Why working in the community is good business

Following the philosophy of his predecessors in the Greggs hot seat means Ken McMeikan is making a name for himself as a boss with a social conscience.

Barry Trainor of the Cyrenians' ACE Project with Ken McMeikan, Greggs chief executive
Barry Trainor of the Cyrenians' ACE Project with Ken McMeikan, Greggs chief executive

INCLUDED in Greggs’ latest financial results was the news that the baker had created a full time job for one of the homeless people it has been working with.

The Newcastle-based company is signed up to a Business Action on Homelessness project that was launched almost a year ago under the Business in the Community (BITC) banner, and run by Newcastle charity the Cyrenians with £250,000 in funding from the Northern Rock Foundation.

As one of the lead businesses involved, Greggs supplies mentors and work placements for people on the Ready For Work scheme, which aims to get people back into the world of employment after they have been homeless.

Since the scheme started last September, 38 people have been placed with companies in the region, which along with Greggs also includes the likes of M&S, KPMG, NRG, Sage, Carillion and Barclays Bank. Of the placements, 31 completed their work experience and 22 have secured employment.

Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan said: “This was reviewed at Business in the Community and the North East scheme is the national leader for the number of work placements who then go on to secure employment.

“They thought that was just magnificent. We’ve had one job and we’ve had four people on placement – it’s work experience and also confidence.

“We give them a write-up at the end and also a recommendation. All four of them have gone on to secure employment.”

Three of the participants are now working for other companies and Greggs employed the other on its IT helpdesk.

“He is doing an outstanding job and he is just a fantastic contributor,” says McMeikan.

The project, where businesses also provide mentors to work with those on the scheme, has three years of funding from the Northern Rock Foundation.

“At the end of the three years, we will go back and look for further funding. My guess that in the current economic climate is that the need will still be there,” says McMeikan.

“The Northern Rock Foundation will be looking to see that the money it invested was very well spent. It’s very powerful that it is not just one company, it is a number of companies working together.

“I think the Northern Rock Foundation will be encouraged that other businesses working with the Cyrenians are so committed to it.”

McMeikan’s interest in working with homeless people originally arose after he attended the Prince of Wales Seeing is Believing programme in London. Organised by BITC, the project takes business leaders out to see homelessness first hand on the streets of the capital.

McMeikan said at the time that the visit had a “profound impact” on him and he returned to the North East with a desire to do something to help.

Greggs already had a strong track record in working with the community. The Greggs Foundation was set up by Ian Gregg in 1987 and has raised and distributed £10m since then.

It supports North East projects with major grants and also has a hardship funded dedicated to helping people in the region in need of emergency funding for essentials such as clothing and furniture. Elsewhere in the UK, it provides grants of up to £2,000 to charities and individuals.

The foundation also receives £225,000 a year from the baker to fund its Greggs Breakfast Club programme, which provides free breakfasts to primary school children in areas of social disadvantage.

And Greggs, which has raised almost £1m for Children in Need and is the BBC appeal’s second biggest sponsor, has recently started working with Low Newton women’s prison near Durham.

McMeikan says: “Women who for whatever reason end up in prison - there are 18,000 children affected by their mother being in prison. We support women who come out and want to work.”

He believes that business has an essential role in helping to alleviate poverty and disadvantage in the communities where they operate.

However, rather than coercing companies, he says that businesses should take action because they believe in what they are doing.

“It is essential that they do. It’s better if they do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do, rather than if it was a duty,” he says.

“I was always very impressed by Ian Gregg’s approach as company like Greggs continued to grow and become successful; the company is only successful because of the support of the community.

“Ian Gregg and then Mike Darrington after him – I have followed in that philosophy; as we become more successful, we should be looking at doing more to help the community.”

He pointed out that the local community is where a business finds its employees and where it makes its money.

“At Greggs, our value have always been around making a significant contribution in whatever way you can,” says McMeikan. “Just one thing that impacts on one person is progress. There is so much that companies can do.”


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