Richard Branson has never been shy about discussing his corporate social responsibility credentials, and once declared that he had a "genuine belief" that he should be using the skills and resources at his disposal to "do good". The do-gooding by his disparate empire of more than 300 companies is orchestrated by a charitable arm called Virgin Unite, which makes the case to each of the Virgin brands that they should be helping charities as well as maximising profit. Virgin Unite has four charity partners in the UK, all of which work with young people: Kids Company, Kikass, Youth at Risk and Foyer.
Thus far, the relationship with youth homelessness charity Foyer has blossomed only with the musical side of Virgin's business, but negotiations are in progress to expand it into other areas. The partnership was launched in November to coincide with the opening of a Virgin Megastore in Manchester's Arndale Centre. Young people from the local Foyer mixed with indie bands the Killers and New Order. The Manchester store is piloting a work placement scheme for Foyer youngsters. They are offered a taster session, the possibility of a three-month placement, music workshops and 'open mike' sessions.
If successful, it will be adopted by 30 Virgin stores across the UK.
Already, staff from Virgin cosmetics firm Virgin Vie at Home have visited Foyers to see how they might support them, and Foyer is confident the megastore link-up could herald a wave of volunteering by Virgin staff.
"We like to grow these things organically through a natural progression and by evaluating how the partnership works," says Steve Mcdonald, head of communications at Virgin Unite. "It's got to work for the partner and give us insight into the issues we are serious about helping."