Debbi Christophers - You don’t need grand gestures to make a difference in the community

PUBLISHED: 10:11 30 November 2012

Chamber Voice

Chamber Voice


This month, I had the great pleasure of presenting this year’s EDP Community Impact award to Rosedale Funeral Homes – a family-run business with six funeral homes across south Norfolk and north Suffolk.

It’s fair to say that when I and my fellow judges first saw the applicant’s business we were somewhat taken aback, but what we, and all those present at the Holiday Inn on November 8 could clearly see, was the massive impact Rosedale’s activities have had on both the community and their business – a fact borne out by the en-masse and unexpected arrival of their staff team in the bar, desperate to know if their employer had been successful.

So what is it that makes for successful and sustainable community impact? Well for a start, let’s be clear – this is not about charitable giving or ad hoc volunteering.

Investing in your community is an investment in your business. Good corporate community investments bring long-term sustainable returns.

More than 75pc of companies surveyed by Business in the Community cited increased employee motivation as a key benefit of engagement in programmes to support disadvantaged people into work, as well as broader benefits such as improved retention rates and reduced absenteeism, which in turn generates financial gain.

In order to develop a truly mutually beneficial com-munity impact programme, you need to understand how the choices you make about running your business (employing, buying, selling, locating, etc) affect communities and social issues, and then develop a programme in response.

What does that look like in practice? Let’s take some examples. Crime cost UK retailers £1.1bn in 2009/10. 2009’s Community Impact award winner, Chapelfield Shopping Centre took a proactive approach to tackling this by developing its custody and community programme which provides practical work experience and training opportunities for serving prisoners.

Eighty per cent of those completing the programme have secured employment as a result, thus breaking the cycle of crime in Norfolk and reducing the level of reoffending among prisoners from Norwich prison – benefiting prisoners them-selves, the shopping centre and the community.

One of this year’s finalists, business consultancy Inspired Change, runs a programme bringing together local employers and schools to deliver Enterprise Days for year 8-9 students. Over 1,100 pupils have already had the opportunity to take part and between 60-70pc of Inspired Change’s turnover comes from businesses they have built relationships with via the enterprise days. Clear mutual benefit.

It’s also important that companies are able to articulate the dual benefits to their activity externally.

Adnams, who won the award back in 2004, is committed to making sure that their impact on society is a positive one, expressing the company’s values in ways which combine social and business benefits with long-term sustainable success. And they’ve embodied that in their social and environmental policy which explicitly states that they need to be able “to measure and prove real business benefits from the implementation of social and environmental policies”.

Returning to this year’s winner, there is perhaps something Python-esque about the notion of a funeral home growing their business by working with the community, but I can assure you that the programme Rosedale has in place is not about ambulance chasing, but instead about working in a variety of ways to demystify and throw light on the bereavement process.

As Anne Beckett-Allen of Rosedale said, their win “shows that making a difference in the community doesn’t need to be done through big, grand gestures”. No, but it can have a big impact.

Debbi Christophers is head of business development at Business in the Community.

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