams also ensure that the workload is shared more evenly when one of the team is struggling.  In a world of algorithms and systems, this is still a very human way of working and it’s a part of working life that you can’t simply improve with technology.

[Peter] Strictly speaking, the hardest-working team in [Redacted] is Microsoft Teams but the judges felt it was ineligible for consideration because a good team shouldn’t crash unexpectedly and keep putting you on mute for no reason. 

But this award isn’t just about the team’s level of achievement but the way that those goals are achieved.  To quote Bananarama, “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it; And that’s what gets results”.

Here is [Gordon Surname], our [Redacted],  to give you that result:

<Music & Applause>

[Gordon]:     The nominees for Team of the Year are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

Award category 8: Consistent Customer Excellence by a Team

[Peter] Our final award is the Consistent Customer Excellence by a Team.  Many of our customers have experienced more difficulties this year than in any previous year, which often leads to them placing even greater demands on us. 

Against that backdrop, an ability to give great customer service is one thing but doing that – consistently – takes something special.

[Jane]  Absolutely.  It feels like there’s never been a more important time to offer excellent, empathetic customer service.  And it’s wonderful to see that so many of our people are doing exactly that.

Here is [Hermione Surname], our [Redacted],  to recognise some very special teams.

<Music & Applause>

[Hermione]  The nominees for Consistent Customer Excellence by a Team are:

[Looks at outside of envelope, reads nominees]

And the award goes to…

[Opens envelope, takes out note, reads winner]

<Music & Applause>

<CEO returns to stage>

Recipes for Under a Pound

After the fun and frivolity of Christmas comes the frugality of the New Year – but you don’t have to taste the difference.  Here’s how…

It’s a tale that goes back generations, when even oranges were rare, exotic festive treats and not for everyday consumption.  In recent decades, the importance of ‘a healthier lifestyle’ as a New Year’s resolution led to calorie-denying diets.  But most commonly, our desire to spend a little more in December has most likely led to a need to watch the pennies in January.

Add in a Cost of Living Crisis and the need to ‘tighten our belts’ becomes even more keenly felt.  In recent years, there’s been a significant movement for making quality meals for surprisingly little – often less than a pound per head.  As we head into 2023, with the financial challenges it brings, how can we all eat well, for less?

Perhaps the best-known advocate is Jack Monroe.  Once described as “the poster girl for Austerity Britain”, her recipes fuse classical cuisine with ultra-cheap, widely-available ingredients, batch preparation and energy-efficient cooking.  Every recipe on her website is costed (per head) with the price and source of each ingredient shown.

A great ‘winter warmer’ is her Vegan Moussaka, costed at 31p (in 2018). 

As she explains the ‘hacks’ required to replace traditional ingredients, you always have the option to reverse them and try the non-vegan, non-vegetarian lamb version – which should still come in at under a pound a head.

250g dried green or brown lentils     57p (£1.15/500g, Sainsburys)

2 small onions     12p (90p/1,5kg, Sainsburys Basics)

6 fat cloves of garlic     9p (35p/2 bulbs, Sainsburys Basics)

2 tbsp oil     3p (£3/3l, vegetable or sunflower oil, Sainsburys)

400g chopped tomatoes     35p (35p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)

50ml red wine     23p (£3.50/750ml, Basic table wine)

1 tsp dried thyme or other herbs     <1p (80p/100g thyme, Natco brand)

¼ tsp each salt and pepper     <1p

1 tsp lemon juice or red wine vinegar     1p (£1.15/500ml, Sainsburys RWV)

1 large aubergine     75p (75p each, Sainsburys)

1 slice bread, grated into breadcrumbs*     2p (45p/22 slice loaf, Sainsburys Basics)

For the white sauce:

1 tbsp flour*      <1p (55p/1.5kg plain flour, Sainsburys Basics)

1 tbsp oil     2p (£3/3l vegetable or sunflower oil, Sainsburys)

250ml cashew or soya milk     25p (25p/1l, Sainsburys)

½ tsp mustard     <1p (45p/180g, Sainsburys Basics mustard)

*to make gluten free, simply omit these or use your favourite gluten free bread or breadcrumb mix

Here’s the recipe in full:  Moussaka, 31p [VG/V/DF/GF*]

Jack Monroe’s ‘Cooking On A Bootstrap’ website is full of ideas and advice across a wide range of cuisines and dietary preferences, with a wealth of similar ‘under a pound’ recipe ideas. 

It should also be noted that it’s much easier to bring down the ‘per head’ cost when cooking for larger numbers, spreading the overall cost over more servings.  If you’re cooking for one or even two, in order to keep ‘per-head’ costs down, it’s likely you’ll need to cook for more and batch and freeze the remainder, to eat at a later date.

We all like different things – and we can quickly tire of eating the same thing, even when we like it – so here’s a handy list of helpful websites to give you some inspiration.  It’s also a great way to sample dishes that you might not otherwise have considered. 

Even if you’re a fussy eater, there’s loads to choose from  Alternatively – as you may already have heard – Try it – you might like it!

BBC Food – Great family dinners for under £1 a head

Jamie Oliver – Jamie’s £1 Wonders & more budget-friendly cooking tips

Tesco – Cooking On A Budget | Budget Recipes

Good To Know – Cheap family meals: Budget recipes under £1 per head

More Than A Mummy – 34 cheap family meals costing as little as £1 a head

Christmas Leftover Recipes

We can all be guilty of buying a little too much festive food, to ensure we don’t run out of anything on the big day.  It’s done with the best intentions but too much Christmas Day food can lead to a well-known Boxing Day problem: leftovers.

It never feels right to throw food away, especially when we can less afford to waste it so, perhaps more than ever before, it’s good to think about what we can do with a quantity of turkey and trimmings to turn them into something appetising the next day, beyond the boring turkey sandwiches.  And we’ve found four great recipes to help you do just that!

Option 1: Boxing Day Bubble & Squeak – bbcgoodfood.com

As featured in the latest issue of ‘Your News’, this generic recipe is really simple (and quick) to make and doesn’t require you to have any extra ingredients in.  Better still, if you want to add other things to it (as much turkey as you like), it will still work just as well!  It’s as easy as vegging out in front of a Disney film!


Option 2: The Hairy Bikers’ Turkey, Ham & Stuffing Pie – bbc.co.uk

If you fancy something a bit more challenging, this masterpiece from Si and Dave is well worth the effort.  You will need to have a few more ingredients to hand (flour, butter, an egg, lard, cream and, ideally, tarragon) and you also need to have leftover ham.  It should also be noted that there is a bit of actual bakery involved but you get a proper pie at the end of it.  This means you also get the chance to impress anyone who’s lucky enough to be offered a slice!


Option 3: Leftover Turkey Madras – sainsburysmagazine.co.uk

If a ‘turkey roast’ is an age-old Christmas custom, a ‘turkey curry’ is fast becoming a modern Boxing Day tradition.  Some might not want venture quite as high up the ‘heat’ scale as madras (if so, google ‘turkey korma’) but a good, strong taste is a great way to help you pretend it’s a chicken curry – and not day-old turkey!  Some other ingredients are needed but it’s really easy to make – and the spices mean it’ll probably keep longer!


Option 4: ‘KFT’ – theguardian.com

This one is not so much a recipe as an invitation to a secret society – and the first rule is that you don’t talk about it, okay? Take this piece of invaluable investigative journalism and substitute the chicken for – you’ve guessed it – strips of remaining turkey.  You will need a quite healthily-stocked herb and spice rack and a fair amount of frying oil but the resulting fusion food of Kentucky and Norfolk is “finger-lickin’ bootiful”!


Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday evening (18 December) sees the start of Hanukkah, the eight-night-and-day festival of the Jewish faith.

Based around the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah can take place any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian (Western) calendar.

Hanukkah commemorates the re-taking of Jerusalem from Greek-Syrian imperial forces, and the re-dedication of its Second Temple by the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebel warriors, in around 164 BCE.  ‘Hanukkah’ is the Hebrew word for ‘dedication’.

To mark the eight days of the festival, at sunset, a candle is lit on a menorah, a candelabrum which holds nine candles.  Eight of the candles represent the Hanukkah Miracle: the legend being that, despite the warriors only having a day’s worth of olive oil, their flames continued to flicker for eight nights.  The nunth candle is to provide the flame to light the other eight.

Hanukkah is a major Jewish event, marked by music, foods fried in oil (to recall the miracle) and customs such as spinning the dreidel, a spinning toy with four sides, similar to a dice.

“Happy Hanukkah!” is the most common greeting to anyone celebrating this festival but if you want to say it in Hebrew, try “Hanukkah Sameach!” – or simply “Chag Sameach!”, which simply means “Happy Holidays!”

Cost of Living support to colleagues…

We’re making changes to the way you can book space in the [Redacted], making it more accessible, more flexible and more user-friendly!

As part of our cost-of-living project and our commitment to support your wellbeing, we’re making these changes to provide more colleagues with a warm place to work – as well as helping us move towards a more hybrid way of working.

Previously, the [Redacted] was only booked out as a whole, and could only be booked by a small group of people. Now, anybody can book either a single desk or a bank of desks for their team to work from. Bookings can only be made upto 60 days into the future, except for exceptional circumstances.

 All desk bookings must be made via the Go Bright application which can be found in your MS Teams, on the left-hand menu. 

A detailed guide is available to view online or download, to help you with the booking process.

You can use the new system from Tuesday 13 December, however, please note that desks will be unavailable for booking on Wednesday 14 and Tuesday 20 December.

If you have existing recurrent bookings throughout 2023, these will be cancelled and you’ll need to re-book the required number of desks through the Go Bright system.

Please note, If you no longer require a desk after a booking, please be considerate of other colleagues and cancel the booking as soon as possible, to make the desk available for somebody else to use.

In addition to the [Redacted], please remember there may be the option to use desks at our hubs – although these are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

We’d also like to announce that, as well as providing hot drinks in [Redacted] and at our hubs, we’ll also start to provide basic food provisions such as porridge, soups and snack bars over the next week.

Please bear with us as we implement the new booking system.  We may come across some initial teething problems and we will deal with them as quickly as we can, as and when they arise. As ever, any issues relating to the booking system should be logged with ICT.

Let’s Talk about…

Tuesday sees the launch of Let’s Talk, the first of a regular series of lunchtime discussions.

You don’t have to know all the answers but listening to other contributions allows you to say “I may not know, but I can learn”.

The discussions, about a specific topic, are held in an informal atmosphere, hosted by a colleague with a passion for the subject.  They’re designed to be thought-provoking and may not even provide all the answers but should stimulate a constructive conversation.  The objective is that everyone goes away from the discussion having learned something. 

Subjects for discussion are designed to be topical -which is why the first session is this:

How football can be a power for good in the LGBT+ community

The World Cup in Qatar has raised the issue of that country’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ+ citizens, tourists and detainees.  How far could football go to speak out against the Qatari regime?

Is football culture still inherently homophobic?  Currently there is only one openly LGBTQ+ player in the English professional leagues, Blackpool’s Jake Daniels.  There are still frequent instances of homophobic abuse from fans, at the ground and on social media. 

In recent years, football has worked to counter homophobia, using awareness-raising initiatives such as the rainbow laces weekends and the ‘One Love’ armband.  Is this too little – or worse, simply lip service?  Or, as this week’s German football team photo suggests, is there more that footballers want to do but are being denied the opportunity?

Is it fair to single out Qatar?  There are currently 72 countries (about a third of all countries) who still criminalise homosexuality, according to a recent report.  Should all sporting bodies award international tournaments to countries who have laws against homosexuality, particularly those who enforce conversion therapy or the death penalty?

Or is it simply a matter of football showing more bravery in providing LGBTQ+ support?  The Iran football team’s refusal to sing their national anthem in protest at the Iranian regime’s brutal suppression of women protestors shows that the threat of merely a yellow card for wearing a particular armband is a privilege that pales against the price of allyship elsewhere.

The session will be held next Tuesday 29 November between 12.30 and 1.30pm in the Collaboration Space in [Redacted]. 

All are welcome and there’s no need to book – just turn up.  Please note, if the room does reach capacity, we may have to, in line with fire regulations and people’s comfort, turn later arrivals away.  As it’s lunchtime, all are welcome to bring their lunch with them. 

We can also confirm that “sweet treats” will be provided.  At this stage, we can’t confirm if that means parma violets or a Toblerone – you’ll have to attend to find out!

If you have a suggestion for a topic or theme for a follow up Let’s Talk, then please email your suggestion to [Redacted]

How to be a Mental Health Ally

Here are some signs to look for – and a useful list of things you can do if you see anything that causes you concern.

Today is World Mental Health Day, dedicated to removing the stigma of mental illness and promoting mental wellness through understanding and allyship.

But what if your mental health concern isn’t for yourself but for someone else?  A friend, a colleague or a family member?  The more you understand, the better equipped you are to recognise the signs that someone’s struggling.  The more you know, the better an ally you can be.

They may say:

  • I’m not in a good place right now
  • I’m having a hard time
  • I’m just not myself
  • I can’t focus or think straight as I’ve got too many distractions

They may act:

  • Differently to their usual vocal style, being quiet if they are usually talkative or talking very quickly
  • Low, body language, slumping, moving slowly, having little energy
  • less willing to engage with colleagues or friends, cancelling social events, often at the last minute

What you can do to help:

  • Explain that YHG is a supportive employer and would look to provide the appropriate support for colleagues who are not well
  • Be calm and open to conversation – perhaps suggest going to a quiet space to have a chat
  • Let them speak and explain what they want to share – try not to interrupt or finish sentences with what you think is the issue
  • Try to clarify by repeating the meaning of what they say back to them, for example, “I’m hearing that you’ve got some personal issues with (whatever) and that you’re having difficulty concentrating at work – is that right?”
  • Allow them time to speak and to have a recovery time– so if somebody says they can’t deal with life or work right now, try to make it possible for them to log off or leave work and take some time out for them, so that they can deal with how they feel and come back to work later – if they canAsk how long they would like to take and agree some target boundaries.
  • Remind them that they are not alone, and remind them of our team of Mental Health First Aiders if this is not something you feel comfortable discussing further
  • A useful tool can be found here:
    Depression and anxiety self-assessment quiz – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Language we can all adopt to either ask for help or check in with someone:

  • Do you fancy a tea or coffee sometime?
  • I’ve noticed you’re not your usual self, shall we go somewhere for a chat?
  • What can I help you with?
  • I’d like you to know that I’ve had some difficult periods in my life, that anything we discuss is confidential and that I’m here to help – not to judge.


  • If at any time you have a feeling that the colleague may be considering suicide, please ask outright if they are considering ending their life. Talking openly about suicide helps. You may be the first person to allow them to speak about suicide and you should arrange immediate support from a Mental Health First Aider or a Helpline like:
    Samaritans – You can call Samaritans free on 116 123 if they want to talk to someone now. Papyrus – Contact HOPELINEUK – If they are having thoughts of suicide, or are concerned for a person (up to age 35) who might be, they or you can contact HOPELINEUK for confidential support and practical advice. Call: 0800 068 4141, Text: 07860 039 967, Email: pat@papyrus-uk.org

Here’s more information about mental health and wellbeing at [Redacted], this World Mental Health Day

HM Queen Elizabeth II (1926 – 2022)

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born to the Duke and Duchess of York at 2:40am on 21 April 1926, the eldest daughter of the second son of King George V. 

Third in line to the throne at birth, she was never expected to inherit any title beyond the Duchess of York. The young princess was the third grandchild of the King and his eldest grand-daughter.  ‘Lilibet’ formed a close bond with her grandfather, whom she called “Grandpa England”.

At the age of 4, she gained a younger sister, Princess Margaret.  As the two young princesses grew up, the young Elizabeth showed early signs of understanding duty and leadership.  Their father noted this character trait and referred to his two daughters as his “Pride and Joy” – Elizabeth the ‘pride’ and Margaret the ‘joy’.  Winston Churchill marvelled at her “air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant”.

On 11 December 1936, at the age of 10, her life changed irrevocably when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in order to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson.  Instantly, her father ‘Bertie’ became King George VI and she became the heir to his throne.  Her family moved from the relative calm of Clarence House to Buckingham Palace.

Her own sense of turmoil at these events was heightened by the instability in Europe at the time.  She was 13 when Britain declared war with Hitler’s Germany.  As bombs fell across Britain, her parents resolved that the whole family would remain in the country, despite offers of safe passage to Canada.  

While many children were evacuated away from Britain’s cities, the teenage Princess Elizabeth spent most of the war in and around Windsor Castle.  In early 1945, aged 18, she was appointed to the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she trained as a lorry driver and mechanic.

Two years after the end of the war, aged 21, Princess Elizabeth became engaged to Philip Mountbatten, a Naval officer descended from the royal houses of Greece and Denmark.  On 20 November 1947, they were married at Westminster Abbey.

Almost a year later, 14 November 1948, she gave birth to a son, Charles.  At the age of 24, on 15 August 1950, she bore her second child, a daughter, Anne.

Not for the first time in her life, the idyll of a young family life was interrupted by fate.  In early 1952, her ailing father was at London Airport to wave off Elizabeth and Philip as they left to represent him on their planned tour to Australia and New Zealand.  Days later, with the young couple still on the African leg of their tour, in Kenya, George VI died and the 25 year-old Princess became Queen Elizabeth II.

Once again, her life would change irrevocably.  The young queen returned home to a future for which she had been undoubtedly prepared but was perhaps not expecting to occur so soon.

Her coronation took place the following year, when still aged only 26, she took the oath to serve her realms across the Commonwealth for the rest of her life.  Shortly afterwards, she and Philip embarked upon a seven-month world tour, visiting 13 countries over 40,000 miles.  It’s estimated that three quarters of the population of Australia saw her during that particular leg of the tour.

The accession of a young queen was seen by many to be symbolic of a new Britain, rebounding from post-war austerity and leading the world in many areas of technological development.  The new Elizabethan era seemed to represent a forward-looking contrast to the traditions and protocols of previous generations.

In the earliest years of her reign, she was guided in statecraft by her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and learned how to re-define not only her own role, but that of the wider royal family as well as re-engineering the purpose of the Commonwealth.

Towards the end of her first decade on the throne, she and Philip chose to add to their family, with the birth of Andrew in 1960 and Edward in 1964.  At the age of 37 and now a mother of four, she became the visible matriarch of the nation.  And visible she was – decades before the world knew what an image consultant was, she favoured a wardrobe of bright, solid colours, famously declaring “I need to be seen to be believed”.

The 1970s brought challenges as Britain experienced economic and social challenges.  Closer to home, her daughter Anne was the subject of a failed kidnapping and Phillip’s uncle, Louis Mountbatten, was murdered by Irish Republicans.  Britain was becoming a les class-riven, less deferential nation and Elizabeth once again had to steer a path of both constancy and modernity to ensure that the monarchy retained its relevance.  The success of her Silver Jubilee, despite negativity and even hostility in some quarters, was another major milestone in the life of a monarch who was by then 51 years old.

As the 1980s dawned, the Royal Family was once again at the centre of worldwide attention with the engagement of her eldest son, Charles, to Lady Diana Spencer.  Their wedding in July 1981 was another era-defining event and an opportunity for the profile of the monarchy to be raised to levels that it routinely held decades before, especially following the birth of her grandsons, William and Harry, in 1982 and 1984. 

The wedding of her second son, Andrew, to Sarah Ferguson later in the decade and the addotion of their two daughters meant that by the end of the decade, the Queen, by now 63, was a grandmother to three girls and three boys.

In Elizabeth’s own words, 1992 was her “annus horriblis”.  It was to be the year of her 40th, ‘Ruby’ Jubilee but ongoing negative press about her daughter’s divorce and the failing marriages of her eldest sons led to her deciding to scale down the significance of the event.  Before the end of the year, even worse was to follow, when a major fire broke out at her beloved Windsor Castle, causing extensive damage and concern.

As the world began to enter the Internet age, Elizabeth was once again required to re-define her role.  Many felt that her greatest challenge was in 1997, following the death of Princess Diana in Paris.  Having delayed her return to London, for family reasons, she gave a rare address to the nation to re-affirm her connection with the grieving population.  In doing so, she demonstrated that, even as she entered her 70s, she retained her willingness to learn and adapt.

As a new millennium began, Elizabeth completed her transformation to become, effectively, the nation’s grandmother.  The loss of her younger sister and her own mother re-iterated her seniority.  Her 2002 Golden Jubilee signalled a return to the levels of public affection that she’d enjoyed in 1977.

As Elizabeth approached her 80th birthday, the marriage of her son and heir to his long-time companion, Camilla, was thought by some to be a divisive, even unconstitutional union.  Instead, it signalled a more mature, more modern face of royalty that was seen as more reflective of the lives of many British people.  The wedding of William and Kate in 2011 was also seen by many to elevate the status of the monarchy still higher.  When the Olympic games came to Loindon in 2012, the 86 year-old monarch proved that she could still surprize and amaze, with her playful participation in Danny Boyle’s epic opening ceremony.

By her tenth decade, Elizabeth continued to negotiate with skill the twin forces of fate and ever-shifting public opinion, just as she had done since the age of 25.  The impact of Harry’s marriage and subsequent withdrawal from royal duties, of Andrew’s legal difficulties and of a global pandemic continued to test her resolve to do her sworn duty.  Even the loss of her husband Philip, her greatest supporter did not deter her from fulfilling her lifelong oath.  This year, another Jubilee, celebrating an unprecedented 70th year on the throne gave us the chance to reflect on her remarkable service and unstinting grace. 

Even at the age of 96, she was able to meet and advise her fifteenth British Prime Minister, an unbroken span of influence that included every post-war UK leader except Clement Atlee.

Queen Elizabeth II was a unique monarch.  Not just in terms of longevity or even length of service.  Her reign coincided with unparalleled levels of change.  As a consequence, she has travelled more miles, met more people, seen more history and touched more lives than perhaps any human being who has ever lived.

Elizabeth inherited an ancient institution and ensured it was relevant, respected and loved for 70 years, more than any other monarch.  She did this in a world that has developed at dizzying speed, compared to any other period in human history.  

As a young lady, Elizabeth ascended to a throne of Empire and Cold War in a country still rationing food after a devastating war.  It was a world where older certainties were becoming increasingly uncertain and, throughout her monarchy, she continued to respond to the changes around her.  In doing so, to her people, she became the greatest certainty.

We now live in a world where the greatest challenges do not sit neatly within national boundaries and require global solutions.  Her unwavering commitment to the Commonwealth shows that she understood that decades before most.

Today, the role she bequeaths is just as relevant and elicits just as much affection as it did in 1952 and yet it is in a world almost unrecognisable to those who cheered her own coronation.  Her ability to achieve that single objective may be an accomplishment we can only truly appreciate in the years to come.

School’s Out (Again)!

The summer holidays stretch out, seemingly forever, like a long, sun-lit footpath. They may herald the endless, golden summers of childhood, past or present but for parents of school-age kids, they can easily become an endurance course of daily pressures.

It’s early August and, across the country, an annual ritual is taking place.  Days have been crossed out on kitchen calendars, past favours counted up and the number of ‘sleeps’ counted down.  There are few weeks in the year that can generate as much excitement – and trepidation – as those upon us. 

Many of us think of our own childhood summer holidays as sun-kissed, worry-free and filled with endless possibilities.  Perhaps the truth wasn’t always like that – we also like to think all our Christmases were adorned with snow – but for most, our long summer holidays tended to be a mostly magical time that still hold a special place in our memories.

Ask a child about their summer holidays this year and the answer is likely to be even more vociferous.  They’re anticipating six weeks of ‘freedom’ from teachers, homework and ‘school nights’.  With so many electronic temptations, they even have less to fear from a summer of terrible weather than the generations before them.  But even the most gaming-addicted kids may admit it’s difficult to beat the allure of balmy evenings in the park, amongst friends, under a setting sun.

And yet, this magic tends to fade when we approach the early years of parenthood.  As the school year ends, working parents realise they have an ocean of time ahead of them that will demand their involvement.  Days are taken off, schedules are stretched and, wherever possible, remote working is requested.  Deals are struck with friends and neighbours: “I’ll watch them on that day if you can do the week after” and grandparents acquire levels of popularity they may not have for the rest of the year.  Of course, not everyone has the option to work from home but even if you do, trying to participate in an important meeting from home, sharing a house with bored kids, isn’t always ideal.

With so many weeks to fill and with so much reliance upon factors beyond your control, it’s almost impossible to organise the whole stretch in one go.  Even those lucky enough to have lots of help will still mostly operate from week to week.  It’s important to put this on record because it can be easy for any parent to feel as if they’re not handling all these demands as well as everyone else – and they shouldn’t.  Most who’ve ‘been there’ will readily admit that they often struggled with the logistics during school holidays.  It’s perfectly normal to say so.  

Considerate employers, helpful neighbours, flexible routines are all hugely helpful but you’ll still never be able to be in more than one place at once.  It’s an awesome task that almost always seems to just about work out in the end.  And when it does, you should congratulate yourself for achieving the seemingly impossible.  Again.

Of course, it’s not just about time.  Inevitably, money is also a factor.  Summer grocery bills can quickly reflect the fact that those five school meals a week (per child) have mostly been replaced by ‘something from the fridge’.  At times like this, you can really appreciate just how efficient school meals can be, compared to the local shop – or, worse, a fast-food outlet – five times a week.  If yours happens to be the house where groups of friends congregate, your cupboards can be cleared even more quickly.  

Beyond food, there’s the cost of entertainment.  Days out, events, even a trip to the cinema are all expenses that arise from the abundance of time to be filled.  This year especially, the school holidays are likely to add yet more pressure onto already-stretched household budgets.

There are ways to offset the impact of school holidays on your time and money.  Many schools offer holiday clubs of some description and a growing number of towns have their own Youth Zone, offering subsidised activities, often for age 8 or above, in a safe, supervised environment.  

Even if time and money aren’t an issue, there’s also the worry that, for some, the whole holiday can become little more than a six-week gaming stretch in a room with closed curtains.  School is about far more than just learning; it imposes a healthy structure on young lives.  When school’s out, it can be helpful to look for a similar level of structure elsewhere.

Check what’s available in your area.  Even one day a week of organised supervision removes 20 per cent of your availability problem, guarantees the expense for a fifth of the time and removes your worries about time spent unhealthily for one day in five.  We’d all love to think of summer holidays as being filled with mythical Enid Blyton-style adventure but we live in a different world to that of the ‘Famous Five’, over half a century ago – and it was probably an unobtainable fantasy for most, even then.

As with almost every other aspect of being a parent, navigating the summer holidays is, more than anything else, simply about doing the best you can.  It might not always seem that simple but when you’re the grandparent and your kids are themselves facing those same age-old pressures, you’ll remember that even a little help and encouragement could make a world of difference.

Good luck!

Check your local schools’ websites for details of summer holiday clubs and activities.  To find your nearest Youth Zone, check online.  A good place to start iswww.onsideyouthzones.org

Cycle to Work…Even at Home?

Thursday 4 August is ‘Cycle to Work’ Day – and there’s never been a better time to take part!

Would you cycle to work?  Of course, not everyone can – and even fewer will feel like doing so.  There are lots of reasons that make this an difficult prospect: distance, school runs, road safety, the British weather, lack of changing or showering facilities. 

What if all of that was taken care of?  Could you be tempted?  In August, there’s no school run, the weather is better, it’s light for longer and roads tend to be quieter.

The recent rises in fuels costs may be persuading many commuters to think again about cycling to work, particularly in the summer months.  Recently, the Evening Standard reported that cycling around London, from March to June,was 25% up on pre-pandemic levels

So is it worth trying, just for a day, to see if cycling to work is something you can realistically consider for other days in the year?  And what about trading up to an e-bike, to take away the worst of the physical effort? 

As the official website keenly points out:

“Cycling to work helps you stay fit and healthy, burns a lot of calories, and reduces your carbon footprint too. Find out how cycling could benefit your health and environmental impact.”

If you’re working from home on 4 August, you’ll probably be thinking that this has nothing to do with you.  But just hold on a minute – maybe it does

With all the health benefits of cycling, the suitability of the time of year, the fact that you’re already very close to work and you also have changing facilities, why not consider cycling to ‘work’, even when you work from home?  You can choose your own route, as short as you like or as safe as possible.  You can even squeeze a quick shower in, when you get back!  Better still, you can do that any other day, as well.

Okay, you didn’t technically need to ‘cycle to work’ but you do get all of the health benefits and none of the impracticalities.  Suddenly, there just don’t seem the same number of reasons not to!  For more interesting articles, tips and advice about cycling to work, have a look at the scheme’s blog pages.

If you’d like more details about [Redacted]’s Cycle to Work Scheme, to subsidise a bicycle (or an e-bike) for commuting to work, click here and download the guide:

Dharma Day

Asalha Puja – more commonly known as Dharma Day – is a Buddhist festival which this year will be celebrated on Sunday 24 July, the day of the full moon in the month of July.

Dharma Day marks the beginning of Buddha’s teaching, following his own enlightenment, around 2,500 years ago.  Buddhists believe that he told five disciples about his own experience with a sermon, known as ‘The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma’.

In that sermon, Buddha is said to have included his Four Noble Truths, which are central to Buddhism.

Dharma is an ancient component of Indian philosophy which is key to the various religions that have grown from that region.  

Although Dharma Day is celebrated by Buddhists, the principles of Dharma are also important to Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.  Its symbolic representation, the Wheel of Dharma, is significant to all these religions, originating from the Indian sub-continent.  As such, it can be seen as a unifying symbol across India, which is why it appears on the flag of India.

On Dharma Day, Buddhists express gratitude for the knowledge and enlightenment shared by Buddha and those who have shared his teachings and reflect on them.  To non-Buddhists, it’s also a chance to consider how the Four Noble Truths and other Buddhist principles can be adopted into day-to-day life.

If you’d like to try out one of Buddhism’s most widely-known practices, this five-minute mediation exercise is a great starting point.  If you haven’t got time right now, you can also find this link on our Mental Wellbeing page.

Taking Pride in our Pride Credentials

Once again, June brings the return of Pride Month, the annual focus on furthering the causes of the LGBTQ+ community around the world.

You may know that the first Pride marches were held to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York of June 1969.  You may also be aware that a Pride Month was first declared by Bill Clinton in 1999 – but an understanding of history relies on more than just dates and names.  It’s in the details beyond that we truly learn about our changing values.  Did you know that in 1970, the name ‘Pride’ was deliberately chosen to counter the attitude of ‘shame’, that was the widely held attitude at that time?

The world has changed immeasurably over the last 52 years but it’s equally true to say that it hasn’t changed quickly enough.  Today, Pride initiatives are embraced by all sections of the community and attract the attentions of corporate sponsors and politicians, who are keen to display their involvement.  Its very strength is still a reminder that there is so much left to be achieved.

As a responsible neighbour and employer, it’s important that [Redacted] do all we should to recognise this and offer our respect, support and allyship to LGBTQ+ people.  We’re committed to promoting equality and diversity – around this central principle: “driven by good business practice and need – not by legislation”. 

We’re also committed to achieve the [Redacted] Equality and Diversity Charter – a public commitment to deliver an accessible [Redacted] service which is fair to colleagues, [Redacted] and communities.  This extends across [Redacted] and to our 450+ colleagues.  In August, we’ll be proud to add our support to Wigan Pride, through our involvement with [Redacted].

So is Pride an ongoing protest?  Is it a wider cultural movement?  Or a fun way to raise awareness?  It seems Pride will always mean different things to different people, irrespective of their sexuality.  What is clear is that Pride is not going to go away – not just because it now transcends its original community but also because more people are identifying as LGBTQ+. 

Last year’s census was the first in its 200-year history to ask people about their sexual orientation and, ironically, the results will be published during Pride month, June 2022.  It’ll be be intriguing to see if it continues a recently-observed trend.  The Office of National Statistics’ Annual Population Survey shows that, between 2015 and 2019, the number of people prepared to identify as LGBTQ+ rose from 2.3% of the population to 3.4%.  That may look like a rise of ‘just’ 1.1% but it’s an uplift of almost half. In five years.

Unfortunately, we’re still unsure how accurate such numbers are because of the many reasons that still dissuade people from coming out.  The fact that we’ve recently seen the first active male footballer make such an announcement in over 30 years seems an indication of how little some things have changed.  Conversely, the fact that Blackpool’s Jake Daniels is only 17 suggests the emergence of a generation that feels more confident – and more equipped – to face the world on their own terms.

Whatever the 2021 census data will show – or perhaps won’t fully show – the LGBTQ+ community constitutes a sizeable and growing proportion the UK population.  At [Redacted], we recognise and celebrate this and expect to be an ally for thousands of people who live in our communities and work across our organisation.  And not just over Pride Month, but for the other eleven months of the year too! 

What is Pride?

It’s a Party!

Pride Month is one thing but Pride events are quite another.  For a start, they’re not even necessarily held in June – Manchester Pride takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend and Pride in London 2022 will happen on 2 July.  Other cities have their Pride events on a range of other dates across the year.  Increasingly, they’ve become inclusive carnival-type celebrations at which everyone is welcome to attend, to soak up the atmosphere and have fun.

It’s Part of the Calendar

If there was no such thing as Pride Month, there’d be less reason for society to consider why it needs to exist.  Awareness-building initiatives invitie us all to challenge our preconceptions and encourage us to keep broadening our understanding.  Yes, Pride Month can lead to accusations of ‘rainbow-washing’ (by organisations who simply adopt a Pride-friendly facade for a month but do nothing more significant than that) but without the existence of Pride, there’d be less incentive for anyone to try harder to be LGBTQ+-friendly – including those who still aren’t trying hard enough.

It’s an Ongoing Struggle

We might all believe “things are better” in the LGBTQ+ community, these days – and of course, in lots of ways, they are.  But is that it?  Just because the arguments for gay marriage have been won, does that mean that other areas of disadvantage are any less real?  The incidence of mental health problems or violent crime is still far greater within the LGBTQ+ community than in society as a whole.  Where inequalities remain, it’s important that the fight to remove them should also continue.

It’s About More than Gay Rights

It may have started out as ‘Gay Pride’ but it’s become so much more than a movement about same-sex relationships.  Pride now incorporates bisexuality, asexuality, pansexuality and, of course, transgender people.  Consequently, many people now consider the Progress Pride Flag (which adds a chevron of white, pink, light blue, brown and black) to be an updated version of the original rainbow flag, as a representation of Pride’s wider role and aims.

Examples of ‘rainbow-washing’ – the visible incorporation of Pride’s colours, not necessarily reflected in any other tangible commitment to LGBTQ+ principles, Photo: trendsactive.com

Men’s Health Week

13 to 19 June sees the return of Men’s Health Week for 2022

The initiative is symbolically scheduled to occur in the week upto and including Fathers’ Day, which is on Sunday 19 June. 

Men’s Health Week aims to raise awareness of preventable health problems for men and boys, support their engagement in healthier lifestyle choices and activities  and encourage early detection and treatment of male health matters.

The theme this year is the ‘Man MOT’; a brief health-check to see if further attention is needed.  This year’s initiative isn’t just another reminder to men to break out of their stereotype – it’s based on figures that suggest that since the pandemic, men have become even less likely to visit their GP.

In addition to its focus on uniquely male health conditions such as testicular cancer, attention will also be given to conditions which statistically affect men far more frequently than women.  Chief amongst those are mental health issues  – in the UK, men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.  Suicide is also the leading cause of death in UK males between the ages of 20 and 49.

In recent years (and increasingly so, since the pandemic), most responsible organisations have recognised the importance of promoting wellbeing amongst their colleagues.  The Wellbeing Hub on [Redacted] is an imprtant part of [Redacted]‘s efforts to do exactly that, particularly in the area of mental wellbeing.  Here, you can talk to a Mental Health First Aider, find books and articles that may inspire you or find an app to help you make time for yourself.

It also features this great guide to the four ‘happiness chemicals’ – and some suggested hacks to help produce them naturally.  You can visit the Mental Wellbeing page here.

As part of our commitment to the general wellbeing of all our colleagues, we’re once again installing a Health Kiosk at [Redacted], this summer – from 4 July to 4 August.  In minutes, you’ll be able to measure your blood pressure, weight, BMI, body fat percentage and heart rate. You can either print your results off from the machine or have your own personal report emailed to you – a perfect example of the ‘Man MOT’ that Men’s Health Week is encouraging.

[Redacted], our Head of Health and Safety was pleased to announce our support for the ‘Man MOT’:

“Whilst many of us have been focused on the pandemic over the last couple of years, we’ve taken our eye off other potentially serious conditions. This gives us even more reason to take notice of what’s going on in our own bodies and minds, so we can address what we find.”

You may have spotted that both in terms of mental health assistance and general health-checking, much of the resources we’ve made available are there for everyone – not specifically for men.  But then you have to consider that much of the reason that this week even exists is to re-iterate information that isn’t new, to an audience that isn’t statistically great at acting on it. 

Or, as some might say, more bluntly: “Come on, lads – it’s for your own good”…

A Brief Guide to Ramadan

At [Redacted], we’re pleased to wish all our Muslim colleagues a ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ as, once again, the moon rises on the Islamic calendar’s holiest month.

As most non-Muslims will now know, Ramadan is a time for daylight fasting, prayer and reflection – and celebration – across the faith of Islam.  But those are just the most basic details that don’t even begin to explain its importance.  So why does it exist and what does it mean to observe this solemn ritual every year?

The observance of Ramadan is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam, together with Profession of Faith, Prayer, charitable donation and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The discipline required to complete a whole month of its obligations is not only necessary to bring each Muslim closer to God but also to remind them of those who are not fortunate enough to be able to eat regularly.  

As a consequence, the morning meal, suhoor, and the evening meal, Iftar, assume greater importance throughout Ramadan.  At the end of the festival, the breaking of the fast – Eid al-Fitr – is a celebration of the end of the task and the successful completion of the spiritual and mental challenge it represents.  

The level of strictness that each person brings to Ramadan can vary.  Even showering in the daytime can be seen as problematical, as swallowing small quantities of water may be viewed as a breach of one’s commitment.  Others may view music as a similar distraction from their focus on faith and self-improvement, and will scale back or even suspend listening to music.

Non-devotees can help Muslim friends throughout the month by being aware of the demands of their fasting, and appreciating the changes it may impose on their daily schedule.  An understanding that even smoking and chewing gum are regarded as breaking one’s fast can also help others better negotiate the sensitivities of the month.  

Perhaps it’s also helpful for others to appreciate that what they may consider “just a little rule-break” in fact requires Muslims to undergo Kaffarah, the process of atonement which involves another 60 days’ fasting or giving the cost of feeding 60 needy people.   

The 2011 census reported that 4.4% of the UK population identified themselves as followers of Islam, which suggests that today, almost 3 million of us are Muslims.  With such a number, it should come as no surprise that it’s a large, influential section of the community.

What is perhaps surprising is that 2022 is the first year that Tesco will run an advertising campaign, specifically designed for the whole of the month-long festival.  What’s more, they’ve taken great care not to be accused of simply attaching their brand to the words and imagery of Ramadan.  Their campaign involves eastward-facing digital billboards that add images of food to plates only as the sun sets – and which do not share spaces with other, inappropriate, messages such as ads for alcohol.

This is significant because other advertisers are likely to follow this approach, which, in turn, will begin to shape the way that whole community consumes and understands the principles and importance of Ramadan.  

By the time of Ramadan next year (on or around 22nd March 2023, depending upon observance), perhaps the UK’s mainstream understanding of its significance will continue to be greater than ever before.