HR & Management

Five ways SMEs can engage with issues in the local community

6 min read

31 March 2016

Lisa Cunningham, director of community investment at Business Connectors, explores five ways she's learned from the Business Connector programme that SMEs can get to grips with local issues.

(1) Mentor graduates working with charities

Graduate placements in the voluntary sector are on the up as entrants into an ever more competitive jobs market look to broaden their skills set. Having close ties with graduates can help bolster your own workforce once they have completed their placements.

The Business Connector in Reading linked three employees of 365 ITMS – an IT service provider – with community organisations across the city. Steve Ellis, managing director of 365 ITMS, said: “The ability to share knowledge, expertise and experience is an enriching and rewarding experience both for the mentor and mentee.”

(2) (Hash)tag on to the right people

Shortly after being seconded from Lloyds Banking Group as part of its Helping Britain Prosper Plan, Andrew Mullaney discovered #Dudleyhour. Each Thursday, between 6pm and 7pm, local business owners and community groups across the Black Country meet on Twitter under the hashtag to share ideas and information.

He used contacts made through #Dudleyhour to secure delegates for a networking event led by Synergy, which featured Dudley MP Ian Austin. Other Business Connectors who’ve taken wholeheartedly to Twitter include Hilary Pogson, Business Connector for Rochdale, seconded from HMRC. Hilary can be seen regularly connecting via #Rochdalehour. For nationwide examples see #BizHour or #UKLateHour.

Read more about connecting with local communities:

(3) Campaign locally

“Keep IT in Halton” is a collaborative project involving Steve Howarth. #KeepITinHalton will re-home unwanted IT equipment from small and medium enterprises around Runcorn and Widnes.  Businesses will donate PC equipment they no longer require to create a “community stock”. The campaign is supported for free by Canopus Solutions – a local IT asset management and environmental disposal company.

Adrian Fillingham, Project Manager at Canopus, explained: “Our secure data destruction allows businesses to support this scheme knowing their confidential data has been removed. This scheme takes our approach to the next level, ensuring that local community groups will benefit from this environmentally friendly approach to IT recycling.” 

Adrian added that he hoped the scheme will help support Canopus’ submission to the Halton Business Awards. Steve Howarth also connected Canopus with Nightstop Communities Northwest, which provides emergency accommodation for homeless and vulnerable young people aged 16-25. Nightstop was looking to expand its existing provision of one homelessness centre. Thanks to Canopus, PC equipment was delivered which enabled two further houses to be opened and operational.

(4) Meet your local sports clubs’ community representatives

From out-of-school schemes to events hosting, sports clubs tend to be well connected and can be a fulcrum for local issues. Getting involved in a community football scheme can reap rich rewards, as they often have a wide network of contacts, even including professional clubs.

The results of sports club engagement can be impressive. Last summer Barbara Trencher, former Prince’s Charities place coordinator connected Burnley FC in the Community with local partners including the Greggs Foundation to work together to save eight Lancashire primary schools’ breakfast programmes.

(5) Never say you’re too busy!

The Olive Tree Café in Swindon provides frontline support to adults experiencing or recovering from mental illness, instilling a sense of security and value through employment to help individuals return to the workplace. Darren Booker-Wilson is an award-winning chef who has spent nearly 30 years working at top restaurants around the world. Like most chefs, Booker-Wilson can regularly clock up 80 hour weeks. However, after being introduced to the Olive Tree Café team, he offered his time on a pro-bono basis.  

He reviewed The Olive Tree’s operations, from its menu and kitchen layout to helping with the cutting of supplier costs. Plans are afoot to create an allotment so that local children learn to grow their own produce and have it cooked and served in the café. That’s all in addition to Darren’s full-time day job at The Old Bank Bar in Swindon. 

He explained: “Mental illness is something I’ve had direct contact with and after meeting Ian and visiting the Olive Tree I felt compelled to act. For any chef, reputation is important and using my skills to help shows even the busiest of us can find time to make a real difference.”

Corporate social responsibility targeted at the local community can help make your staff proud to work in your business. Here are five ways to optimise your CSR policy.

Lisa Cunningham is director of community investment at Business Connectors.