Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Oxford Summer School Foundation course – a retail specific talent development course run in partnership with the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) and retailTRUST.
I met Dominic and Neil, directors at OSS at a bira conference at the start of the year and they suggested I apply for the course. I nervously applied, not really knowing what to expect or how, as a tiny independent retailer, I would fit in at a Summer School that is also attended by employees from huge companies like Boots, New Look and the Disney Store! I was shocked to receive the call that I had been accepted and delighted to have kindly been awarded a scholarship to cover the costs of my attendance from retailTRUST – a huge help for a small business like Grace & Ted.
I arrived at St Catherine’s College in Oxford ready for a week of….I didn’t quite know what! Feeling apprehensive and suffering with major frizz after trudging 3/4 of a mile in that irritating warm, spitty rain that makes you too hot to wear a coat but soggy enough to need one; I sat down in the main lecture hall with the other delegates.
We were greeted by course leaders Kim Kimber and David Ramcharran who told us that the week would be educational, mentally and emotionally challenging and that we should be prepared to ‘step outside of our comfort zones’.
Now, I am an institution-phobe and the sheer thought of group work, team building, presentations and stepping out of my comfort zone amongst a group of complete strangers only made my nerves worse!
For a second I became distracted by lunch (standard) and the dining hall which looked like something straight out of Harry Potter. I became less apprehensive once I was given a three course lunch that was nothing short of super fancy…if you attend a course at an Oxford institution I guess you should expect that 😉
My nerves subsided after we were split into groups of 9 and assigned a group director. We would be spending at least 12 hours a day together including all meals and evening activities and we were told by our GD Amanda that we would soon become a ‘family’.
“Ok sure”, I thought.
The week included hugely inspirational talks from the MD of New Look in the UK and Ireland Danny Barrasso, Annie Murphy – Commercial Director at Boots (and all round Superwoman) and a session on coaching from expert Patrick Marr. It was an honour to be in a room with such successful, motivated and knowledgeable people and it seems the Oxford Summer School do an incredible job of attracting speakers every year that you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet, let alone learn from.
Discussions on leadership, how to coach members of your team, how to tailor your approach to managing individuals and group challenges which included a ‘treasure hunt’ style race around Oxford city centre left us physically, mentally and emotionally drained. Luckily, respite took place in the form of beer and a game of ‘Heads Up’ with my group most nights. (Great game if you haven’t played it – download it on your phone!)
Besides all of that, most importantly I learnt so much about myself. As cheesy as that sounds, at 26 years old I still don’t really know who I am or what the hell i’m doing. I spend most of my time wondering if i’m doing the right thing, making the right decisions and feeling like i’m in over my head.
The Oxford Summer School succeeded in improving my confidence, positivity and motivation to succeed, whilst also making me realise that i’m not actually doing too badly. I left with a clearer vision of what I want to achieve and how I can get there. Most of all though, I gained a support network of people that can help me. Well, they’re not just people, they’re like family – Amanda was right.