As a government organisation and a large employer, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is important to us. We’re committed to ethical and sustainable business practices, and take account of our social, economic and environmental impact.
We speak to Leanne Hugglestone, our CSR Coordinator, about her passion for CSR and our responsibilities as a government organisation in helping the local community.
Tanya Lang: Hi there. My name is Tanya Lang and I'm part of the comms team here at Companies House. So for those of you who don't know who we are, we are the government agency who register dissolve and then keep company records and make those records available for inspection. Our sponsoring department is BEIS and that's the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and we've got 4 locations, Edinburgh, Belfast, London and Cardiff from where we are recording this very podcast.
First I'm joined today by Leanne Hugglestone, who is the corporate social responsibility or CSR coordinator here at Companies House. So I will let Leeanne introduce herself, Leanne.
Leanne Hugglestone: Hi, I'm Leanne Hugglestone. I've been working here at companies house for 15 years now, coming up to 16, and I've done many roles within Companies House. Starting off as a data processor, working my way through finance and IT, worked on a lot of big IT projects and then about 6 or 7 years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So I had a year off work. During that time, I spent an awful lot of time within hospitals and in charity organisations, receiving help and guidance through what was quite a traumatic time.
Thankfully a year later, in May 2013, I came back to Companies House, full-time working. And it was then that I realised that a project I’d been working on before my diagnosis around management and making a difference projects. I delved into some of the information around volunteering at Companies House. We were allowed one day a year to volunteer in Companies House and not many staff knew about it. We wanted to make a difference for Companies House. So I asked if I could continue with this volunteering project to allow more staff to find out about it. And so we could utilise those days in order to help the community.
My main reasoning for asking if I could do this project is without volunteers, I wouldn't be here today. Without volunteers to make the cups of tea in the hospital, to drive the mini buses, to do the fundraising, the backpacking and the race for life. I wouldn't be here because the research and the medication that I'm on was actually created in Wales, and I wanted to utilise the volunteering here at Companies House to help towards making a difference in the community.
So from there, I went to the main board. Took the project to them and they fully agreed that I could do this volunteer initiative alongside my job in IT. Whereby the new HR Director at the time, Angela Lewis, picked up on the fact that we didn't actually have any recorded data for any kind of corporate social responsibility. So that means the fundraising that we do here in Companies House, we’ve got a very generous workforce, any of the volunteering, we don't have stats before 2013. So what she asked, was for me to leave IT and work with her for 6 months to research and develop corporate social responsibility for Companies House and compare us to other government agencies both in our government department area, but also just across the Civil Service in general.
We knew that the DWP had signed up for 30,000, out of the 30,000 Civil Service days, they'd signed up to try and do 10,000 days a year. We only had close to a thousand staff and they were allowed one day a year. So the maximum we could ever do was close to a thousand. But even that was if everybody took part. After 6 months, my role was made permanent because we found out that we were doing an awful lot already, but it just wasn't being recorded. So we developed a business strategy around corporate social responsibility.
The 4 main parts of corporate social responsibility. Number one is environmental. Well, we already have an environmental team. An Estates team who look after all our environmental efficiencies. Second one is procurement. So are we paying our own contractors? Our own bills on time. Are the contractors who come in when we put out to tender, do they have apprentices? Do they have any work experience people with them so we can see that those smaller companies are also making a difference in the community.
Then there's people, the third arm of it. And under people is HR. We've got a brilliant flexi system. We've got a huge amount of benefits for staff. We look after staff with the health and well-being group sports and social. We've got a gym on site. We've got so many wonderful benefits. We are a responsible business in looking after that.
And then finally is the community arm and that's where my role lays. Almost like a community liaison looking after the fundraising and the volunteering and all the good stuff that we do here at Companies House and making sure that’s recorded.
TL: Brilliant crikey. That is a lot of information.
LH: I know, sorry.
TL: No, no. It's fantastic because you can actually feel your passion and your joy about the work that you do. So what I want to know is like I said, that sounds like an enormous amount of work. Who helped you with that. Was it kind of just you rolling things along. Did you have buy-in from others?
LH: Angie Lewis was a brilliant mentor. She came along from another government agency. So she was also fresh eyes on Companies House, which was great because she could see the good work that we were doing and the fact that we weren't recording it. So it was down to me to find out from other government agencies where this corporate social responsibility sit in the organisation.
In one agency, it sat with the director, as just a tick box exercise. Do we do this? Yes. Other agencies had groups of 5 or 6 individuals as a team sometimes in HR, sometimes in their Estates team, so there wasn't a consistency across government as to where corporate social responsibility was.
In Wales, nationally, there's a company called Business In The Community and there's a branch of that business in the Community Wales. And we became members of them because that's their sole goal. They are a Prince's Trust charity company and they know and live corporate social responsibility. They are mentors and guides. We became a member of them and we have access to an account manager. That account manager then looks at what I can give them. So all the stuff that we do that we haven't recorded, and guides us on to what is good to record, why it's good to record and then you can link it up with your values. Is it linked up then with your business strategy? Is it linked up with the business that you are? What you don't want to be is a government agency and you’re just fundraising for a kidney foundation, when there's no actual link. So is there a materiality around it? Is there a common goal?
TL: Quite an evolution for Companies Houses as an organisation then, in terms of volunteering and what we did way back then to what we're doing now. And no doubt that will continue to grow and improve and transform and change as we do as a workforce. So say over the last few years, what's been some of our biggest CSR achievements, would you say?
LH: I think the great thing about Companies House and the culture change, is the fact that we were allowed to challenge behaviours. So our biggest achievements have come from where we've challenged things that, that’s the way it's always been. So I challenged those. For example, a lot of our excess furniture used to either go to storage or landfill because we were very risk adverse as a government agency to donate that furniture.
So my challenge to the legal team, to health and safety, to the Estates team who look after the furniture was, well, what if we found other government agencies who did this? So again, I went round to the contacts in the other government agencies, and we found many of them do donate furniture. And what we got off them was copy of disclosures and disclaimers that we could get the charities to sign. They were checked over by our legal team, our health and safety team and they would agree with those charities.
In the space of I think 18 months, we donated over 40,000 pounds worth of excess furniture from Companies House. Once I challenged on that, I then challenged the IT department. We would send off our old IT equipment free of charge to a company to get wiped and disposed of. I asked, when after it's been wiped, can we not have those items back with an operating system onto donating to the charity into the community. Again, going through the same protocols, going to legal, going to IT security, going to other departments to see what they do, all of a sudden now we have now donated thousands of pounds worth of IT equipment into the local community.
And some of those recipients have said without that IT donation. They would no longer be around as a charity. And those charities have since grown, and become more available to clients especially within Cardiff. So for example, Autism Puzzles a local autistic charity, they were run by a single mum. She now has 3 of our laptops which means she's got 3 volunteers actively promoting, doing social media, registering all the families who are registering with Autism Puzzles. They’re now a huge organisation and they actually employ people. They've got an office now and it started because we gave them 3 laptops.
TL: So it's completely clear to me and probably everyone listening just what huge impact we as an organisation have had on charities out there, but what kind of impact has all of this work had on the internal staff and the teams here at Companies House? Have you seen a change?
LH: A massive, massive change. In the very beginning it was very difficult for managers to what they saw as allowing the staff a day off on a jolly, is the way it was perceived back then. It was very micro-managed. They just wanted their staff in work doing the work in front of them. But over the past couple of years there’s been a massive culture shift in the way we work. Our flexi times have changed, our core hours have disappeared. We’re trusted and awful lot more and with that trust we seem to get an awful lot back from the staff.
So we put in the extra work, but what we're finding, I think our biggest changes are from those middle managers who wouldn't allow staff off. Over the past couple of years, they've seen the benefits of when those staff have done a volunteer day, either individual or even better as a team, the benefits to the section and to that team for the weeks afterwards. They know more about each other, they’ve spent time away from the desks, they're not looking at emails, they're engaging and learning about each other.
So team bonding now is almost one of our highest reasons of the numbers of volunteers going out. A couple of years ago managers would really sort of get in the way almost of allowing staff to volunteer. I can tell you now, it's more managers approaching me, asking for team days and asking for those opportunities to take their teams out because they can see the benefits straight away on their team. And so that has been a massive shift in only 5 years.
TL: Brilliant and taking it up to sort of the next level. What about the board have they embraced this?
LH: This is brilliant. Over the past couple of years, it's been really, not difficult or a struggle, but trying to entice the senior managers. One of our chief executives was brilliant. He would regularly go on a volunteer day, but it was almost like that next step, getting the directors or the senior management, it was very difficult getting them all together in one room as it was. To get them out on a whole volunteer day was almost impossible. But we've achieved that this year. It's been amazing.
We've had such great feedback from the senior leadership group who said that it was nice to be able to get out in the fresh air and get to know each other on a personal level as well as professional level. But also to be able to talk about work stuff. They all went litter picking on one of the most wonderful Welsh beaches, our own Barry Island, down on Whitmore Bay and it was great. It was quite funny because that was the one day in that 2 week period that was really bad weather. I felt really bad for them. But it showed the adversity and the way they still went out there. They still did it and they still collected a huge number of bags of rubbish and they all came back smiling and loving the fact that they spent this time together.
So to get that at the very top level means now that will hopefully filter down through those levels of management so we can increase the numbers again through volunteering. So they can see and feel for themselves the benefits, not just for Companies House to be seen and the reputation of us as a company out in the community doing it, but also as well, see the benefits to the staff and encourage staff from a personal level. Not as a corporate, yes, we'd like you to go volunteering, but I've been as a senior manager, I believe in it and therefore encouraging their managers to encourage their staff.
TL: So we've obviously got a lot going on with regards to volunteering. So if anyone out there wanted to follow our progress and what we're doing or find out more about our latest CSR achievements, how can they do that?
LH: They can find out about corporate social responsibility from the main Companies House Twitter account. We’re really active when we go out on events or when people are volunteering. We tend to post a lot of pictures now. You can also find out by emailing the CSR and skills team at companieshouse.gov.uk, and that's where we are currently located within the training team of HR.
TL: Brilliant and what's next then for CSR and Companies House?
LH: There's a couple of things in the pipeline. The biggest thing we're looking at around corporate social responsibility now is terminology. In those 5 years, it’s come a long way. Corporate social responsibility is a bit of a mouthful. Essentially, what you are is a responsible business. So it's all about being that responsibile business, so that's in either environmentally, procurement, your people or the community work that you do. So, I think it's all about defining what we want and how we're going to get it. So we want to do more surveys with staff. Look at the number of unique volunteers within Companies House because although we've got up to 5 days per year, is it the same 20 people doing it 5 times. Or are we actually getting 80, 90 separate individuals and only one or two are doing duplicate days.
I done the figures last year for 2017 to 2018 and according to Business In The Community, a good goal to have for staff volunteering is around the 18 to 20% mark. Last year, we hit 28% unique volunteers in Companies House. You're looking at, that that's closer to 30% of the organisation went out volunteering last year which is huge.
It’s a great, I think advocate to show that we are doing the right thing and people are engaged with it and they are enjoying it. But also the communities now. They're coming to us with opportunities. Whereas we used to have to phone them and say, oh have you got anything we can do to help you? They're hearing about us through other charities.
TL: All right. So the final thing I want to ask you then Leanne, is, what is a CSR ambassador?
LH: Oh, this is great, so if you think along the lines of friends of an organisation, we have a lot of staff within Companies House who have a huge appetite for the work that we do under corporate social responsibility. And so a CSR ambassador is those individuals across the organisation who we want to capture that enthusiasm and passion for. And use them as our comms outlets, or our people who shout about the work that we do under corporate social responsibility. So whether that's new volunteer opportunities coming up, events in house. Those people can be called upon, we've got about 25 signed up in the initial phase. They can be called upon, so if we do a bake sale, if we do an event in house rather than taking a full day volunteering, what we're saying is you can take them in 2 hour slots.
So what we're saying as an ambassador is, rather than be a whole day off your section, off your team. There may be times throughout the year that we need some help in house to organise something, to take part in something and every single person who's been asked has accepted and they're willing to take part.
So it's been brilliant. In the next few weeks, I think we've got a few new ideas coming through. We've got the what we’re calling ‘doorstep litter picks’. So within the organisation here in Cardiff, we're going to do to our litter pick slots for the immediate vicinity of our building. We're right next to a school, we're right next to the barracks, we’re right next to a leisure centre, right next to a main road and along those are lots of different alleyways, lots of streets, urban residential areas. We'd like to be seen in our local immediate vicinity and do a doorstep litter pick. Those are 2 hour slots. So those are for people who can't leave the section for a full day. And those CSR ambassadors are the ones who are going to shout about those kind of things.
TL: Fantastic. Well, I'm sure you'll all agree out there that Leanne is clearly very passionate, knowledgeable and excited about CSR and all that it brings to Companies House and thriving off her enthusiasm myself and a few of my colleagues have done the crazy thing of signing up for the Cardiff 10K.
LH: Fantastic news.
TL: Yeah, there'll be a handful of us running on behalf of Latch, which is a Welsh Children's Cancer charity. You can get more information about the charity at www.latchwales.org, and we also have a justgiving page. So from a personal point of view, I would just like to promote that page. So it's www.justgiving.com/fundraising/justkeeprunningCH.
So, please do all that you can to support that. So Leanne, any final words before we go?
LH: Yeah, and it's because of staff like you that in the past 5 years through various bake sales, charity runs, velathons, internal comic relief, children in need days that we do here, we've reached nearly 50,000 pounds in 5 years of fundraising and that's with less than, what a thousand staff.
So it's been an absolutely phenomenal amount and to think that that was never recorded. And so now that we do have that we're really going to celebrate the amount of fundraising that our staff do. We encourage them to do it and all they need to do is let me know on the CSR and skills team how much they’ve raised and when and that will go towards that total.
TL: Well, there we go. So make sure you donate generously to myself and my colleagues who will be running in potentially sweltering heat on the 2nd of September. So, thank you very much for your time, Leanne, and thanks to you for listening. Goodbye.