How Inclusive Networks was born

How Inclusive Networks was born

Since I launched Inclusive Networks with a soft launch at the end of October 2014 and began to give it my full attention from the beginning of 2015 I’ve been asked a number of times how I managed to just hand my notice and leave my previous job and dedicate all my time to Inclusive Networks.

Prior to founding Inclusive Networks I worked for The Co-operative Group (and then Well Pharmacy when the Pharmacy business was sold in the Autumn of 2014) and managed the Pharmacy Operational Support Team at the HQ in Manchester. My last day working there was Christmas Eve 2014. It was a role I was successful in, had security, on the whole was surrounded my nice people, a decent enough salary and lots of benefits. It was all very comfortable but I wasn’t really enjoying going to work each day and I had to make a few changes for me. It was in my control to make these changes and do something fresh and something I was passionate about – supporting and raising awareness of network groups and the value and positive impact they have.

For those that know me they’ll tell you that on top of my very demanding day job and during many periods of internal changes, I also dedicated a significant amount of time (10+ hours every week, a lot more in the Summer months, all voluntary) to my role as Chair of The Co-operative Groups lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) network ‘Respect’. I did more than I perhaps should have and during this time I made many personal sacrifices as well as using a substantial amount of my annual leave and personal time to attend diversity events and initiatives the network and business was supporting – as well as our own events. But I loved it. I took the role seriously and during my four and a bit years involved (I was a founding Steering Group member and named the network and was responsible for network PR and comms) I am extremely proud of everything me and the small team achieved in such a short space of time – there are too many highlights to list. The network became one of the most active, visible and most respected network groups in the UK and it had a significant impact in lots of way. I made lots of friends and met lots of inspiring and lovely people during this time, some of which inspired me to found Inclusive Networks. There were some darker moments too but I won’t go in to them here.

“So I went to contact the seller and on further inspection I noticed the seller actually lived in the flats opposite mine and the sellers name was the same as my biological father. After asking a few questions it turned out it was in fact my biological father and he did in fact live opposite me.”

I wanted the network to be as visible as possible internally and externally and to engage with as many people as possible, authentically, – and make a positive difference in many ways through this. I’m proud that we challenged the business in lots of areas and I’m proud that I personally oversaw the Group’s first LGBT media advertising, our own awards initiative (a first), sponsorship and support of over 50 LGBT events and in a little act of rebellion, I set up the networks Twitter account and was responsible for building the following to over 9,500+ followers in just over 12 month by the time of me stepping down in April 2014 (I did get official sign off once the account was up and running and getting a following). The Co-operative Group also moved from being number 112 in the 2009 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to number 3 in both the 2013 and 2014 index, being the No1 Private Sector business in 2013 too – no mean feat. Not much had actually changed in terms of policy and procurement processes etc – The Co-op had been leading the way since the early 2000s. The big move on the index is definitely attributed to the involvement of the network team who made the submission stronger (by being so active) and gave the detail that was missing when we weren’t involved. I remember coming in on my day off on the day of the submission deadline in 2013 and spending the day re-writing lots of sections to really bring the submission to life, making it a stronger submission and to do our previous years work justice. So much effort from lots of people had gone in to this. Our hard work paid off.

So that brings us up to the time of me leaving The Co-operative Group to make Inclusive Networks a reality. Truth be told I couldn’t have done this without having the resources to take a year out to build the new business, turn ideas in to a reality and to raise the profile of Inclusive Networks. We all have dreams and things we want to achieve and do but making these a reality is often difficult. I’m now coming to the end of the first year and it feels apt to write this article.

Photo : Some photos from the inaugural Inclusive Networks Awards, November 19th 2015

So I mentioned I had a good job at The Co-op, but this wasn’t a job that allowed me to build up the funds needed to sustain living for twelve months with little income, launch a new business, website, marketing materials and to develop and successfully launch an awards event, the inaugural Inclusive Networks Awards.

Inclusive Networks is 100% self funded and 100% owned by me. Something I’m proud of. As any new start up will tell you, making a new business sustainable is a challenge but I’m sure giving it a go. So if I wasn’t able to save the money to be able to hand in my notice and spend a year building a new business and brand, how could I do it?

In April 2013 I heard the news that my biological father, someone I had never met, had passed away after suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 55. I was of course sad to hear the news and thought of the impact this would have on my half brother (who I’ve never met) and half sister who I met for the first time not too long ago. I had no emotional connection to him though and up until stumbling on some paperwork at the age of 17, with my younger sister Jodene who was only 12 at the time, (I needed my birth certificate to set up a new account) I didn’t even know he existed and thought someone else was my biological father. It’s something my family chose not to tell me and the admission only came when my Nana confirmed it to me. The day I came across my birth certificate with a different surname to the one I have today and other paperwork that confirmed the above will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Soon after this my mother left me and my younger sisters and brother, she’d been having an affair, and I had to grow up quickly and sacrificed my late teens and early twenties to support my family, and the person I knew as my Dad. We didn’t have much and we lived on a council estate but we all did the best we could. The man who brought me up did a great job and in my eyes he is my Dad and always will be. It’s only really in the last year that we’ve become a ‘family’ again and I now have a positive relationship with my mother too. The little addition of my sisters and brother all having young kids has definitely helped this – along with me moving closer to them. So all is positive right now.

Prior to my biological fathers death I had actually had an encounter with him in my hometown of Alnwick in Northumberland. This was when I moved in to my first flat after leaving home and I became a bit obsessed with buying things off eBay. It was around Christmas time and a particular favourite Christmas song of mine is the classic Shakin’ Stevens ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’. This was before downloading (early 2000s) so I bought a copy of his Greatest Hits cd off eBay, unashamedly. So the cd arrived through my letterbox with no stamps on the packaging. Odd I thought. Then I opened the package to find a fake copy of the album too. Ok. I was a bit disappointed as I hate anything fake, I felt ripped off. So I went to contact the seller and on further inspection I noticed the seller actually lived in the flats opposite mine and the sellers name was the same as my biological father. After asking a few questions it turned out it was in fact my biological father and he did in fact live opposite me. I had probably passed him many times in the street. Perhaps he knew who I was? How random. That was my only ever interaction with him. Over a Shakin’ Stevens cd of all things. And the bugger still charged me postage when he just popped it through my letterbox. I never did follow up the fact the cd was fake and he ripped me off, ha.

It turned out he was married to my mother when I was born and had tried to get access/custody of me when I was a toddler but in the mid 80s and me coming from a big family – I think people intervened and he was never a part of my life.

“But I loved it. I took the role seriously and during my four and a bit years involved I am extremely proud of everything me and the small team achieved in such a short space of time – there are too many highlights to list.”

So he died and I didn’t think too much of this after I was told. I hope that doesn’t sound too bad. I never really had any desire to meet him or for him to be a part of my life. Perhaps if I was younger when I found out that would be different? I was facing lots of other challenges at this time, like figuring out who I was with no real support network around me. Then out of nowhere in August 2013 I received a message on Facebook from the mother of my half brother saying there was a bit of a situation and my biological father didn’t leave a WILL and the flat he owned and shared with my half brother would have to be sold, and that I’d be receiving a third of the sale price (split between his children). I can’t really put in to words how I felt. I thought after he died I would never have to think about him again. For anything to happen with the sale I needed to get involved and months upon months of dealings with Solicitors followed, something I never asked to be involved with but something I felt obliged to do to support my half brother and sister and bring them some closure, and financial support too. They had a relationship with my biological father, something I never had. On speaking to my family and friends I decided that I would support this and I would take the third of the sale that was legally mine. Perhaps it’s what he would have wanted too.

So that’s how I’m able to now sit down and publish this article on the Inclusive Networks website. I’ve invested my little bit of unexpected inheritance in supporting Inclusive Networks that I hope will in turn support lots of networks and organisations too. Because of this I’m able to be happy and able to do a job I’m passionate about and ultimately be myself, because of the support from the father I never met. I never met you, but thank you.

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About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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