Hello, I am Tara and I am on a Business and Technology Management (BTM) Industrial Placement. Doing a degree in Sustainable Development and Politics at the University of Edinburgh you may be wondering how I ended up in Business and IT function. Well truthfully, it was not solely the function that attracted me to the scheme; it was also my pure fascination and appreciation for the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan that drew me in. That being said, I will leave my personal story for a later date because as I am based in Port Sunlight, the birthplace of Unilever, I feel it is only appropriate to dedicate my inaugural post to our founder, Lord Lever-Hulme himself.
William Lever, the son of a humble grocer, was a visionary and progressivist whose legacy not only radiates through Unilever today, but can be seen throughout corporate and union strategies worldwide. From an economic perspective, his initial success was born out of Sunlight Soap – the first ever individually wrapped soap bars. Who knew, a commodity we take for granted today was considered so revolutionary just over a century ago? However, although his economic legacy rests in a company whose revenues topped £48 billion last year; what makes me (and many others) proud to be a Unilever employee is the social legacy he leaves behind.
After Sunlight soap took off, and his factory in Warrington was running at full capacity, Lever began looking for a new premises. The plot of land he chose was ideal: near a potential source of labour in neighbouring Birkenhead, with road, rail and water access, and located just off the banks of the Mersey River. Port Sunlight had found its home. However, Port Sunlight was never to be just a factory. Being a great believer in the idea that healthy labourers were more productive he pioneered the concept of employee welfare. Within a couple of years he had built an entire village of 900 homes to house employees from across his business. At a time of vast industrial revolution, where disparities and poverty were vast, Port Sunlight was considered utopian in comparison to average living standards. With a hospital, fire station, manicured gardens, leisure facilities, and schools, workers never needed to leave. In their village, where they both lived and worked, they were guaranteed a decent standard of living and better quality of life.
The village and original factory site remain almost identical to the time of their construction. Port Sunlight has been declared a Conservation Area since 1978 and has strict upkeep regulations in order to retain the character of the village. Work ethic within Unilever also remains central to Lever’s vision with a high emphasis on employee wellbeing and welfare. Simply walking through the village is a living reminder of Lever’s efforts to build the company we know and love today. If anything it makes me proud to work for a company who is founded on its progressivist thinking whilst staying true to its historical legacy. And to be reminded of that every morning is a pure joy.
If Lord Lever were to enter 21st century Port Sunlight, aside from the various mod-cons, I like to think he would be walking into an office not much different than the one he created in the late 1800s. Now that is a legacy to be proud of.