By Terry Johnstone, Area Manager, Northumberland
I started with the business at the age of 17 and what a journey I’ve been on! From where I was at 17 to now at 31 – I feel like a different person.
Going through school was completely different in the North East to what it is now. It wasn’t a time to accept and talk about who you are as a person. To be honest, from 17-25 years old I was ‘lost’ and, at times, absolutely terrified.
I wanted to share my story in a positive light so let’s fast-forward to when I was 25. I was a Store Manager standing in front of teams, discussing our values and encouraging colleagues to ‘Be Yourself Always’. At the time, I was hiding my own identity – who I was, who I loved. Hypocrite! That’s all I thought for about two years until I found what ‘Be Yourself Always’ truly meant for me. And how I could find confidence in being me.
I really believe Co-op is an environment like no other. We bring our values to the surface and it made me reflect a lot on ‘why’?
Why couldn’t I tell my team or even my family who I was? It made no difference, but the thing that stopped me was the fear and the unknown. It’s a feeling like no other. It changed my mood at the time and stopped me opening up to close family about my issues.
Aged 25, I remember jotting down some goals for work, and continued as normal in not accepting myself. That was until my sister asked me to be godfather for my nephew. Of course, this was an amazing time, but I remember going back to my goals and questioning how I could help my nephew grow and be himself when I hadn’t accepted myself yet. I then jotted down under personal development…’Be Me!’.
Since then, I’ve not looked back. I came out to a few close friends and family; it was an instant release of pressure. A feeling of weight had fallen from my shoulders. My colleagues didn’t care. They were happy I was happy and repeated ‘you can be yourself always now!’.
The confidence and awareness the Co-op has brought to teams across the country through diversity and inclusion is heart-warming, inspiring and has led to many of my colleagues discussing their own personal thoughts. I’m no counsellor, but the feeling that people can turn to you for help and support is something we must embrace. Far too many people suffer and don’t know where to go, so this year Pride is more important than ever.
During the lockdown, some colleagues have no support network. It’s a time that can damage their confidence and happiness.
Co-op’s toolkit is an amazing document that highlights the true definition of Pride. Going forward, I’d love to be able to support the younger version of myself that didn’t have an inclusive environment to live and work in. To me, Co-op is winning in this space for sure. And as a movement, the focus on Pride will always allow us to win in this space with our amazing colleagues.