Last Friday I had an amazing day by returning to two of the most important places that shaped the person I have become.
First stop was The Body Shop’s head office in Littlehampton. This was the first full time job I had as a teenager, it was where I met Anita Roddick, and it had a culture so strong that it truly inspired me to think big and think of others.
Working there back then you really did feel anything was possible. You were expected to work your socks off but also be yourself and not be afraid to laugh. I always remember a lot of laughter.
There’s no doubt at all that this place, and the people in it, had the most important role in shaping who I am today. So when I received an invite to return, how could I say no!
I’m not a sentimental person at all but I have to admit to a flurry of nostalgia and emotion when I arrived. The place is riven with memories for me. Like a corridor where I saw the spot Anita once stopped me and asked how I was doing. I told her I was terrified all the time because she was making me do lots of public speaking. She said ‘the time will come when you loose your fear of standing in front of people and focus more on what it is you’re going to say. You’ll thank me for it one day!’.
Wow, Anita, you were right…thank you!
When I arrived there the first time I was 18 years old and someone from HR showed me to my desk. It was joined together in a cluster of desks in a big open plan office where I input invoices into the computer.
This time, thirty years later, I walked in to reception to be met by the new CEO, David Boynton. It was a very different experience!
I toured the place, had a discussion with the LGBT network, had lunch in ‘the diner’, and then had the chance to speak at a staff meeting about my experiences there and how it shaped me as a person and, today, a politician.
It was so good to see that the company is continuing to innovate. I loved the staff allotments for example. Any member of staff can have one and each department has one and they compete over produce with the goods and money raised going to the local community. Anita would have loved that!
The Body Shop is under new ownership now and I’m really excited to see where it goes as it reconnects with its heritage and launches into the future.
As is that wasn’t emotional enough I then headed off towards Bognor Regis where I grew up and visited my old school, Felpham Community College.
I had a mixed time at school. I loved the people and the friends but I really struggled with the work as an undiagnosed acute dyslexic. I left without any usable qualifications and even had to return at the age of 25 to take them again so I could go to university.
Physically the school is recognisable to me, even though there’s been a lot of changes and additions like a new hall and some new classrooms. The rush of nostalgia was in every corridor and classroom I went into.
When I was there in the 1980’s it was quite a noisy, boisterous place. But this time it was very different. Students are dressed so much smarter in their immaculate uniforms, and there was a purposeful atmosphere right through the school.
But best of all was meeting students. It was a total treat for me to meet loads of students in various classrooms and bore them with a few my stories of the 1980’s! At the end of the afternoon I sat with a group and we talked together about my time there and their experiences in education. I loved listening to their views on the community I grew up in, and answering the many questions they had about my life, career, and about politics.
That night I stayed over with my dad who still lives locally to the school and we chatted a little about those days. I said at the start that I’m not really a sentimental person, but I have to say this was a day full of emotion for me.
I loved treading in my own footsteps but it was also so much about the future, a time for me to take stock and think a little about the steps I’ve taken and use it to keep me on track and we all move forward together in our community in Hove and Portslade.
Have you been back to your old school? Please let me know how it went, I’d love to hear. All the best, Peter