Whyte & Mackay whisky supports the Outward Bound Trust which helps young people develop key life skills, writes Valerie McMurtrie
WE chose to work with the Outward Bound Trust because of the synergy between its ethos and ours, which says that leadership is about understanding yourself and your limits and aiming high and hitting high. But also significant was the fact that it allowed us to build stronger links with local communities in Invergordon, where our grain distillery employs 140 people, and Falkirk, where our nearby bottling plant in Grangemouth has 180 staff.
None of our staff return from these courses the same
Over the past nine years, we have donated in excess of £135,000 to the trust which has enabled hundreds of young people from Invergordon Academy and Falkirk High School to attend courses at its Loch Eil Centre near Fort William. Both schools are in areas of significant economic and social deprivation, so supporting and encouraging students to feel more confident and to aim high is especially important for their future success in life.
The benefits of the courses, in particular improved resilience, confidence and team working abilities, are well recognised. Michael Aitchison, deputy head teacher at Invergordon Academy, has told me how the courses help students. “Having faced and overcome new challenges they tend to be more focused on their studies and aim for higher goals,” he says.
Stuart Kelly, deputy head teacher at Falkirk High, who has been responsible for the programme since we became involved, agrees, saying: “The courses benefit individual students in different ways but, in general, it prepares them for life after school, how to work effectively with others, have the confidence to make positive decisions and at the same time help them to re-engage with learning.”
However, the courses also have a huge impact on our own employees who attend as mentors. Each year four members of staff are chosen, from sales, marketing, accounting and operations.
Invergordon Academy’s programme is targeted at senior students, aged 16-18, so for these courses we select employees who need to further develop their leadership skills. Falkirk High’s programme is aimed at younger, Year 5 pupils – who are eligible to leave school in December – to complement its “Step Forward” initiative which aims to prepare them for the transition into further education, training or work. Here we select younger staff members to mentor who we hope will be in leadership roles in the future.
Mark Lancaster, a microbiologist/process scientist at our Invergordon site, who was a mentor on a course with students from Invergordon Academy, surprised himself by rising to the challenge of helping one of the young participants who was struggling to overcome tiredness and fear. “I would never have believed I could become so engaged with people I didn’t know at the outset. By the end of the week I’d have done anything for them and the responsibility of making sure I didn’t let anybody down carried me through the toughest physical tasks and really increased my self-belief and confidence,” he said.
Another mentor, accountant Colin Finlayson, attended a course with a small group from Falkirk High, just six pupils, which meant he had to get to know them individually. He didn’t find it easy but working with them allowed him to see he had the ability to lead and influence a team. The change in his working style was noticed immediately by colleagues when he returned. He appeared more confident and open and became a much more prominent member of his team.
None of our staff return from these courses the same. What stands out most is the incredible confidence boost they gain from the experience. Many of us doing our day to day jobs can forget what we are capable of, can forget our dreams. These experiences help staff to get in touch with their dreams again and realise they can “shoot for the moon” if they so choose.
So our partnership with The Outward Bound Trust isn’t just a “charitable” enterprise or a tick in the company’s CSR box but is about giving opportunities to young people in our communities. It’s also about training and developing our own staff, giving them the chance to reassess their abilities. We and the trust have a genuine shared view on how best to capture the talent of young people and support them to become leaders of the future.
To find out how your organisation could work in partnership with the trust to benefit local schools contact Scottish director Martin Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org , call 0141 413 0244 or visit www.outwardbound.org.uk
• Valerie McMurtrie is HR director at Whyte & Mackay