1 October 2019

UKFast volunteering day - how does giving back make you feel

Arlene and Sax (in the background) on one of UKFast’s volunteering days, helping maintain the grounds at the Seashell Trust – and having a great time while she’s at it!

It is always wonderful to take a trip down memory lane, it something that my wife and I have been doing a lot lately as we come up to the 20th anniversary of setting up our tech business, UKFast.

For the next few weeks, the team have taken over my posts to share their stories of 20 years at UKFast. Today I hand over to Sax and Arlene – who head up UKFast’s training and education department.

More than a decade ago we started working with local schools and education providers in Greater Manchester. UKFast could offer hands-on tech experience and work placements, helping to bridge the gap between education and industry. Since then, our work in education has evolved beyond what I could ever have hoped.

So here is what the two people at the helm of that area of the business have to say about their journeys:

What do you remember of your first days here?

Arlene:

Amazing energy, general excitement about change that was happening and being a part of something really special.

I joined when we were in the City Tower office and in the first few days I sat beside the account management and sales teams. They were bouncing around on trampolines; the energy was incredible. At that time, we were gradually making the move over to Archway One (now UKFast Campus) in Hulme, and there was the general feeling of anticipation, of it being really exciting and a great time to join UKFast.

Sax:

I echo everything that Arlene said. In particular for both of us, leaving public-sector education to start an incredible new journey, the extraordinary energy was probably the most refreshing part. The new graduate and training team was a completely new segment of the business, training up a young experience team, developing new curriculums, taking trainees to Snowdon, having fun with the team on the new induction programme and helping to grow the next iteration of people for UKFast in all areas of the business.

How has UKFast changed since then?

Sax:

The obvious one is scale and growth. This fantastic Campus! But for us, the most spectacular change is all the different aspects of the business that now run as their own journeys. From our team in education to the builders at UKFast Space, to recruitment at MySort, to Harper James, and Mercarto.

We’re a multi-faceted organisation that can now deliver so many different products and services to clients, customers and community. The fact that we can now add training and education into each of these areas is astonishing.

UKFast 10k We Love MCR

Sax and some of the team at last year’s We Love Manchester 10k

Arlene:

He has said it all there. It has changed in so many ways, different opportunities for different teams. There have been and still are opportunities for people all over the business, but the core of who we are has never changed.

Sometimes we still feel like a small business in a big business world because the core of who we are and those values have always stayed the same. Sometimes I feel like we’re playing pretend but in a really good way!

We’ve always said that to be the best you’ve got to box with the best, and that’s where we always try to put ourselves to grow and do more. It is funny because there are so many things that have changed and so many things that haven’t changed. It’s good. It’s exciting. Bring on the next phase!!

How would you describe both your own and the training and education UKFast journey?

Arlene:

It has been phenomenal. We came into the most amazing business and there was really no idea of what our team would do or where we would go or grow, but there was a real passion for our expertise. And there was a passion for how that would make the business even better. We were given so much autonomy, love and freedom. From that we’ve grown the team to train people in every part of the business and grow the next generation of talent in UKFast. Phenomenal is the word that I would describe the journey that we’ve had as a team. Personally, for me, it has been amazing.

Sax:

I don’t know what else to add!

Arlene has articulated it perfectly. For me, the key has been how people have believed in our journey; to start our own school within a commercial organisation just doesn’t happen. Lawrence and Gail, and the board, believed in us and empowered us.

I know both Arlene and myself are so proud to see the apprentices, who have grown through the ranks, leading their own aspects of the business. That, for me, is the biggest thing. It is the journey that we take alongside these young apprentices and learners to wherever that takes them, seeing them learning and flourishing.

What has been your proudest moment?

Arlene:

Sax has pretty much answered that above. We are fortunate enough to get to relive that every year, every time apprentices officially graduate from our apprenticeship programme and we get to see them grow into different areas of the business. Seeing a couple of maintenance apprentices celebrate graduating their course on Monday in the morning meeting, in front of the whole company, ‘Daddy Sax’ is sitting there thinking I have helped you through that, we’ve done it together. They now have a qualification to say that they’ve hit the standard and that is, every year, my proudest moment.

Sax:

We are a family business. A true family is nurturing and growing your own children. For me and Arlene we take on these apprentices at 16. We are growing young people into the future leaders of this business, and it is like a family. That is incredible.

On top of that, there are little nuggets of things that we should shout about! For example, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal coming to visit our business as a beacon of apprenticeships and education in the country was incredible. To receive the Princess Royal Training Award is phenomenal and one of our proudest.

Funniest memory (SFW!)

Arlene:

Dressing up days! There are so many that spring to mind, it is hard to choose just one. The day that we did Lego was great. Then the time we dressed as Tetris blocks was a real highlight – we spent all day fitting our pieces together in random places. Even when I think about it now, there are tears running down my face, it was just so much fun. Halloween is such a good day here. Some of my best memories are from Halloween days because everyone is just so full of energy and banter. And it is always mind-blowing to see the amount of effort that people put into their costumes.

Sax:

Fancy dress. I’m not sure how many I could write about because I have certainly made some interesting costume choices over the years, but they never fail to raise a smile and I have won the best dressed awards for one reason or another! The fact that as a business we’re able to have fun and embody our core values is so important.

Why do you choose to stay with UKFast / what makes it different?

Arlene:

UKFast is a business that is full of opportunity. Personally and professionally, you’re always encouraged to do more and get out of your comfort zone. You’re encouraged to take opportunities and challenges on board, and always give it a go.

Professionally, you work with a group of people who are so passionate about what they do and who are doing an amazing job every day. And you work with people who want to make a difference in the world – how fab is that?

To be able to say that you come to work somewhere that is not perfect, nowhere is, but that is always evolving and, at the heart of what we do, we really want to make a difference to everyone in the business, everyone who is a client here and everyone who comes into contact with UKFast in the community, in Manchester and beyond.

That’s why I’ve stayed at UKFast for so many years, because I feel like I am part of something incredible and exciting, and I just love it.

Sax:

To be empowered, to be challenged and to be loved every day you come to work is a unique formula isn’t it? It brings an abundance of happiness and productivity. To be immersed and dropped into an environment with these types of individuals, who are constantly pushing you to thrive and flourish, is just incredible.

It doesn’t and probably will never happen in any other organisation on the planet.

Do you have a message for Lawrence and Gail on the 20th anniversary?

Arlene:

A massive congratulations on your 20-year anniversary and a massive thank you from me for welcoming me to be a part of the team and a part of the family. I am honoured every day to be given the opportunity to represent UKFast and to work with so many different schools, colleges and young people to tell them about the amazing organisation that UKFast is and how exciting a career in tech could be. Here’s to the next 20, where’s the champagne?!

Sax:

Thank you. You should be so bloody proud of what you have achieved. I hope you take stock, take a step back and recognise the difference you’ve made not just to Greater Manchester but the entire country in terms of how you’ve approached education training and digital tech. Bring on the continued evolution of UKFast – Silicon Valley of Europe, right here in Manchester! Love you both, bring it on!

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