The bank that found its Social Bite during lockdown - Sheena Hales

The ripple effects caused by Covid-19 have reached nearly every aspect of our society. Cancelled graduations, Zoom wedding receptions and virtual birthday celebrations have all become part and parcel of 2020 and while missing important life milestones has been devastating, for some, the impact of coronavirus and resulting lockdowns has been far graver.

Sheena Hales sorts out clothing donations at the RBS Conference Centre at Gogarburn.
Sheena Hales sorts out clothing donations at the RBS Conference Centre at Gogarburn.

When rumours of a nationwide lockdown first began spreading around the office, I was conscious that beyond my own concerns around school closures, remote working and queuing for the weekly shop, the vulnerable members of our community where going to hit the hardest by the pending restrictions.

Having worked with Social Bite last year, I was well aware of the amazing work they do and when they contacted me to ask for Royal Bank’s support, I got to work thinking about the ways we could help. Social Bite was distributing more than 140,000 items of healthy free food via its cafes each year prior to lockdown but seemingly overnight, they repurposed their entire business model to deliver 4,000 lunches a day to vulnerable people as the country went into lockdown. With demand from the community reaching unprecedented levels, the charity grew increasingly concerned over the logistics of food preparation and mass distribution.

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Royal Bank was quick to transition to remote working and, conscious of our newly empty offices, I thought we might be able to use our unused resources in an inventive way to support Social Bite. With a plan in mind, I went straight to our Chief Administrative Officer and asked a simple question: Can we turn our Gogarburn conference centre into a food distribution centre? The answer was a resounding yes and we got the go ahead within an hour.

Since then, we’ve partnered with the Trussell Trust and Cyrenians along with Social Bite, as well as forming a strategic partnership with KPMG and Deloitte to supply food, hygiene products and clothing to vulnerable people across the Scottish central belt and beyond. To date, we’ve distributed an average of 6,000 meals per week, taken in huge donations such as 220,000 items of new clothing and welcomed truckloads of potatoes and carrots.

Offering up our unused space has allowed our partner charities to accept and facilitate large scale donations from leading manufacturers and supermarkets, meaning they have never found themselves in the position of turning down a desperately needed donation due to logistical concerns.

What we have achieved since March is truly remarkable and while it feels rewarding to have been recognised in this year’s Honours List, crucially, this is a team effort and has only made possible by the amazing work of our volunteer staff. Through their dedication, commitment, and selflessness, we have brought together different strands of the business, charity partners, private sector organisations and even some of our own banking customers to act as one, providing an essential service for those who need it most.

Sheena Hales, Programme Manager in the Change Centre of Excellence at Royal Bank of Scotland, has been awarded British Empire Medal for charity work throughout COVID-19 pandemic in this year’s Honours List.

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