When the retailer John Lewis decided to choose a national charity partner for the first time last year, the employee-owned firm was quite clear about what it was looking for. The right candidate had to be relatively small yet nationwide in reach, get less than 50 per cent of its income from the state and be open to a transformative relationship that would involve more than just cash fundraising. YoungMinds, the children's and young people's mental health charity, ticked all those boxes and was appointed John Lewis's first charity of the year for 2007.
The partnership has so far raised more than £140,000, with most of the related activities crammed into one week in February. More than 500 events, including the obligatory baked-bean immersions and leg waxings, took place in the retailer's 26 stores.
But the relationship has also achieved something akin to a TV makeover for the charity, which is less than 20 years old. John Lewis staff are providing more than 100 hours of IT support aimed at revolutionising YoungMinds' IT infrastructure. The firm is sending in space planners to redesign the YoungMinds' office, which will also be redecorated and refurbished to make it more friendly and accessible to young people.
The expertise is flowing the other way as well. John Lewis has appointed 'champions' in all of its stores' departments, from soft furnishings to toys, who are trained by YoungMinds to speak confidently on mental health issues to customers and staff members. John Lewis registrars, who are responsible for the pastoral care of staff, will also receive training from the charity about children's mental health and how they can support the workforce, 90 per cent of whom are parents.
According to Avis Johns, development director with YoungMinds, the John Lewis partnership is unlike any other corporate partnership the charity has worked on. "Some corporate partnerships can make you feel like you're going into a sausage machine," she says. "They select you and you are told to stand in the right place and grin and grab the cheque at the right time. This feels as far from that as you can imagine. John Lewis has embraced us, our mission and our work to an extent I have never experienced with another partnership."
There are also preparations for when the partnership ends. Andy Street, managing director at John Lewis, is holding a reception in October to urge other businesses to support YoungMinds. And John Lewis employees - initially from the firm's branches at Brent Cross in north London and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent - will be trained to promote YoungMinds to other organisations. "We are almost setting up a community fundraising structure via John Lewis," says Johns.