Sarah Wikevand, managing director of call centre agency ROL Cruise, tells Juliet Dennis how the 25-year-old business raised £100,000 for the NHS at the height of the pandemic.

Q. Tell us about ROL Cruise.
A. We have 120 people in our call centre in Colchester, Essex. We were established in 1995 by Peter Beadles as Reader Offers, a Teletext-based company. We branched into cruise in 2003 and in 2009 Jeremy Dickinson took over the running of the company. We sell a whole range of cruises and put together bespoke packages. We are always trying to think of something new for our clients.

Q. Does fundraising already play an important role in the business?
A. We have done fundraising over the years and reacted to situations. For example, we supported the Australian Red Cross when there were the bush fires at the start of the year and we have done a lot with the poppy appeal. Our preferred charity is Macmillan Cancer Support.

“We supported the Australian Red Cross when there were the bush fires at the start of the year and we have done a lot with the poppy appeal. Our preferred charity is Macmillan Cancer Support.”

Q. Why did the business decide to start a new fundraising appeal during the crisis?
A. At the outset of the pandemic, we thought it was a stressful situation for all of the NHS. Early on, the NHS became the primary focus and in March, we spent time thinking about what we could do to help.

We decided to set ourselves a target of donating £100,000 to the NHS by the end of June to ensure our teams had a focus. We saw it as an opportunity to work close to home, not just for our local hospital in Colchester but for a wide range of NHS services across northeast Essex and Suffolk including community hospitals, mental health services, care homes, ambulance services and hospices.

Q. How did you raise the money?
A. We as a company made a donation for every booking from April to June and on top of that we have been supported by some of our local partners.

We have had bookings coming in but a lower amount. We decided it was right that we as a business donated rather than expecting customers to do so, because everyone is having a tough enough time at the moment. We raised the money over three months.

“We saw it as an opportunity to work close to home, for a wide range of NHS services including community hospitals, mental health services, care homes, ambulance services and hospices.”

Q. Has the fundraising helped the business as well as raising money for a worthy cause?
A. We didn’t anticipate the reaction we would get from our staff, and their motivation to watch that target going up every few days to see where we had got to.

It was overwhelming, and it helped give them something else to focus on because Covid-19 has affected everybody. People are used to working face-to-face so this fundraising gave them a common goal across the business when they were working at home.

Q. What will the money go towards?
A. The Essex Partnership University NHS Trust came to us with suggestions for where the money could go. A significant part of it will go to the wellbeing of their staff. It’s not initially what you might think of but that’s what the focus has been on [during the pandemic] – how strong NHS staff have been.

Doctor Ed Garrett, chief officer of Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, has told us the donation will recognise the colleagues who have worked tirelessly to respond to this outbreak, not just in the NHS but also in care home settings and voluntary sector partners.

“We are giving back to the local community and we will see how we can support them over time and keep in touch to see how our money is used. They have invited us to come and see what they have done with the money.”

Q. Will this lead to further fundraising by ROL Cruise for local NHS causes?
A. We see this as the start of a local partnership and something we will continue and grow. We didn‘t realise how big this would become for the company. We just said ‘let’s see if we can do it’. For this to evolve into what it has become is a great achievement.

Cruise lines have also recognised what we have done. I did think it would be quite hard but I am really proud of us as a company and I think more will come out of it. We are giving back to the local community and we will see how we can support them over time and keep in touch to see how our money is used. They have invited us to come and see what they have done with the money.


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What had ROL Cruise originally planned for this year, its 25th anniversary? 

We had expected 2020 to be a year of celebrations. I remember going to the Clia conference in 2019 when everyone was excited about the year ahead. It’s been so very different to what we expected.

We have grown to be the largest independent cruise specialist and, to celebrate, we had planned to run our annual cruise show in August. It’s been a really popular event in recent years where customers can meet staff, and we were hoping to make it bigger this year and more of a special occasion.

“We have grown to be the largest independent cruise specialist and, to celebrate, we had planned to run our annual cruise show in August.”

We are a call centre, so everyone is on the phone, but there is a face-to-face element that some of our database really like, especially our loyal cruise bookers.

We would also have had a company event for our 25th anniversary this year [if not for Covid-19]. We will now look to have a big cruise show in 2021 and invite our cruise lines and our loyal database. We don’t want 25 years to go unnoticed!

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