FY 2021 GB Retail and Leisure Report: An interview with the Retail Trust
From 1832 onwards, the Retail Trust has been caring for and protecting the lives of people working in retail. They believe the health of retail colleagues is the foundation they need to flourish in both work and life, creating a more sustainable and successful future for retail.
After the release of our FY 2021 GB retail and leisure report, we caught up with Chris Brook-Carter, CEO of the Retail Trust, to reflect on the findings and what they mean for 2022.
If you would like to attend our next Retail and Leisure Summit offering insight from the data we have gathered in H1 2022 (our next report release will follow the event), click here to apply for a free ticket.
Whilst the market is starting to show signs of stabilisation after the onset of the pandemic, we’ve still seen record store closures across the chain retail brands. How has this been felt at a human level in your experience this last year?
Retail is one of the industries to have been hit hardest by the pandemic and we have seen demand for the Retail Trust’s support soar over the last two years as retail workers everywhere are forced to deal with an unprecedented loss of jobs from across the industry and cope with several other financial, physical and emotional pressures.
What are your main takeaways from the key findings of this latest report? Is there anything that has surprised you?
It is positive that we are beginning to see some signs of recovery for the retail industry following what has been an extremely challenging period for everyone working in the sector. The findings on areas such as shop closures and vacancy rates suggest that the structural decline of retail is now starting to slow, and we hope that this will bring some much-needed certainty and stability to the industry and in turn, its workforce.
In terms of demands on Retail Trust services, have you seen this change year on year? Where was the most support required in 2021?
Demand for our services has risen by nearly 90% due to Covid-19. We’ve given out more than £1.2 million in financial aid since the start of the pandemic and run over 11,000 counselling sessions since the start of the pandemic to help people working in the sector pay their rent and utility bills and provide support to those facing stress, anxiety, and depression.
How have you had to evolve your services across 2021?
One way that the Retail Trust has evolved its services since the pandemic is by developing more specialist mental health training for line managers, who we found were bearing much of the brunt of the pressures facing the retail workforce.
When we surveyed line managers for our 2021 Health of Retail report last year, we found that nine in 10 had seen an increase in mental health issues among staff. Despite this, nearly a third said they didn’t have enough support from their employer to help, and one in seven felt unable to provide the right support to their team. More than two-thirds said they were burdened by their team’s problems.
We think it’s important coming out of the pandemic that managers do have a much better understanding of how to lead their teams and organisations in a way that promotes mental health. This could include everything from how to spot signs of self-harm or signs of domestic abuse within your team, and what to do about it.
One of the things that we invested very heavily in last year was a whole suite of mental health awareness training courses aimed specifically at leaders and line managers. We want the industry and businesses to place the health and wellbeing of their people at the centre of how they operate.
Can you tell us what you have in the pipeline for this year?
We are holding our first live festival for retail workers during Mental Health Awareness Week in May. It’s called Together Fest and is designed to give retail workers tools to inspire, unite and live a happier, healthier life. Topics will include financial health, coping with anxiety, sleep health, loneliness, lifestyle choices, work-life juggle, and spotting the signs of mental health issues in others. Throughout the day, people will be able to immerse themselves in interactive displays and activities to learn and discover new things, either individually or together, such as cooking demonstrations, mixology, arts and crafts, and much more.
We want to celebrate the real heroes of retail. The people who make a difference, day in, day out, keeping their businesses and the country itself moving. We are inviting retailers to send their employees to the event and we want them to leave feeling supported and inspired, brimming with ideas and practical solutions they can put into practice at home, work and share with their colleagues.
We’ve also just teamed up with national law firm Foot Anstey to launch a new certification for the retail industry aimed at creating safer working environments for retail staff against the rising levels of abuse and inappropriate behaviour. We’ll be working with businesses to review and improve the measures they have in place to protect workers and deal with any complaints of harassment, with the aim of giving retail workers some of the clarity and reassurance they deserve by showing exactly what their employers are doing to help them.
The Retail Trust is such a valuable industry asset, especially at a time when we are seeing such huge change across the sector. What would your final thoughts or asks be of anyone reading this?
We want retail workers to know that the Retail Trust is here for them, whatever their experiences or concerns. The Retail Trust offers immediate help for everyone working in retail who may be struggling as well as preventative support to enable individuals to manage their health and wellbeing, but that’s only possible if workers know about us. So please do get in touch with us, take advantage of the support we provide and help to spread the word that we are here and ready to listen.
We want retailers to work with us and with the sector as a whole to ensure that the industry places the health and happiness of our people at the centre of how we operate. Together, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the way, raise standards and leave a legacy that ensures our sector and its people thrive.
And finally, the help we provide would simply not be possible without the support and donations we receive as a charity. The Retail Trust’s mission of creating hope, health and happiness in retail has simply never been more needed, but we’re only as strong as this industry’s commitment to looking after one another and with it, the future of UK retail.
Founded in 1832, the Retail Trust is a charity working to support the emotional, physical, vocational and financial wellbeing of people working in and retired from retail. To find out more and learn how you can support their work, visit their website.