Living proof that great things come in small packages, known to her friends as ‘half-pint’, we think anyone who knows Kim would agree she is a real live wire and bundle of energy. With a natural enthusiasm and sense of fun, Kim was an obvious choice when the National Bingo Game were seeking Hosts for their VIP winner event, Cardiff Calling, last year. Kim also works on several project streams for Mecca and also runs the Mecca Comms page (Internal Facebook page) with everyone from support office/area managers/general managers and team members.
An English import to Wales, but only from just over the Severn Bridge, Kim was born in Bristol, but before settling in South Wales, where her parents now also live, she tried a few different locations around the UK. Caerleon is now the place she calls home, with her parents living a short distance away.
Her first ever job was as a checkout assistant at Tesco, in Broadmead Bristol, but that did not inspire Kim to pursue a career with the supermarket giant. Upon leaving school Kim got her first job at Mecca in Bristol as a receptionist and kitchen assistant. It was only a part-time role as she was also studying at college for her BTEC 3 in Media studies.
“My friend had started working there (Mecca Bingo) and it sounded fab, so I applied and in two weeks left my job in Tesco.” Kim said. “Since then I have never really looked back, until being asked to appear in Bingo Connect. I think I took to it like a duck to water and immediately felt at home.”
Never having played bingo, Kim’s part-time job with Mecca was her introduction to the world of club bingo and the characters that inhabited it, both sides of the reception desk! Now, she regularly attends with girlfriends and is a firm fan of electronics ‘as it allows us to play and have a good catch-up for a girlie night out’. Going to bingo, whether for work or to meet friends, is never a busman’s holiday for Kim who very much enjoys being with people.
“Starting work at Mecca in Bristol, it all just naturally clicked with me and I progressed through the ranks quite quickly. In that way Mecca is a very supportive company and encourage staff if they want to progress. I became an office controller and duty manager at 21. By 22 I was a membership manager and by 25 I had become a trainee general manager (GM). I think I may have been one of the youngest at the time.”
To progress so quickly we are sure that Kim must have been dedicated to her job and customers, but she assures us that there was and remains a lot of fun and satisfaction in her job.
“The first club I managed as a GM was Mecca Andover, then Mecca Catford before moving on to Cwmbran. It was the move to Cwmbran that bought me back west and to South Wales, before then becoming GM at Swansea in May 2019 and it has been all go ever since I joined the team.”
When Kim moved to Swansea in 2019 no one had any idea of the challenges that lay ahead for everybody the following year, but bingo and the spirit that unites players and staff to their local communities was set to become centre stage, and not just in the UK.
“I think what initially attracted me to bingo was the sense of fun and genuine engagement with customers. While that was what got me started on a career in bingo what has kept me here is that each GM is allowed enough autonomy to be able to make a club their own – put their stamp on it, and, of course, I love working with a team.
“Leading a team is my favourite part of the job and I absolutely love always being hands on. The social aspect is also something that I just love too – a real community, which is something that there is not a huge amount of in the modern day. I think that’s why I have tried to revive and grow it in all the clubs I have been GM at – plus it gives you so much back in return, making that difference and having time for people.”
Since initially contacting Kim about being ‘In Profile’ the world is a much changed place, thanks to COVID, which has seen every club in the country close and more recently re-open with new COVID-safe measures, only to see some being asked to close again as we move into winter.
With clubs a key part of the communities in which they are located and, for some customers, bingo being their only form of social engagement and connection with the broader community, the closing of clubs saw many people, not merely deprived of bingo, but also isolated. This was at a time when every part of the globe, not just their local town, was at best challenged. Kim may have been floored by the confirmation of a national lockdown, but it was never going to take it sitting down for long.
“When the first national lockdown was announced I have to be honest and say I panicked –closed down everything and communicated with our team what was happening. It was petrifying. We closed on the 23rd March, but by the 25th we had plans in place to start up a Mecca Community kitchen that very week.”
Kim continues, “Like so many bingo clubs across the country we had relationships already established with several local charities, for which we had already helped raise money and donated hot meals since the previous August. We collaborated with them and this is when the ‘Swansea Together’ project was born.
Swansea Together is an emergency collective, that is coordinating a collaborative effort to see food prepared and distributed safely on a daily basis for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
“The aim is to ensure that every person in Swansea is fed, clothed, and supported during this time. We worked with several charities to get this started, including Matthew’s House, which provides a warm and welcoming building in the heart of Swansea, particularly for the homeless and most vulnerable in the city; Matt’s Café (I love their slogan ‘feed bellies not bins!’) which is part of the The Real Junk Food (TRJF) Project, a network of national and international cafes, permanent and pop-ups, that intercept food waste destined for land fill and use it to feed people who need it, safely, on a pay-as-you-feel basis. That is amazing! And ‘Where’s Doris’, which is a not for profit organization setup to support people in need.
“We also have a good relationship with our MP Carolyn Harris who has big plans for us. She put a proposal together that not only would we send care packages and feed the vulnerable and shielding in Swansea, but we would also become the main hub for the city! This saw us receiving clothes and toys and all sorts of gifts that were donated for us to distribute where they were needed most.
“We started cooking, preparing, and delivering (with the help of Swansea Council) around 300 meals per week. We had no idea how much that would grow and by May we were averaging 1,300 meals and care packages per week.
“We also extended our help to our local heroes, care workers/fire/ambulance services, any NHS workers, local hospitals and schools that were open for the children of key workers.”
For Mecca Swansea lockdown, rather than isolating them from the local community, saw Kim and team putting the club at the very epicentre, despite the club not being open to the public for bingo. How do you deliver all that?
“We had already started working with charities, helping them feed homeless people in Swansea,’ Kim said, “and knew that these people would be so much more vulnerable during the lockdown, with less people on the streets to help and offer services.
“A huge idle kitchen and a team that would not stay away made this possible. Without them it could not have happened – special thanks to Emma Thatcher, Adam Davies, Gaynor Robinson, Abbie Berry and Tracey Davies my Operations Manager, but everyone in the team did what they could and were all fabulous! With Swansea council services driving and delivering every meal and care package we made, we were all go.
“We celebrated national days and holidays during lockdown. During the VE day celebrations we posted on Facebook a competition in which our customers could win a bingo at home package. This went viral. We ended up delivering over 100 bingo at home packages across Swansea. It was great fun.”
It was not just the wider Swansea community who benefitted from Kim’s and the team’s work, Mecca customers came in for some TLC too.
“We didn’t only cook. We made phone calls. Lots of phone calls, to our customers daily. Checking in and seeing if anyone needed any help or support and for those that did, made them up care packages. Over 35,000 hot meals and care packages were distributed by the end of lockdown from Mecca Swansea and we are continuing with the homeless meals 3 times per week, something that will continue for the foreseeable future.”
There is no doubt that Kim and team made a huge difference during lockdown, not only to their customers, but also to the wider community of which they are a part. But how was the return, following clubs being allowed to open in July 2020?
“The work continued,” said Kim. “We worked hard getting our club, clean, safe and COVID compliant and spent a lot of time showing customers what we had done to ensure their safety was and is our priority.
“One of the first things we arranged was an awards night. This was organised by myself and Tracey my OM and starred MP Carolyn Harris. We invited all of the people that volunteered their services, all of the companies that donated and everyone involved in being our support network throughout. As a thank you for their help. Carolyn presented awards which were provided and prizes, sponsored the National Bingo Game!”
The work of the team who have given of their time unstintingly during lockdown has been amazing, but have they had the energy to then put in place and help customers navigate the new COVID compliant space, and what has this meant for the business?
“Yes. Is the short answer” said Kim. “The club has been doing well. We have had nothing but great feedback from our customers about the work we have been doing in lockdown. Many of our shielding customers and their families had support from us one way or another, so feel really connected to us. Plus, we called them and explained what we were doing to keep them and our teams safe.
“It’s been a tall order. To help ease customers back into things we introduced ‘Mecca Cares’ sessions at 10am each morning. This is where customers that were a bit more anxious about returning, could come in and have a coffee and a snack with us. We then walked them through the new in-club journey to build their faith in our new policies. We sent a mailer and email about our policies and new prices and timings. We were also very active on Facebook throughout and posted a video of me and Tracey showing them our new customer journey through the club. It has certainly been busy!
“But I didn’t want to leave it there, so we have also reached out to businesses in Swansea introducing a ‘local heroes’ offer for anyone that works in the town or marina and has helped, this included all our NHS/care workers. They are all invited into our club for a safe, socially distanced, fun bingo session. Most bingo clubs are such large venues that it makes keeping space between household groups relatively easy.
“We have not stopped and I don’t think me and the team are done by a long way yet. Told you I really enjoyed my job!”
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