Jan Phayre, Head of CSR and Global Credit and Contracts Manager at Sapphire Systems, talks to Heart of the City about the CSR developments at Sapphire Systems since they won the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award in 2012 and how she manages their apprenticeship scheme.

1. Sapphire Systems joined the Heart of the City (HotC) Newcomers Programme in 2010, and in 2012 you won the ‘Heart of the City Award’ at the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards.  Can you tell us what you won the award for?

In 2010 we set out to create a community programme that utilised the skills and passion of our staff. With 50% of staff volunteering across all projects, we set up a relationship with a local primary school to put on a four week Apprentice project for 30 Year six students, with the aim to raise the aspirations of disadvantaged children. The project included a visit to our offices, with our volunteers delivering workshops on entrepreneurship and business skills, and mentors working with the students to create their own businesses. This culminated in a presentation of the businesses to the Managing Director and a winner was chosen. Sapphire Systems offered to help the children run their six companies. Kiara, one of the pupils from the school, said “I had so much fun doing the project, it felt like I was really in The Apprentice. The experience made me realise that someday I want to be a business woman.”

We have also given back by hosting a variety of events to raise money for our chosen charities, including 5k fun runs, quiz nights and bake sales, and we provide staff wellbeing projects such as lunch time language courses.


Year six students taking part in Sapphire Systems’ The Apprentice Project

2. Tell us how your role at Sapphire has developed since joining Heart of the City and what do you love most about being Head of CSR at Sapphire Systems?

My role has developed from part time CSR co-ordinator and credit controller to Head of CSR and Global Credit and Contracts Manager.

When I attended the HotC Newcomer’s programme in 2010 for Sapphire Systems, I was the only employee working on the CSR initiative. Following the advice from HotC I set up a committee and began to search for champions, and by the time we won the award in 2012, we had a CSR committee. I am now on the HotC Board Advisory Panel (BAP), and every time I attend the meetings I am further inspired by the committed, brilliant members of BAP.

Back at Sapphire, I was offered a full-time position with the company’s CSR activities still within my remit; however, this meant I had less time to devote to CSR, with our initiatives now vying for time with my “proper job”. I soon realised that I couldn’t do it all and needed more help, and Ian Caswell (our CEO) agreed to fund a CSR co-ordinator as well as my position. This has allowed us to keep up with our CSR activities, and given me the time to be on the Board Advisory Panel (BAP), and work with the Sapphire Support Director on setting up our apprentice programme. Our first apprentice will begin their four-year degree course at Queen Mary University this month, totally funded by Sapphire, whilst also beginning working with our Support team.

The thing I love most about being Head of CSR is doing a bit of good in the world. The next best thing would be the opportunity to meet all of the amazing, inspiring, kind, intelligent and creative people that choose to do CSR.

3. Now that your CSR programme has been running for a while, how do you keep up momentum and keep staff engaged with your CSR initiatives?

I can personally fill my CSR batteries by attending the HotC events and hearing about the brilliant things the other BAP members are doing, but I don’t think it is me that keeps the momentum; it is the CSR committee. Once we have decided on our activities for the year, we assign members of the team to be responsible for each activity. Finding the right people for each CSR activity and not putting too much pressure on the few people who are your champions allows individuals to take ownership for particular activities. Having a paid CSR co-ordinator also helps, and some of our CSR activity creates its own momentum, for example, our quiz night is so popular that I often get asked when the next one is! The interest creates enough demand that we end up hosting them fairly regularly.

Senior management involvement is crucial, and our CEO actually instigated the CSR programme after he attended a HOTC breakfast meeting at the Mansion House.  Ian is now a member of the HotC council, and this means he has not lost focus either.

4. You have recently taken on two apprentices, was this difficult to manage as a small business and do you think it will be a successful initiative for Sapphire?

With HotC’s guidance, we were pointed in the right direction (www.gov.uk/take-on-an-apprentice), and with Queen Mary’s apprenticeship degree course already up and running, we just had to plug in to it. We attended a few events to let students know where to apply and we received a good response and interviewed really high calibre candidates. The overall experience from finding a course and working with Queen Mary University, to offering apprenticeship places has been very positive and much easier than I thought it would be.

The apprentices haven’t started yet (that’s how new it all is), but once they’ve finished Fresher’s Week in mid-September, they will be up and running. If success is getting the apprenticeship up and running then yes, it has been a very successful initiative.

5. In addition to having been a Newcomer and Comprehensive member of Heart of the City, you are now mentoring one of our Newcomer members, you sit on our Board Advisory Panel and your CEO Ian Caswell sits on our council – what do you think has been the secret to this successful relationship?

The people in HotC – the knowledge, the opportunities and the support they have given Sapphire. Our whole CSR programme came from HotC, and it is pleasure to be able to give back. As an SME, it allows us to be part of the CSR community, and just having someone to ask “where do I start to set up an apprenticeship scheme” makes such a difference if you are not a full-time CSR professional. Thank you!

6. You are a great champion of CSR and Heart of the City and we love having you involved, can you tell us more about what you love to do in your spare time… if you have any?

Thank you! I’ll do anything in my spare time. At the moment I’m trying to learn how to play the ukulele, and I love walking and yoga. The attached headshot is actually from when I was learning how to make beer!

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