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Our Social Promise - Our People's Stories - Haley-mae Downer

Case Study

From a handful of GCSEs to a full-time job, Haley-mae defied expectations. No university education, no support network, and the cruel twist of homelessness at 16 didn’t stop Haley-mae from becoming a Business Development Director at Compass Group UK & I.

She began her career in the insurance industry, focusing on training for the future. At 19, Haley-mae was hit with a career blow; she was told that because she had no degree, she wasn’t able to progress in her current job and felt deflated by her lack of opportunities.

Ever persistent and determined, Haley-mae secured a role in merchandising, where she first experienced the retail sector. For ten years she continued on this career pathway, developing her skills in an international role, making positive impacts to retail outlets, pushing for changes and progressing up the career ladder. That led her into a business development role for travel with WHSmith.

Liaising with clients allowed Haley-mae a hands-on experience and networking opportunities – she was carving out a successful career for herself. She also started volunteering for the NHS, taking part in a clinical panel, where she was consulting on various social issues for the 24/7 section of the National Standards for Healthcare Food and Drink.

In August 2022, Haley-mae decided it was time for change and started at One Retail as a Business Development Director. She was drawn to Compass by the opportunity for career development including training programmes and opportunities to progress within a large business.  

In her time at Compass, Haley-mae says her background was “not only welcomed but embraced as well.” Her mentors in Compass include her manager, Richard Moran and Peter Brooks, the Head of Learning and Development at Compass. Haley-mae also said that Lone Middleton, the Proposition Director at Compass One, has been her unofficial mentor.

Unfortunately, after just eight weeks with Compass, Haley-mae was diagnosed with a major depressive episode and it was clear that she needed time off and support. She said: “My boss supported me as a colleague, friend and almost family member. For the first time I realised just being authentically ME - 100% - was ok at work and more than welcomed. I am eternally grateful.”

In May 2023, Haley-mae achieved a career highlight - spearheading the NHS England 24/7 Hospital Food Showcase event in partnership with the NHS. It was attended by industry stakeholders and regarded as a pinnacle moment in sharing ideas and best practice for hospitals in England who need to now deliver good quality food for staff 24 hours a day. 

Haley-mae said that: “After less than a year into my Compass career, for the first time in my professional life, not only have I been given the platform to empower others, I have been supported by all of Compass Group UK & I with no limits to what I can achieve.”

Haley-mae’s advice to her younger self and others is: “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive” said by Elbert Hubbard.  

Moving forward, Haley-mae wants to promote social mobility and opportunities to others who have had an unconventional background, like hers, to reassure them that there are fantastic career options for people, within the retail and hospitality sectors. She hopes her story helps and inspires others.

For more information on Our Social Promise visit: Our Social Promise | Compass Group UK&I (compass-group.co.uk)

Haley-mae Downer, One Retail - Business Development Director