Lee's Story

Lee's Story
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As part of our 30 Voices series, we interviewed Lee Syrett, Manager, Nationwide Building Society Salisbury about his team's involvement with Alabaré. 


Can you tell me a little bit about your job?

I’m the Senior Branch Manager of Nationwide in Salisbury, and I manage a cluster of six branches across our region. Part of my job is to encourage community involvement, including supporting our staff to use the two days of paid volunteering they get every year.

Before the Branch got involved with Alabaré in 2017, as a team we’d only done the normal corporate fund-raising for national charities. Whilst they do really important work, I’d always had a passion to do more within our local communities.

You personally and your team have been involved in some really incredible events for Alabaré. It all started with you putting in an application to do the London Marathon and it snowballed from there. You’ve done a sleep out at Gloucester Prison, skydiving, wing-walking, and you also did the sleep out with your team when we had to cancel the Salisbury Cathedral Big Sleep because of the snow. So how did your team feel about getting involved with all these different events?

Right back at the beginning of 2017, I applied to run the London Marathon for Alabaré. When I heard I had got the space, I talked to the team about what Alabaré does. We couldn’t even say the charity’s name properly at the beginning! The team has learned so much about the different sides of the charity over the past four years, but it was the initial interactions that were the most important thing in the journey.

I don’t want to be the type of Manager who dictates what we are going to do as a team. When the team buy into something they give a hundred per cent. I want them to own it, to enjoy the task, rather than having to do something. The team got behind me with the London Marathon, and we ran a marathon in a relay in Branch, which was incredible.

Can you tell me a bit about the decision to sleep out as a team when Alabaré had to cancel the Salisbury Cathedral Sleep Out?

It was purely the team’s decision. We spoke about it and we wanted to do it. The snow was really, really heavy. We understood that Alabaré had to cancel it because it wasn’t safe for people to travel, but my team were based in Salisbury, and they made the point that some people don’t have the option not to sleep rough and that they wanted to do it regardless.

As I have a duty of care for my team, I had to work out how to make it as safe for them as possible. Luckily, I have a relationship with the staff in the Rifles Museum in Salisbury and they agreed that we could sleep in the doorway. They also gave us access to the toilet block. We were never going to use it, but it meant that I was confident that if things got too tough, we could go inside.

So, we decided to do it. It was absolutely freezing outside, but waking up in the morning surrounded by snow was pretty special. We didn’t sleep but that wasn’t really the point. And I think it just goes to show that if as a team we say we will do something, we’ll do it.

Nationwide has supported Alabaré in so many ways. Could you tell me a bit about how the team has supported Old Sarum Development Centre?

That winter the heavy snow badly affected the polytunnels. Because we had built up a great relationship between Nationwide and Alabaré, through our grants system we were able to replace the tunnel that had been completely damaged.

How have you used your volunteering days?

Six of us used one of our paid volunteer days to go up to Old Sarum Development Centre to paint, tidy and help make the polytunnel safe again.

Different members of the team have also painted the communal areas of two of the homes, and we have also helped sort donations at one of the charity shops.

What effect does volunteering have on the team?

I think it’s important that we use these days and I actively encourage the team to ensure that they do. That’s what they’re there for, whether it’s for my charities, whether it’s for their own charities close to their heart, I’m quite passionate about using them and making a difference to people.

It’s really nice to see where the money goes, the difference it makes to the charity and also, it’s brilliant for team building. Spending time with your colleagues outside of work is really, powerful. We work in a busy environment and whilst we’re all together all day, you don’t get the chance to get to know people and have proper conversations with them. But when you sleep outside in the snow, you kind of build up a rapport. So, it benefits the Branch as it builds the team, and it builds the community. But the second thing is it also benefits the charity as we are doing tasks that they don’t have time to do.

As well as volunteering and taking part in fund-raising events, you have also supported some of our clients more directly.

When we started working with Alabaré, we arranged to have a lot of Alabaré branding in the Branch. It showed all the events we’d done and the amount of money we’d raised. I think that made it feel more comfortable for Alabaré’s clients to come in. Another benefit was that people can get into a vicious cycle. If you have identification, you can open an account. But if you don’t, you can’t have an account and get your benefits paid. We now have a more personalised approach whereby we can support people with things like getting glasses or registering with a GP. Instead of only accepting more traditional forms of ID, we can now accept the evidence provided by Alabaré. This gives people confidence and some stability.

The support you personally, and Nationwide more generally, have made to Alabaré has been enormous. We are very grateful and we look forward to working with you again in the future. Thank you, you’re all amazing!