Sarah Wells is Community Manager, for Bettys & Taylors Group, a third generation Yorkshire family business with six café tea rooms, a craft bakery and cookery school as well as Taylors tea and coffee merchants – the home of Yorkshire Tea and Taylors coffee. It’s a values-led business that prides itself on doing things properly which is reflected in its commitment to the local community, particularly in Harrogate where the main production areas of the business are based and many of the employees live. The Cone Exchange, set up in 2003, is the business’s flagship community recycling project.
Describe your role and responsibilities. How many years have you been in the company?
I first started at Bettys & Taylors as a part time shop assistant when I was 16 and have stayed ever since! I worked seasonally through my university days and then moved to take up a role as our company archivist before I joined our Group Communications Team. Over the years, my role developed into one with a community focus and now the majority of my work is with our flagship community recycling project, The Cone Exchange, ensuring we have good governance structures in place as we look to the future.
Where did your interest in community begin?
As a business we have a strong culture of helping our local community to flourish – whether through our staff fundraising for local charities that are close to our staff’s hearts, via our Cone Exchange project or supporting our local ‘In Bloom’ group. It was through a session helping to litter pick and clean the streets of Starbeck where our main production site is located that I could see the difference the local community activists make – they bring the community together and achieve something very special through hard work and perseverance. It was from this point that I wanted to learn more about the voluntary groups working where our people live and work and see how we can help them to build more resilient communities.
How has your community investment programme evolved at your company?
In recent years we have looked closely at our Community Budget and how it is spent effectively. As a commodities-based business we invest heavily in our tea and coffee growing communities overseas. We look to invest in long-term projects that will improve living conditions as well as improving the farms and estates that we work with. Back in Yorkshire, our community recycling project The Cone Exchange has grown and developed since it was first set up in 2003 and is now a major part of how we engage with our local community. We also have continued and grown our Trees for Life initiative, which has planted millions of trees both overseas and in our Yorkshire homeland. The real change has been starting to measure our investment via our relationship with LBG, which is helping us to develop a clearer picture of our strengths and where we need to develop more.
What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?
I am very fortunate to work for a business that truly lives its values. Our Group purpose is to make a positive difference to the world and this comes through in the decisions we take – both globally and in Yorkshire. As a result, I may not find it quite as difficult as similar roles in other organisations to get the engagement I need as the support for community projects comes not only through our Family Shareholders, our Group Board, and CEO but most importantly from our people.
My inspiration comes from those people who see a need in their local community and work hard to meet that need. Often, the most inspirational people are those who have set something up from scratch and worked hard to engage others in helping them achieve their goals. My colleague Chris who set up The Cone Exchange is one of those people who can see a need in the local community and find a creative solution to a problem. I work closely with several different groups to try and understand what is happening locally and how we can help. Inspiration comes from the oddest places more often than not!
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
One of the proudest achievements for me was setting up of our businesses Good Cause Awards. For many years, we have matched pound for pound our staff’s fundraising efforts for their chosen charities, but we realised that the totals were becoming overwhelming for some local groups whilst many smaller groups were struggling for small amounts of funding. Our Good Cause Awards use our businesses matched-funding to help smaller groups and charities nominated by staff often because of a personal connection. Typically, awards are between £500 and £1000 – in 2018, we donated over £69,000 to 105 groups working in our local area. This doesn’t replace our staff fundraising, but it means we can have a wider impact on a greater number of groups who need support.
What is your motto in life?
“Think – what would Thora Hird do?”
The Cone Exchange