Londoner Bernie Hollywood OBE spent nearly a decade as a corporate banker at Lloyds Banking Group’s HQ at 25 Gresham Street in the City.
These days, he is determined to make a difference: next year, the 63-year-old is rowing the Atlantic to raise funds for youth mental health.
City A.M. caught up with him to find out more about his work in philanthropy, and his view on mental wellbeing in the Square Mile.
You used to work as a corporate banker in the City, what led you to choose a life of philanthropy?
Philanthropy has long been a part of my life. My family never had much money – but despite this, my parents would always give what they could to others. My mother had taught me that giving is receiving, a mantra I have carried forward in both my personal and professional life.
Throughout my career at Lloyds Bank, all employees were actively encouraged to get involved with the third sector. Even nearly 40 years ago, the business was focused on giving back to the community and becoming more sustainable – trends that are now commonplace amongst many corporates in the ESG movement.
So who inspired you?
I worked closely with Sir Brian Pitman, a trailblazer in the concept of community banking, and Truett Tate, who has long been involved with charitable work – both had a key role in creating a corporate environment where employees’ focus was not solely set on their career trajectories, but also how they could use their skills as a corporate banker to help others.
Because of this ethos, Lloyds fully supported my work in the charity sector, nurturing my philanthropic work as a core part of its community initiatives. Lloyds helped strengthen my belief in the value of giving, a belief I learnt from my parents, and showed me that business and doing good can go hand in hand.
After over 30 years with Lloyds Bank I decided it was time to step away and fully focus on charitable work, so I could continue to pay honour to the kindness and charitable nature of my parents.
Do you think mental health is a big issue in the City?
It’s a powder keg, to be frank – but doesn’t mean it can’t be resolved. The City has always been an incredible pool of talent, where young people come in and thrive under pressure. But traditionally, there was a lot of focus on performance – which is now starting to change.
Companies are recognising that their most important asset is their people, and understand that employee wellbeing is key
It’s reassuring to see businesses waking up to the fact that mental health should be akin to physical health; many are now taking steps to support employee wellbeing, such as hiring clinical psychologists.
How has the past year affected people’s mental health? Have attitudes changed as a result?
Sadly, the statistics speak for themselves. Reports have shown that young people’s referrals to NHS mental health services have almost doubled, and that one in five children aged 9-17 are unhappy with their mental health.
Similarly, for young professionals, home-working over the pandemic led to increased experiences of solitude. Humans are social creatures, and interacting with colleagues and peers virtually isn’t the same as speaking face-to-face – many people found their mental health suffering as a result.
In the wake of this, there is certainly an increased appreciation of mental health problems – it’s positive to see so many taking this into account and opening up conversations surrounding mental health. Now, people understand the value of putting mental health first – a progressive development both in the corporate world and in our personal lives.
How can we ensure this attitude is applied to the lives of young people?
The evidence of the pandemic’s impact on young people is daunting, but there’s a lot we can all do.
I believe speaking freely with young people about mental health could have a transformational effect. Engaging them in conversations about their mental health can help banish the taboo, showing them that it is ok to not be ok, and there are people around them who can help.
Starting these conversations shouldn’t be held off until a young person is in crisis. Instead, we need to create a culture where support can be offered before things escalate – applying what we have learnt over the past year and speaking openly about mental health with people of all ages, including young children.