Zoe Huggins

Zoe speaking at the Workforce South Conference in February

This month’s round-up launches a new series of interviews that shine the spotlight on the chairs of each of the Action Groups.

A serving councillor and current Mayor Elect in Gosport and a Hampshire County Councillor, Zoe’s career has taken her from sports therapy to Teaching & Learning and Advanced Management. She has worked in education and was Head of Saints Learning at Southampton Football Club.

A mother of two, she has a passion for Gosport, having grown up there and as well as chairing Business South’s Workforce South Action Group, she  chairs the Gosport Food Partnership.

Like a lot of people, Zoe Huggins used the last couple of years to reappraise where her life was going.

“I ended up asking myself why I was doing what I was doing. The narrative between motivations and fulfilment are two different things. We can be motivated by status and decision-making and how we affect and influence people’s lives.

“Fulfilment is about how we approach this and how we feel when we are purposeful. I discovered the answer to my why was people centric.

“When I looked at everything I do, people are at the centre of it. I was interested in communities, how I could affect and influence and improve people’s lives,” she said.

When she analysed her life,  she realised there were three central pillars – politics, education and business.

Zoe admitted she was hugely influenced by her Nan, who was a very humble and strong woman.

“She taught me the importance of being confident in myself and what I can achieve, what being part of community was all about and how I could solve problems”

“I have lived in Gosport all my life and I believe in localism and the power of local politics and people” she said.

A great example of working together at a local level has been Zoe’s involvement with the Gosport Food Partnership. During the pandemic, there was a huge upturn in the number of people relying on the food banks to feed their families. An issue we see continue as the cost of living, continues to rise.

“During the pandemic I was honoured to have been elected as Mayor of Gosport and as chair of the Gosport Food Partnership, it was important that we evolved with demand and the changing issues. I was interested in how we could help people to move away from that dependency. The group has now split into two sub-groups, with crisis food still a focus for partners however one sub-group has moved to look at long-term sustainability which means eating well and living healthy lives.

“Knowledge is the greatest gift and we are working with members of the community to show how they can grow their own food or benefit mentally from open spaces – in Gosport we even have a GP practice with an allotment and a wellness garden,” she said.

Working with business and looking at social mobility is key to Zoe’s thinking and she clearly enjoys the challenge of leading the Workforce South Action Group.

“It is a really interesting time for business as we look at how they deal with flexible working, skills demands and mental health issues.

“We need to be aware that while payroll is at 29,5m people, we still have 1.2m vacancies – and there is the issue of real earnings versus how people can actually afford to live.

“The current skills issue is one that affects all the Business South Action Groups and needs to be seen in the context of the opportunities that arise from the Solent Freeport, the City of Culture in Southampton, digital opportunities and the green agenda,” she said.

Looking ahead Zoe is clear on how she will measure her success.

“ We will know if we have made an impact, if we see payroll continue to increase, fewer zero hours contracts, a reduction in mental health issues and the Central South emerging as a joined up thriving economy for all,” she added.