The Apprentice Challenge: Onions, apiaries, rowing boats and dance offs 

Published on June 4, 2024 by Alex Eade

The Apprentice Challenge is a much loved, and much anticipated part of the Footprint Digital calendar. Every quarter, we get the team out of the office for a day to try something completely new, learn from different groups of people, and tie it all back to our day jobs with a competitive marketing challenge. Over the past year, we’ve had four completely unique days out, organised by our incredible Head of People, Charlotte. 

Inside the factory at Stourgarden

Onions might not be the first thing you think of when we say ‘Essex countryside’ but all of Tesco’s onions (plus some other major retailers!) are grown on farms surrounding the Stourgarden onion processing factory near Colchester. We visited Stourgarden when they were in the midst of harvesting their onions, bringing them in from the fields all the way through to packaging and sending them out to the shops. It was absolutely fascinating to see how this major operation works, and how each person plays their part to ensure a high quality product, processed as efficiently as possible. 

We learnt about their quality control processes, how they’re using technology to improve what they do, and we bonded over our B Corp certifications. 

After a tour of the factory and a delicious lunch (which obviously included onions) we split into our Apprentice Challenge teams and were each given a different product to market, and a different audience to focus on. We then delivered our pitches to the Stourgarden team who chose their winner. 

Becoming budding beekeepers

 

In summer 2023, we arrived at a little town hall to be greeted by the friendly faces of the Chelmsford Beekeepers. We were given a talk about the anatomy and lifecycle of a honey bee, the different types of bee in the UK, and the challenges beekeepers face in trying to maintain healthy hives. We were also shown lots of bee keeping paraphernalia, and had to remember as much as possible for a quiz later in the day. 

We then split into groups, and whilst one stayed behind to make honeycomb, the other headed out to the apiary to take a look inside the hives and learn more about what beekeepers do. It was a first for all of us, donning beekeeping suits and wellies, and standing around the hives as they were opened. We watched as the hives were smoked, and got to hold the honeycomb covered in bees. 

A few of the team faced their fears by doing this, we obviously didn’t force anyone to take part, but it was incredible to see those team members who had been nervous to begin with, get involved and actually enjoy holding the bees – they should be very proud of themselves! 

Once we’d all been down to see the hives, we came back together in our teams to discuss ways in which the club could attract more members, especially focusing on bringing beekeeping to a younger audience through marketing strategies on social media. 

Rowing with Paddy, the Cambridge women’s head coach 

In February 2024, when he probably should’ve been focusing on the upcoming Boat Race, Cambridge Women’s coach, Paddy Ryan, took some time out of his day to come along to Mersea and teach us how to row. 

We learnt all about the history of rowing and the Oxford vs Cambridge boat race, as well as about women’s rowing specifically and the strides that are being made to level the playing field and ensure that women are given the best opportunities to excel. We were able to ask Paddy lots of questions, and then he put us through our paces on the rowing machines, showing us the best techniques and commenting on our form to help us all improve. It was such a unique opportunity to have somebody at the very top of their game teach us, and we won’t forget it! 

After learning the ropes inside, we headed outside to get into rowing boats where the wonderful team at Oarsome Rowing Adventures took us out and taught us some more on the water. Some of us succeeded, others caught a few crabs, but we all had a fantastic time! 

Morris dance offs 

Our most recent Apprentice Challenge day in May 2024, took us to a golf club, where naturally we found out we’d be learning how to morris dance. The local morris dancers gave us a lesson in their history and the history of the different dances from across the country, and then did some demonstrations, before they split us into groups and taught us three different dances. We weren’t quite up to scratch rough to be given the bells to wear, but we were trusted with sticks which we had to hit against our partner’s stick in the dance – thankful all fingers remained unhurt! 

It might seem strange that we take time out for days like these, as the activities are purposefully not something we would ever do in our normal day to day. However, we think it’s so important that we step out of our comfort zone as a group, encouraging and supporting each other to have a go and try new things, as well as meet a wide range of people with different histories, ideas and expertise. These days are designed to give everybody a fresh perspective, and an insight into another world, helping us to bond and do our best work when we return to the office.