22 years of memories and inclusion with the Virgin Family

Holly Branson with Vic Whitehouse, smiling at the camera in front of a Virgin Train
Image from Tania Steere
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 6 November 2019

The best part of my job is visiting our Virgin companies and meeting the brilliant people who have made Virgin the brand it is today.

There are around 71,000 people in the Virgin Family and there’s never any shortage of incredible people stories to tell. Here’s just one example from Vic Whitehouse - the Inclusion Lead at Virgin Media who has worked across the Virgin Group for over two decades. Here’s what 22 years of working for Virgin looks like, in Vic’s own words. 

Holly Branson with Vic Whitehouse at Virgin Trains
Image from Tania Steere

When did you join the Virgin Family and where has the journey taken you?

I joined the Virgin Family straight after finishing my last A level exam – I literally sat my exam in the morning and joined that afternoon! It was August 1997 and I began working part-time at a Virgin Megastore in the West Midlands. I quickly moved to a full-time position and was trained up as a ‘mobile phone expert’ ahead of the Virgin Mobile network launch. By chance, I ended up selling the very first Virgin Mobile in the UK – on the day before the official launch!

I moved to Virgin Trains in 2001 as a customer service assistant at Birmingham. Nine months later, I became a Train Manager working across the entire network and quickly realised there was a lot more we could be doing for our people and customers. I knew that to make an impact, I needed to become a leader. I eventually moved into the role of Customer Service Manager where I was responsible for a large team of catering staff and Train Managers operating out of Birmingham. The role took me all across the country but when we lost the Virgin CrossCountry franchise I found myself working for a non-Virgin franchise. While it was a great opportunity, I longed to be back with the Virgin Family and before long I came back as a manager of West Coast train crew. It was great to be home.  

Holly Branson with Vic Whitehouse standing in front of a Virgin Train
Image from Tania Steere

In 2013, I was given a fantastic opportunity to join the People Team as the human resources business partner support. Within nine months, my role expanded to cover the entire London to Midlands route. I was so proud and knew I had to make the role my own. In 2015, I really started to ask questions and push forward the Diversity and Inclusion agenda on top of my day-to-day tasks. It was great to get involved with our first ever Pride events.

In 2018, I was honoured to become the first ever inclusion lead in the entire UK railway industry. I was fortunate to have the backing of the leadership team to develop some industry-first initiative that really left a legacy for the Virgin Trains era and changed the industry for good. I’d found myself in my dream job!

When we sadly dad to say goodbye to Virgin Trains UK in 2019, I moved to Virgin Media as Inclusion Lead and I’m absolutely loving it.

What are some of your fondest memories and funniest stories from your time with Virgin?

Working for a friendly and warm family like Virgin has led to so many wonderful stories. I’ve loved the fun that I’ve had with our frontline teams especially with the Virgin Trains IncREDiball party and the many different Pride events.

I remember one Christmas at Virgin Megastore, we were about to close for the day when the team got up onto the counter and performed a brilliant rendition of ‘Making Your Mind Up’!

I really have too many memories to mention here. It’s been such an awesome ride and I’m excited for the stories to come!

A young Vic Whitehouse with another employee in an old Virgin Megastores shop
Image from Vic Whitehouse

Virgin Trains has left an incredible legacy. What initiatives are you most proud of?

I am proud of our people and their determination to do the best for our customers and each other, even when the odds were stacked against them. It’s hard to narrow down but some of the initiatives I’m most proud of are:

  • The #RideWithPride trains and all of our Pride events supporting the LGBTQIA community.

  • Implementing Amazon Alexa Skill to make JourneyCare assistance easier for visually impaired customers.

  • Introducing the JAM (Just a Minute) card to support those with hidden disabilities.

  • Opening The Calm Corner as the UK’s first neurodivergent-friendly waiting room at Crewe Station and providing hidden disability training for our people. 

We really used our ‘Screw Average’ ethos to shape the railway of the future and I believe that legacy will push other train operators to do more and to be more.

What advice would you give to a business in the early stages of implementing an inclusion strategy?

Firstly, you need to understand the business strategy and ensure the inclusion strategy is aligned. Everyone at all levels of the organisation understands the value of being truly inclusive as this isn’t obvious. Present statistics that show how creating an inclusive culture is a financial investment.

Next, develop an understanding of the culture you are trying to create - how will an inclusive culture ‘feel’ at your company?  What will the colleague and customer experience be? What do you need to do to get there? For example, would it be effective to invest in inclusion training?

Understanding your demographic is essential and diversity data disclosure will help you understand this. However, people need to be assured that this will be used in the right way, so communications and purpose is essential.

Finally, define how you will measure (and celebrate) success. This will help your inclusion narrative to grow.

Most of all, make it fun!

Vic Whitehouse and other Virgin Trains team members celebrate Pride in front of the Virgin Trains Pride train
Image from Virgin Trains

What are three simple ways we can be more inclusive at work?

  • It’s about everyday Inclusion and talking to people on a level and being 100 per cent human. Have a conversation with someone who is different to you and try to learn something new. 

  • Don’t make assumptions based on appearance or accents - everyone has something unique to bring to the table and each of us have a lived experience to tell.

  • Be authentic. Just be you and let others be them. After all, everyone else is taken!

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