About the organisation
Anglian Water is the largest water and water recycling company in England and Wales by geographic area. We supply water and water recycling services to almost seven million people in the East of England and Hartlepool.
We’re a purpose-led organisation and were the first major utility to change our company constitution – the Articles of Association – to lock public interest into the way we run our business, both now and for future generations. We work to bring environmental and social prosperity to the region we serve through our commitment to love every drop.
What challenges were you trying to address?
As a supplier of an essential service, our priorities throughout the pandemic have been to keep water flowing to our customers, to protect and support our employees and wider supply chain, and to offer help and advice, as we have always done, to customers who find themselves facing challenges of all types.
In addition to keeping our customers and our employees safe, and continuing to deliver a seamless service, we wanted to do everything we could to support our communities through the pandemic. We’re firmly embedded in those communities: the vast majority of our 5,000 employees live in the region, as do many of their friends and families.
We identified that in many cases, charities and small community organisations were running short of funds and practical help at the very time they were most needed.
What goals or outcomes did Anglian Water want to achieve?
Our ultimate goal as part of our purpose is to bring environmental and social prosperity to our region. In the context of COVID-19, that commitment to ‘social prosperity’ translates into a desire to restore a sense of wellbeing and security among our communities, whether through practical support or support for emotional wellbeing.
We wanted – and still want – to support projects that are having a positive impact on people and in the communities we serve, allowing them to provide help and connecting people with the practical and essential support they need. We also identified that our many connections through Business in the Community (the business-community outreach charity set up by the Prince of Wales to promote responsible business and corporate social responsibility) and our supply chain could offer vital support and services, and that we had the skills and experience to help facilitate that support.
What was your solution?
Our primary commitment has been to bring forward the launch of our planned £1m Anglian Water Positive Difference Fund, which will focus on those who are considered high risk (including people with pre-existing medical conditions and people over 60) or who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances as a result of the continuing threat of coronavirus.
We’ve always supported communities overseas through our fundraising for the charity WaterAid, but were keen to do more in our region, and had planned to launch the fund as part of a new social contract with our customers. Our board took the decision to bring the launch of the fund forward in response to the COVID-19 emergency.
We have also been instrumental, through our regional leadership of Business in the Community (BITC), in setting up the National Business Response Network, a virtual notice board that promoted a brokerage service between BITC members and organisations in the community that needed help.
Additional support offered to customers has included financial advice, payment holidays, instalment plans, the use of income maximisation tools to signpost additional help, and the promotion and extension of our priority services register.
In terms of our own employees, we took the decision early on not to furlough anyone; however, we recognised that colleagues might still face financial difficulties and set up an independently funded Employee Assistance Fund. We also extended support to our wider supply chain, including reducing the time taken to make payments, releasing more than £5m in March alone, helping to support and advise many small and medium-size suppliers with access to advanced procurement opportunities and supporting staff within some supply chain companies whose pay was reduced by their employer.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we will continue to advocate for cross-sector collaboration in a wide range of areas from water management to community regeneration, in order to generate environmental, social and economic recovery, building back better as we do so.— Andy Brown, Head of Sustainability, Anglian Water
How did you roll out your approach?
For the Positive Difference Fund, we began by fast-tracking over £50,000 of the cash to front-line organisations in the immediate response to battle the pandemic.
We then worked with UK Community Foundations, a charity we’ve partnered with in the past, to establish a framework and criteria for the fund. We have allocated half the money – £500,000 – to be made available immediately; with the remaining half released later in the year to meet emerging needs from the fallout from the pandemic. Eligible organisations have been able to apply to their local Community Foundation for grants of up to £5,000.
For its part, the National Business Response Network quickly gathered pace. Daily conference calls kept the network on track during the peak of the pandemic.
What have the results been?
We received our first application for the Anglian Water Positive Difference Fund just hours after we launched and have now funded upwards of 60 groups across our region, including Hartlepool. The fund has already supported a wide range of brilliant organisations, each providing a vital service for those most in need in their community.
It has been a privilege to support such a diverse array of causes; from those providing hot meals for people sleeping rough, and groups combatting coronavirus fraud, to those adapting services for autistic children, and vulnerable adults, including telephone befriending for people with dementia and providing devices for adults with learning difficulties to reduce isolation. More than 750 businesses have joined up to the National Business Response Network, including Marks and Spencer, Boots and Lloyds as well as smaller businesses. It’s received more than 2,300 requests for help from community groups, local authorities, schools, charities and alliances, and has been able to match nearly 2,000 of those with businesses to provide resources such as food, social care, technology and logistical support.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
First and most important, if you’re in a position to help, do. As businesses, we all have a responsibility to the communities we serve. That’s always been the case, but recent months have thrown that responsibility into sharp relief, with so many people facing immense challenges due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on their health, their finances and their emotional wellbeing. What has become increasingly clear is that businesses have a vital role to play beyond simply providing the services they are contracted to offer to their customers and customers will long remember the businesses which stepped up to help.
Second, don’t feel you have to go it alone. We recognised early on that the Positive Difference Fund could be much more effective much more quickly by working in partnership with Community Foundations, which already had expertise in distributing funding, robust structures in place and relationships with potential recipients. Trying to construct, manage and administer the fund ourselves would have taken a huge amount of time and resource, risking delaying the funds getting to where they’re most needed.
And third – join forces! Our experience in working on the National Business Resilience Network has really highlighted what we can achieve when we work together.