The National Business Response Network (NBRN) – One Year On

Post author image. Paul Buchanan
Paul Buchanan, Director at BITC, reflects on how businesses’ desire to help communities through the pandemic led to the National Business Response Network (NBRN).

A year ago this month, we were beginning to realise that COVID-19 was going to have a significant impact on our lives. Business in the Community’s (BITC) members had begun to limit meeting sizes, avoid handshakes, and ensure everyone could work from home. None of us could have foreseen that a year on, we would still be living with the pandemic, and experienced a year that has changed so many of our lives.

Responding to emergencies is in BITC’s DNA. It was born in the aftermath of the 1981 riots in Toxteth and Brixton. Over the years we have responded to emergencies from floods and extreme weather events through to the 2011 riots. At that time, I was Community Director and in response, we set up a ‘fighting fund’ to help the streets get back on their feet. This time last year, it was clear we needed to get into emergency response mode.

Responding to emergencies is in

Business in the Community’s DNA.

Paul Buchanan, Director, Delivery and Impact at BITC

We kept it simple. We started by getting our community facing teams to speak with partner organisations to understand their challenges and where business could help. Very quickly, we had collected detailed information on the pandemic’s impacts, and had some clear asks of business. With funding from Nominet, and digital development from Outlandish, we set about creating a simple ‘bulletin board’ where requests could be posted, and businesses could respond. Business and funders got behind the initiative, support from AXA, London Stock Exchange, Covid-19 Support Fund, National Lottery Community Foundation, Barclays, Assurant and UPS made the National Business Response Network (NBRN) possible. My huge thanks to all our supporters for putting your trust in us when it really mattered.

Over the past year, the needs have continually evolved. In the first few weeks, food was our most requested item. As time went on, this shifted to PPE (personal protective equipment) and more latterly technology to tackle the digital divide. More and more we are seeing requests for skills and expertise to help charities build their capacity. It has taken an agile approach, creative solutions and a ‘can do’ attitude to get us to where we are today. We have seen over 3,500 requests for support, reaching over 1 million people across the UK.

What has the last year taught us?

  1. The power of the network: BITC’s network, our members and business leaders across the UK have been a critical part of how we supported communities through the pandemic. So many businesses have responded to requests for support in the hour of need. We need to continue to embed the crucial role responsible businesses have in our communities. 
  2. It has taken collaboration to make the network work. In some instances, it has taken resources from one company, packaging from a second, and transportation from a third to meet a request. Collaborative action is incredibly powerful and builds trust. 
  3. The power of data: In the year where the public interest in graphs and charts has never been greater, we have ‘followed the data’, to keep supply and demand aligned, and spot emerging trends early (thanks to our amazing insights team for making this a possibility).

Where will the greatest needs be in the coming year?

The vaccination roadmap offers a light at the end of the tunnel, but the community needs will not simply disappear. Our conversations with partner organisations have pointed to the following areas continuing to need addressing: 

  1. Domestic abuse: Calls to domestic abuse helplines rose by 65% during the pandemic1. As lockdown eases, domestic abuse organisations are forecasting a significant rise in demand for services.
  2. Wellbeing and mental health: Organisations are seeing staff and volunteers burn-out, as a result of growing demand and finite resources.
  3. Unemployment: The pandemic has accelerated changes in the labour market, leaving many struggling to navigate the rapidly changing landscape. Earlier in the pandemic, a housing association near to Gatwick Airport saw the number of its residents seeking unemployment benefits rise by 25% in just two to three weeks2. The effects are particularly acute in locations dependent on an industry that has been hard hit.
  4. Food poverty: Demand on food banks and community food organisations has remained high throughout the pandemic. Many food organisations in ‘peace-time’ provide wider support, helping people with employment and benefits support to reduce their dependency on food support.

The pandemic has once again highlighted the power of business coming together in times of crisis. The NBRN has brought together a vast array of businesses and facilitated real difference in communities. We are incredibly grateful to our founders and all businesses involved in making this response effort a reality. However, it is clear that there is much more to do as we help our communities to recover. Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back, but double down and push harder to support our communities to recover as quickly as possible from the long-term effects of the pandemic.

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References

  1. UN Women (2020) The Shadow Pandemic: Domestic violence in the wake of COVID-19. Watch on YouTube
  2. Business in the Community, Internal Research, January 2021