Christine Tate, head of CSR at British Gas, explains how the company took a partnership approach to tackling a societal challenge.
The Community Action Partnership (CAP) is a £1.2 million programme delivered by the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) and British Gas, in partnership with councils across the UK.
The partnership started in April 2014 and will be coming to a close this month. Over the past two years it has helped to improve the lives and prosperity of residents, equipping the local community with the tools they need to deal with fuel poverty now and in the future.
CAP activity has been focused in eight locations across England and Wales, and tailored according to the needs of each community. The eight key areas are Cardiff, Enfield, Barking and Dagenham, Liverpool, Manchester, Northamptonshire, Walsall and the North East.
Here, Christine Tate, head of corporate social responsibility at British Gas, explains how a partnership approach makes all the difference when it comes to tackling fuel poverty:
Can you briefly describe the partnership? How does it fit into British Gas’ community strategy?
British Gas and NEA work together to deliver CAP. It brings organisations that otherwise might not have worked together, such as local councils, charities, the private sector and community groups with the shared goal of tackling fuel poverty across the UK.
At British Gas we’re committed to working in partnership with a range of organisations to tackle key social and environmental issues, so partnering with NEA to form CAP was a natural fit for us.
Our team has worked closely with NEA to develop the CAP programme, and helped with delivery every step of the way. From conferences and events to community sessions and bingo with Liverpool’s Lord Mayor, we’ve been busy spreading the word on energy education and ensuring communities know that help is available.
What impact has the partnership had in British Gas’ local communities?
Over the past two years, we’ve worked with communities across the country to develop plans to improve the lives of residents and relieve fuel poverty. We’ve enabled each locality to develop their own action plan for tackling fuel poverty and supported with practical activities.
Working with NEA and local partners, we’ve met with people at events like lunch clubs, forums and winter fairs to speak to people face-to-face about a range of issues including fuel poverty, energy efficiency and energy bills.
We’ve also helped a number of front-line organisations including social housing providers, councils and the fire service to spot the signs of fuel poverty and support people that they come into contact with.
What difference has the partnership model made?
No one organisation has all the answers, or the resources, to tackle fuel poverty single handedly. We’ve been working with NEA for more than 25 years, and through our partnership have been able to combine the knowledge of a leading energy supplier with charity expertise to make a positive difference.
Working together meant we were able to learn from one another and use our combined network to achieve engagement with communities, and build capacity at a grassroots level through NEA’s accredited training.
Did it deliver benefits to the business as well as communities?
CAP has delivered benefits for us. It has helped to strengthen our relationships with our partners and we have also been able to work with many new local organisations. Drawing on the expertise of everyone we’ve worked with we’ve been able to gain real insight into how we tackle fuel poverty together.
Did you agree any metrics or targets for success prior to the project’s launch?
In order to measure the success of the scheme we set ourselves targets for the number of people we wanted to train and engage with, and also the number of events we wanted to hold. So far through our partnership approach CAP has reached 4,496 residents, worked with 3,583 stakeholders, trained 1,166 front line staff, and organised 34 events – all making a real difference to communities. But the statistics only tell half the story. We’ve challenged everyone involved in training to share their knowledge with the people they come into contact with so that the advice from CAP can spread further than those we have directly worked with.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
We wanted CAP to make a difference to communities, and making sure that our activity would do this was the biggest challenge.
To make sure we got it right, we listened to local organisations, community groups and partners to understand what would work in their area. It was important that all our local partners were engaged with the process, so that positive action on fuel poverty can carry on long after CAP finishes.
Our key learning has been the time it takes to set up a meaningful, sustainable programme with real impact. We spent almost a year bringing together partners in each locality and developing a robust plan that would deliver long-term change. We wanted each community to create its own action plan for tackling fuel poverty, to ensure a real legacy for the CAP scheme after it finishes.
Where next once the partnership ends?
Once the partnership ends this month, we’ll be working with NEA to create an impact report that looks at what the partnership has achieved and shares the key outcomes.
We are also working with NEA to produce an online portal which will allow other organisations to learn about CAP and apply its principles in their area. It will also enable organisations who’ve not been part of CAP to share their experiences and successes, so over time we’ll be creating an online space for sharing best practice in understanding and taking action on fuel poverty.
We’ve been partners to NEA for more than 25 years, so CAP has just been one of many projects we’ve worked together on. Although this particular programme has ended we’ll continue to join forces and hope that our combined efforts will one day help eliminate fuel poverty for good.
Christine Tate is head of corporate social responsibility at British Gas.
To find out more about the work being done to support those living in fuel poverty visit: http://www.nea.org.uk/projects/community-action-partnership/