2 December, 2016

International Day of Persons with Disabilities, from Lorna's perspective

We pride ourselves on helping talented people tap into their potential at M&S. They help us make us the business we are. To mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, we’ve asked Lorna to tell her story and how co-founding the Buddy Network at M&S has helped her and others with a disability, make the most of their talent.

“I’m an Onsite Search Specialist for M&S.com. I’m also an M.E. sufferer and have lived with the condition for 13 years. It’s also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I’ve also recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, another long-term condition which can cause pain all over the body.  As you can imagine, my conditions can make working life challenging – which is why I co-founded the Buddy Network at M&S.

“It’s a support network at M&S for anyone with a disability, health condition or just interested in wellbeing and supporting others at work. We’re also working to help improve the support available at M&S – whether that’s information available on different conditions or line manager support. We’re deliberately not a corporate-led group; it’s very much a group created by and led for the people that need it. After all it’s those of us living and breathing our conditions that are the experts in understanding what support is required and more importantly what works.

“I have a buddy at work called Suzie. We’ve got different conditions but started off having coffee with each other every couple of weeks and sharing our tips for coping with our conditions at work. It was so helpful having someone to speak to that really gets it and that you can rant to on a bad day, that we decided to open our coffee and chats to everyone else. A year later we have a growing online community, of 140 plus members from stores, head offices, all over M&S. 

“The business are very much willing to listen and learn. There’s also actually some really good information resources and support available. The Buddy Network is working with M&S to help the people who need to, access it. I think support for line managers is key too. Managing people is a difficult job to start with but for those of us with disabilities having a supportive manager can make all the difference.

“I think you’d struggle to find the perfect disability employer but M&S has good foundations in place. The work the Buddy Network is doing can only improve things further. Saying that I’ve had some fabulous managers that have really mastered the art of balancing great support alongside giving me the opportunities to develop, grow and step outside my comfort zone.

“People’s perception of disability, in my experience, can be very mixed. A lot comes down to how you personally, approach it. I’ve always been completely open about my disability – it’s there – it’s not going away and the challenges I face because of it have made me who I am. It's made me a fighter. It’s taught me the importance of empathy and positive thinking. I’ve learnt not to take things for granted; not to judge a book by its cover; and that you never know what’s coming round the corner.

“Creating the Buddy Network has been a fantastic rewarding experience. And when someone joins the group and says it’s made them realise they’re not alone – that’s just priceless. It’s great to spend time around the day job contributing to something so important. If you join M&S, come and join us; we’re open to all whether you have a disability, health condition or just an interest in wellbeing. 

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