Fifteen years ago, Becki Gorman joined Marks & Spencer as a lingerie customer assistant. Since then, she has experienced various changes within the business as she worked her way up the ladder.
One of her career highlights was opening the new Chorlton Simply Food store in 2017 upon her promotion to store manager.
“I’d had lots of experience as a clothing and home section manager at various stores beforehand, but this was my first appointment as a full-blown store manager, meaning I’d be accountable for everything,” she told Retail Gazette.
“It was nerve-wracking but I enjoyed the challenge and have loved being a store manager ever since.”
While everything was going to plan for Becki, in 2018 her life came to a halt. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to take nine months off work for surgery and recovery.
“I started having headaches and passing out which was so unusual for me – I knew something was up,” she recalled.
“After a series of trips to the doctors, I was eventually referred for a brain scan and that’s when they found the tumour.”
Many people would have wanted to slow down and understandably take a break after recovering from a serious medical condition. But not Becki. Eager to jump back into work, she returned to the shop floor earlier than expected.
“I’m not someone who can just sit at home doing nothing – I have to be busy,” she explained.
“So as soon as I was able to, I wanted to get back to work and doing what I do best.
“M&S were brilliant to me”
“During treatment I had to give up my driving licence which meant I could only travel by bus – so my manager Julie moved me to Spinningfields Simply Food store upon my return which was an easier route from my house.”
Not so long after returning to work, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. But rather than let it pose a whole new set of challenges, Becki was driven with a desire to give back and support the fight against Covid – so she signed up to be a NHS volunteer responder.
Alongside her busy day job, she carries out prescription drop-offs and check-in calls with vulnerable people in her community who are self-isolating. She also offers vital help and support to those in need. After she finishes work she puts herself on duty via an app on her phone, and she also volunteers on her days off too.
“It’s been a unique time to work in retail, as I’m sure it has been for every other industry too,” Becki reflected.
“The most challenging time was navigating those first couple of weeks in March and April 2020.
“The team were working flat out day and night to meet unprecedented levels of demand, all whilst adapting to new information every single day.
“It was a crazy time, but the way our store team and community pulled together was something I’m really proud of.”
The Covid-19 pandemic also provided invaluable lessons for Becki.
“I would say the biggest learning curve in my 15-plus years in retail took place throughout the pandemic,” she said.
“So much has changed in 12 months – from the huge shift towards online shopping to how our customers want to pay.
“In retail, change is the only constant, so our challenge is to ensure we’re continually innovating and making M&S as attractive and relevant to customers as possible.”
Regarding her work as an NHS volunteer responder, she said helping those affected the most was a rewarding experience.
“I’m grateful to the NHS for my life, so when I heard they were looking for volunteers to help during this crisis, it was an absolute no-brainer,” she explained.
“I’d always wanted to give something back to them and this was the perfect way to do that.
“I thought, if I can make a difference to members of my local community, then why would I not help?
“The work has varied from prescription drop-offs to check-in calls with vulnerable people shielding at home – it’s felt so rewarding to be able to help in even just a small way and I’m so glad I did it.”
In fact, over the last year or so, Becki managed to rack up over 1400 hours of volunteer work – all while managing a M&S store in Cheetham Hill and looking after her children.
“I believe if you really want to make time for something, you’ll make time for it,” she said.
“Everyone has the same 24 hours in the day. I think for me, the secret has been that the volunteering hasn’t really felt like work.
“I’ve really enjoyed it – whether it’s been dropping off prescriptions to people’s houses or just checking-in with them on the phone and having a chat.
“Anyone who know me knows that I could happily chat all day.
“And of course I can’t forget my kids – they’ve been incredibly supportive of me during the pandemic.”
In the New Year’s Honours list, Becki was recognised by the Queen and awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of her efforts to helping others during a time of national crisis. When she was first informed of the honour, Becki herself couldn’t believe it – quite literally.
“I thought it was a spam email,” she laughed.
“I had to call my manager to check – I thought ‘why would the government be emailing me? Using my work email address.. So yeah, I was absolutely speechless to be honest – I couldn’t believe it.
“It’s something I’m incredibly proud of and won’t forget about anytime soon. I thought it was brilliant how three other M&S colleagues were recognised for their efforts too.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Becki was then featured in the Covid Kindness book – an exclusive 350-plus page book packed with photos and interviews from key workers who have worked tirelessly amid the pandemic.
“Again, just like when I first heard about the medal, I couldn’t believe it,” she recalled.
“It feels amazing to have been recognised alongside all the other amazing people and organisations.
“The book itself is so impressive; the author Anna has done such a great job pulling it all together.
“At the height of the crisis, I feel like everyone was just in survival mode, so it’s easy to forget all of the amazing things we as a country did for one another.
“The book is a lovely reminder of what we can all achieve when we work together and it’s definitely something I’ll look back at in years to come.”
With non-essential retail now reopened across the UK, Becki offered some advice to fellow store managers.
“It’s important to have a soft side,” she said.
“Of course you’ve got to be authoritative in order to set boundaries, stick to policies and make sure everything gets done – but you’ve got to have a personable side, too.
“You need to get your team on side”
“People are at their best when they enjoy coming to work – it’s important to remember that.”
For those who might just be starting out in retail, she said it was all about having the right attitude and determination.
“You can work your way up the ladder and build yourself an extremely rewarding career,” she explained.
“You just have to believe in yourself and also make sure you give yourself development time.
“Never feel stupid asking questions; the more you ask the more you learn. You don’t always require formal qualifications either, which is appealing to those that have the drive to work their way up without going to university.”
But for now, the future looks bright for Becki. She just can’t wait to take her family on a holiday abroad in the sunshine.
“I feel like I’ve worked extremely hard this year and my children have had to adapt in so many ways, for example home schooling,” she said.
“So I think we all deserve a little break away.”
Do you know someone who could be the next Unsung Hero feature? Email the Retail Gazette editor at [email protected] with your idea.