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City Lit Stories - Sovel Cunningham

26 July 2019
Posted in: Stories


Tell us about your background in education and career and how you got into working in HR?

To answer this question, I need to take you back to 1974. One of my earliest memories is that of my late mother being dismissed from work because she had spoken the truth. There and then, I made a promise to my young self that when I grew up, I would make sure no one would be dismissed from work for the same reason.

Many years later, I came to realise, people could be dismissed for speaking the truth. However, it was the intention behind the truth that mattered the most and their values. Fast forward to 1983, I left school to start my career in Royal Mail, it was the only employer I wanted to work for and the only application for employment I had submitted. 

I was fortunate to be invited to an interview and as the interview came to an end I was asked “Is there anything you want to ask or tell us?” At that point I felt the spotlight on me. Why? The position I had applied for was that of a Postal Cadet and a Postal Cadet rode a bike and I couldn’t!  “I can’t ride a bike – yet.” I replied.

Both interviewers looked at each other in utter astonishment, then with eyes wide opened one looked over to me saying, “You have two weeks to learn how to ride a bike, come back and if you can ride a bike the job is yours.”

It’s the summer 1983, I am working for Royal Mail Slough as a Postal Cadet. The first two years were filled with education: learning about Great Britain geographically, understanding postcodes, technology (automatic sorting machines and code desks), health and safety, ergonomics and the opportunity to study business and administration.

So how did this lead to a career in HR?

During the first period of  employment with Royal Mail: I was taught to drive, drove the company vehicles up to a rigid, successfully completed a management course accredited by the Institute of Supervisory Management, now known as the Institute of Leadership & Management, IOSH Managing Safely and undertook in-house courses covering all areas under the umbrella of HR.

The most important part about my career with Royal Mail were the opportunities to understand and work on my interpersonal skills through my interaction with a vast array of people. People from all walks of life and spectrum of ages through team work and growing these skills initially in role of an Acting Manager.

In the late 90’s I moved on from Royal Mail and joined Manpower recruitment agency as the Out of Hours Call Centre Supervisor, it was during this period that Manpower won the Royal Mail tender to recruit for staff for their Heathrow International Distribution Centre, HWDC. Because of my Royal Mail background, I was seconded to support the recruitment team. 

As the contract drew to an end, I was asked whether I would consider returning to Royal Mail at the new site. I applied for a management position and was successful in my assessment and interview.

During my initial time at the HWDC I became involved in recruitment, health & safety, employee relations and had accountability for my own team of managers and their teams. Working relations with union representatives were strong and positive and because of this, I was the go-to person for guidance for both line managers and employees.

It was upon reflection that I decided to look into Human Resources and whether my way of working with people, regardless of their position within an organisation, could add value in a completely different role.

Upon leaving left Royal Mail again, I took a step into a different profession as a temp in Human Resources, within 6 months I had been offered a full-time position. Over the next 8 years I worked for various companies, going from HR Administration to HR Assistant to HR Advisor to HR Generalist to Head HR in 2014, for a worldwide distribution company called Norsk European Wholesale Ltd. This was the ultimate role: everything I had experienced and learned in the past thirty-one years would be intrinsic to the role, the employees and assisting the organisation in moving itself forward, gaining ISO 9001 &14001 Accreditation in the process. It was during this time that I invested in my CIPD Level 5 in Human Resources Management and found City Lit 

Where did you first hear about City Lit?

My daughter recommended City Lit after taking a course.

What inspired you to start writing poetry?

The pen and paper are like music to me, and for many years I had recognised my poetic head voice. Through my letter writing in HR, my poetic voice was released. My colleagues/employees would commend me on my letter writing and remark how the letters conveyed real meaning.  It was after this I truly began to explore my poetic words and voice; taking part in a number of open mics in Leicester, Worcester, London, Hemel Hempstead, Uxbridge and the town of my birth - Slough.

What courses have you done at City Lit

I have completed a number of courses, ranging from:  TV Presenting, Voice and Body Work, Writing and Musicianship.

Recently I enrolled on Radio Presenting Beginners – September 2019. Anything which intentionally expands and develops the voice and presentation skills is a must: there is not a day that goes by when these skills and qualities are not being used consciously or subconsciously. Together, they can move us forward or without them leave us frozen in situations which no longer serve us.

How have the courses influenced you?

Collectively, the courses have called for me to listen more and differently, this has been exponential in all areas of my life. It has influenced me to become more aware and being in the present moment when communicating and interacting with self and others.

The combination of courses has given me an internal toolbox of knowing how to work with my voice and body in numerous environments and situations. They have supported me in having more control of my voice and recognising how my body responds to external stimulus. 

What were the tutors and teaching like?

All the tutors differ in the deliverance and imparting knowledge; one common denominator was and is the knowledge and passion for their subject matter. The saying - Standing On The Shoulders of Giants, comes to mind.

What inspired your poetry and prose due to be published and available this September? 

The work was inspired by my experience in HR; it encouraged me to take an expansive look at the world through a wide range of people from all over the world, yet, there was synergy in all their needs. The book, Marshalled In Ranks,The Rearrangement of Words reflect this.

What are your plans for the future?

I am writing a screenplay based on my Royal Mail experiences; the 80’s was a very different place/time from where we are now. I’m aiming to give an audience a vision of what it was like to be a young female in a male dominated environment along with the antics that were observed. 

During my experience in Human Resources, I successfully completed the City & Guilds Training and Award in Education and I am now organising workshops for adults looking to improve themselves and gain promotion or opportunities for betterment in their lives. 

Over the last ten years, feedback has taught me that policy is pressure and change is pleasure, this underpins the way I facilitate training, share my learning experiences and insights.

Tell us about your recent news, your book 'Marshalled in Ranks - The Rearrangement of Words’ and the publishing deal?

Last October I attended a three-day workshop lead by Robert Holden, Hay House Author and Hollie Holden.

During the workshop I was asked to share my poem called Oneness. It was after this that I was approached by a writer who said she would like to put me in contact with her publisher, for whatever reasons I did not follow this up.  Six months later I’m watching an interview on social media of one of my favourite people – Michael Beckwith and thought - what a warm interview.

After a brief search for the interviewer, it transpired he was the publisher of the writer who had approached me at the workshop. I made contact with him, we chatted about our missions in life, values and my draft book and the meaning of the prose and poetry, before being offered a deal.

It’s quite surreal; seeing what was once in my imagination now created in the form of a book is beautiful. Knowing that I did not keep those imaginative thoughts to myself and instead decided to share them is one of the most humanising things I am grateful to have done. 


Sovel's book is out now, you can order through every book shop or buy online.

Snippets of Sovel’s poetry & prose can be found on her instagram page @sovelspoken 

'Marshalled in Ranks -The Rearrangement of Words’ © 2019 Sovel Cunningham:


'Marshalled in Ranks -The Rearrangement of Words’ © 2019 Sovel Cunningham'Marshalled in Ranks -The Rearrangement of Words’ © 2019 Sovel Cunningham