Heidi Mottram OBE: The Value of Voluntary Sector Engagement

Heidi Mottram

Heidi Mottram OBE, is Chief Executive Officer of Northumbrian Water Group and HRH The Prince of Wales’ Ambassador to the North East for Business in the Community. Here she discusses why engaging with voluntary and charitable organisations makes business sense.

Some people may question why businesses spend time, money and effort supporting voluntary organisations and worthy causes. Is it just to tick the box that says Corporate Social Responsibility is one of our priorities or it is more than that?

In truth, there is a real business benefit from working with voluntary organisations and supporting the local community, as well as it being the right thing to do.

The feedback we get from our Employee Surveys show those working in the business score us highly in areas such as being proud to work for the company, the encouragement we offer to get involved with charities, and the value we place on the environment.

It’s clear from this, and from talking day to day with colleagues, that they feel good about being able to get involved with voluntary organisations and about helping to improve the communities in which they live and work.

This helps us attract the very best, skilled and experienced people who want their employer to go the extra mile.

To be able to volunteer in work time, through initiatives like our “Just an Hour” scheme, also makes it easy for people to get involved, because it doesn’t eat into their work life balance. Rather, it enriches it.

More than half of those who work here use “Just an Hour” to take time out of their working day to get involved in supporting charities. We also support a wide range of organisations, from museums in the North and South of England to the Northumbrian Blood Bikes and more in between, including a number of environmental charities. The great feedback we receive from charities tells us that this helps them to achieve, and often exceed their goals.

Meanwhile, our main charity partner is WaterAid, which works in 37 countries to deliver clean water and the infrastructure to sustain the sanitation benefits this brings. Their work improves the lives of people in some of the most poverty stricken areas of the world.

Each year, we select people to travel with WaterAid to see that work in action, in countries such as Uganda and Malawi. What we invariably find is that their eyes are opened, not only to the plight of the people being helped, but the real value of what we do as a water company. How easy is it to take for granted something as vital to life as water?

There is an old saying that “when you understand civil engineering, you see the world differently”. By giving people an opportunity to work with organisations like WaterAid, on a local and global scale, we help them to see the world differently and even better understand our own work and contribution to society.

“There is an emotional commitment established by getting involved with the voluntary sector and it reflects our love of the communities in which we operate in the North East, where we have our roots, and in Essex and Suffolk, where we also provide water services.”

By working with organisations within those communities, such as Tees Cottage, Beamish Museum, the Sage Foundation and the Museum of Power, our people also find themselves involved with parts of their communities they might otherwise never talk to.

Our experience of work place volunteering at Northumbrian Water has demonstrated what a win – win – win such initiatives are for businesses; Our business gains a good reputation with the community for delivering support and our people feel proud to work for a business that cares about their communities; our employees gain valuable skills and insights that they would not normally experience in their day to day roles; and the voluntary sector organisations gain much needed support to deliver tangible projects.

I feel deeply the responsibility of Northumbrian Water, as a large employer, to demonstrate leadership on these issues and to show others how they too can gain by engaging proactively with the voluntary sector.  On a personal note, I was recently honoured to be named by Business in the Community (BITC) as HRH The Prince of Wales’ Ambassador to the North East. This has come as a result of the company’s work with communities through the BITC network and gives me, and our business, a great opportunity to share our experience with other companies, to encourage others to get involved, and to learn from those who are also reaping the benefits of working more closely with voluntary sector partners.


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