Maria Gough is one of the of actors who are helping to deliver Back to Being Co-op sessions for 60,000 colleagues all around the UK. Maria has spent over 25 years acting her way through the country and now specialises in corporate role play. A CEO putting interviewees through their paces at a law firm or a drunk and disorderly passenger for training purposes at a train company: Maria has played a wide range of roles.
Up for a challenge
When Maria was approached to be one of over 70 actors to deliver Back to Being Co-op sessions she was really up for the challenge and it’s turned out to be far more than just another bread and butter job:
“For a start the Co-op job is different because it’s a 90 minute performance with multiple roles. It’s lovely that it’s such a positive event. I’m enjoying being involved with a long project, getting to know the Co-op and meeting colleagues everyday. Some days are long but you just have to remember that for the people in the room it’s their first time and you want them to have a great experience.”
Something which is unusual is that in my 14 years of corporate work I’ve rarely seen senior people at sessions and that’s a big difference with the Co-op. It’s impressed me.
The first sessions
Maria has been with the project since it started in May, however the early sessions were truly nerve-wracking when the entire team had no idea what to expect.
“We were all new to the job and the Event Managers and Hosts are Co-op people who’ve taken time out from their normal jobs and have had to become performers. We were all very anxious but it’s been wonderful to see the Event Manager and Hosts blossom as their confidence built and they developed all sorts of new skills.
It isn’t always easy. We’ve had tough sessions with some very cynical people but we’ve all learned a lot from that.
Having worked in venues across the north of England, some have been more challenging than others. One time Maria found herself in a less than perfect venue: damp and tatty, but what she remembers from the experience is not the problems but a room full of dedicated community-based people. This dedication is often illustrated in the stories colleagues tell at sessions.
With so many fantastic stories, Maria struggles to choose just one.
“If I had to pick one I think it would be a story told by a Funeralcare colleague. He was arranging a funeral for a man whose son had died. They had obviously been close and went walking together a lot so he wanted a haversack and a can of beer to be put in the coffin with his son. The colleague explained that the haversack wasn’t a problem but the can of beer wouldn’t be possible. It obviously meant a huge amount to the father so he suggested. “Why don’t you have a last drink with your son and we’ll put the empty can in the coffin with him?” I found that very touching and typical of the thoughtfulness in so many of the stories people tell.”
A Co-op convert
So, after presenting nearly 70 sessions and meeting hundreds of colleagues from all areas of the business, is Maria herself a convert to the Co-op?
“Yes, I’ve been won over and I believe in what the Co-op is trying to do.
“The combination of the membership offer and the people I’ve met, it’s inspiring! In fact I’m evangelical with friends and family and I’ve started using my dormant membership card again. I even told my decorator that he should contact the Co-op when he told me he is planning to help out with painting a foster care home – because that’s what the Co-op does, it tries to help people.”
You can find all the photos from the sessions on Flickr.