Readers’ Lives: Debbie Howe

Readers’ Lives: Debbie Howe

Hays Travel store manager recently won the Making A Difference in the Community gong at The North East Employee of the Year awards. She spoke to Harry Kemble.

Q. What drives you to do community work and charity fundraising and which charities do you support?
A. Our previous area manager, Pamela Gowens, contacted us after she retired and asked if we could help after her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now every year we do an annual line dancing event in South Shields, and have done for 10 years. We raise about £900 each time and the money goes to the Alzheimer’s Society. We like to support charities we know about, so we started supporting the Charlie Cookson Foundation five years ago [Howe is the aunt of Cookson who died in 2013 after muscle and bone problems, a blood disorder and suffering respiratory issues and seizures.] It started with a fete, and now we hold an annual ball each year. This year it is being held at the Hilton in Newcastle on October 27. We always do an auction and last year we offered a weekend break, which was paid for by Hays Travel.

Q. What does it mean to win the award?
A. I was overwhelmed and because we know the charities on a personal level, it made it quite emotional. My regional sales manager went on stage to collect the award on my behalf, and I got told via text that I had won because I was on a cruise on [Royal Caribbean’s] Independence of the Seas with my family. I got a flurry of about 16 or 17 texts saying congratulations.

Q. How do you fit fundraising in around your work?
A. It is a slick operation now, but it wasn’t always like that. We now know who to source prizes from ahead of the auction we hold. Back in the day, we had to squeeze that in between work. All eight of us now has a designated role. The day I got back from the cruise on Independence of the Seas, we went on a fundraising walk from Sunderland Football Club to Newcastle Football Club. We raised quite a chunk of money – about £1,900 – and that is looking like it will be matched by the company.

Q. Do any fundraisers stand out?
A. Our Sedgefield branch is great. The manager, Julie Ann Humphries, is doing really well raising money. Darren Wetherell, of Whitley Bay, is also pretty good at raising money. Different branches have different focuses, depending on their passions.

Q. Does your fundraising work help increase sales?
A. It has a positive effect on the business. People who attend the line-dancing fundraising event will buy holidays off us. They know who everybody is and we know their faces so, because of the events, they put us above other travel agents. It also helps improve our team spirit at the branch and taking part gives the younger members of our team more confidence.

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