The Society recently held some focus groups with members to ask them their views on Corporate Social Responsibility. Members understood the term, but preferred to talk about it as treating members fairly and looking after their interests, supporting the local community, being a good local employer and supporting the local economy. We had a number of stimulating and thought provoking discussions and all of these will contribute to how the Society will approach its vision to be the most socially responsible building society in the UK.
Another very clear statement was that any such 'socially responsible' commitment must come from the top. For a number of years the Society has offered employees the opportunity of 4 hours paid leave per month to volunteer with a local group or charity. In 2014 the Society increased its number of volunteer hours by 64% to 616 hours in a year. This provides great additional work experience for our employees and additional skills and support to local groups and charities.
Myself and my colleagues on the Executive volunteer, although all in different ways! I am a Group Scout Leader and have used my volunteering hours with Home Start East, IHAG, Emmaus, Suffolk FIND and Raising the Bar (Suffolk County Council Education) activities. Our Chief Executive has supported everything from local charities such as Fresh Start New Beginnings through to leading a successful City Deal bid to bring millions to Ipswich to support post 16 vocational education and jobs.
In February we decided as an Executive to do our volunteering as a team and offer ourselves to the third sector as a consultative group. At these sessions we would share our expertise around fundraising, marketing, business strategy and finances. We started to spread the word using social media and the local press and as a result a number of local organisations came forward for support. It was a difficult decision selecting who to work with, and in the end we agreed on two and decided to support REACH and The Mix.
Last month we completed our first session with REACH, a charity that supports families and individuals in the Haverhill area who are suffering a short term crisis as well as aiming to relieve the effects of poverty in the longer term.
We visited REACH at their office location in Haverhill and met with Henry Wilson, their head of community projects. We spent time with him discussing his longer term strategy and business plan for the charity and offered suggestions about how this could be made clearer and more concise. At the end of the session we produced a template that outlined the key strategic points for the next 3 – 5 years; a document to steer Henry's future business planning.
At the session we also found out more about the services REACH provides, including debt counselling and money management, food precision, furniture and household provision, housing and benefits advice, client aid and advice on affordable housing.
It was a great session, leaving Henry with some practical as well as strategic suggestions for the future direction of the charity as well as reminding us of the invaluable work such charities do in supporting vulnerable groups in our community. You can read more about the session with REACH here.