Anglian Water, our 2017 Responsible Business of the Year, likes to think local but scale up programmes for far reaching impact. It achieves this by building long-term partnerships with communities, farmers, conservationists and its regulators; in turn the company is seen as a hub for collective action to tackle social issues. Read about how Anglian Water took a unique approach to Business Connectors to get hardwired into communities across the east of England.
Why Business Connectors?
Anglian Water wanted to work collaboratively with its employees, and its extensive, integrated supply chain, in order to ensure that all aspects of its business understood local issues and was ingrained into the communities in which it operates.
The business identified a huge amount of potential for growth and innovation in Fenland, and across the East of England. Fenland, a rural Cambridgeshire district 20 miles away from Peterborough, has a rich heritage and through its proximity to the city of Cambridge is neighboured to two of the fastest growing cities in England.
However the area has challenges, including high levels of deprivation, unemployment and issues of youth aspiration. Anglian Water believed the key to moving these challenges forward was to bring together a range of stakeholders to facilitate cross-sector collaboration.
What they did
In 2013 the company seconded Russell Beal for three years as Business Connector for Fenland. Russel – who previously worked as a senior manager on secondment to Water UK in Westminster) – was able to align the community focused work undertaken by his colleagues at Anglian into a more strategic platform that included its supply chain group ‘@one Alliance’.
Suppliers include Skanska, Balfour Beatty, Barhale, Sweco; MMB Limited and MWH. Anglian did this in order to understand first-hand the challenges in the area and in turn to address and then resource these through collective action.
One early example of how Russell unlocked sustainable employment opportunities across Fenland was through the creation of a business-led Job Cafe programme at the Queen Mary Centre (QMC), a local community hub based in Wisbech.
Initially Russell had played a pivotal role in the renovation of the run down QMC, which was a derelict school. He did so by engaging an army of volunteers – over 180 in total over a four day period.
Today the centre is an income generating community facility – leased by the Ferry Project from the Council – and used by local people from more than 48 groups on a monthly basis. The QMC also stages the annual Fenland Job Fair, which was brokered by Russell and of which there have been four.
Wisbech Jobs Café – an impact snapshot
Between January and March 2016 the Wisbech Jobs Café, which was set up by Russel Beal, saw 171 people supported towards employment, including 38 people into direct employment and 34 who committed to local volunteering opportunities.
In 2016 it was announced that the centre’s weekly Job Café had secured £42,000 of funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership, to fund and manage the resource.
Forging new links with the College of West Anglia
Another example of how an employment pathway was facilitated by Russell included the local further education centre (College of West Anglia). Thanks to the Business Connector’s work, the @one Alliance now sponsors two new BTEC courses in Wisbech for students interested in either construction or mechanical and electrical engineering, which feed into Anglian Water’s apprenticeship programme.
There are currently 38 students across the two courses. All of the students are guaranteed an interview at the end of the course.
Key to the current focus in Wisbech – an area with significant educational, economic and transport challenges – Anglian Water are exploring what sustainable, resilient developments in the 21st century should look like. Four years after its initiation by Russell, Wisbech: beyond 2020 was a project which convened leaders of One Alliance, the local council, MP, community and education leaders to develop a long-term vision for Wisbech. Most important to the concept is the connectivity via improved infrastructure to Cambridge and Peterborough.
The proposed vision has now evolved into a proposal for a Wisbech Garden town with extensive green space and has already received a grant of 55.000 euros from the Dutch Government towards the proposal of creating a climate change resilient town of the future.
What insights has Russell taken back to Anglian Water?
“During my secondment I developed countless new working relationships with key stakeholders. This included the local MP and local authorities including the District Council Social Economic Team, as well as business and community leaders. These continue to be invaluable links for our business The collaborative supply chain model has proved a huge success and was instrumental in much that has been achieved.... The three-year continuity as a Business Connector has also enabled long-term legacy including a tangible opportunity to explore developing a national exemplar for a climate resilient town of the future, Something really innovative and relevant to our business plan that could not have been foreseen at the outset. Furthermore, our company now has a training development programme with the College of West Anglia – this will ensure a future workforce pipeline.”
Russell Beal, Senior Project Manager, Anglian Water
“Russell is now an advocate for responsible business throughout Anglian. He is constantly able to share the values of community focused action, having honed a local lens which and is using the knowledge and experience he has gained in Wisbech to inform the wider strategy of our business.”
Andy Brown, Head of Sustainability, Anglian Water
“The Wisbech story has high-lighted just how much can be achieved by a focussed collective that are keen to make a difference.”
Dale Evans, Director, @one-Alliance