The UK water industry traditionally comes into contact with its customers when issuing bills or dealing with service shortfalls, where customers are forced to contact their local water company advising of an issue. Yet there is an opportunity for water companies to change public perception by doing more for local communities and wider society.
With recent calls from the regulator Ofwat for the water industry to drive greater value for money for customers, water companies could generate more positive societal impact and engagement with communities, and in turn their customers.
In 2018 Yorkshire Water set in motion plans to create long term customer benefit by delivering multi-outcome partnership projects using land associated with its urban assets.
We initially worked with Yorkshire Water to deliver an ‘urban recreation strategy’ and then outlined the potential to broaden its original aspirations beyond urban recreation, and explore how working in new ways with partners could deliver wider-reaching social and environmental value.
2.3 million households are serviced by Yorkshire Water
130,000 businesses are serviced by Yorkshire Water
Delivering wider social impact value
Yorkshire Water serves 2.3 million households and 130,000 businesses across the Yorkshire and Humber region. Like most water companies, it has siloed projects and activities working with community groups or third sector organisations. They set in motion plans to do more, including building better relationships with customers in urban areas local to its assets, such as pumping stations and waste water treatment plants.
With a broad portfolio of relevant projects and initiatives underway, Yorkshire Water looked to take a more strategic approach. The purpose of the study therefore evolved during ongoing engagement with the client and ultimately became the creation of an Urban Partnership Strategy (UPS). We outlined a framework that could help to maximise the added value of its urban assets, explore alternative land management approaches and potentially develop new partnerships with local communities and the third sector.
Unlocking opportunities for collaboration
Our team specialised in identifying, measuring and valuing social value of the built environment. Our specialists in social science combine research, unique social value knowledge and extensive experience in helping organisations unlock opportunities for collaboration.
We conducted preliminary research to identify new approaches to recreation, including alternative land uses and organisations running initiatives to address social challenges in urban areas. We brought together a group of Yorkshire Water managers already engaged in community-led social and environmental projects, previously working in isolation, on siloed budgets. They saw the advantages of knowledge sharing and opportunities that would be delivered by working collaboratively. Together we set out the project’s aims and objectives as well as highlighting the Yorkshire and Humber region’s urban drivers for change – issues of health and wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, urban densification, ageing populations and a shortage of access to urban green space.
As the project’s potential to deliver valuable social impact widened, we focused on developing a decision-making framework for maximising the shared value from Yorkshire Water’s urban assets.
A new way of thinking: assets and partnering opportunities
What started as an effort for Yorkshire Water to encourage recreational uses of their urban land assets, became an exemplar, replicable approach to generating shared value, giving the business a platform from which to transform its relationship with both customers and communities.
The framework that we delivered allows them to select the right site, the right partners and the right interventions to achieve meaningful and impactful outcomes. It provides a pathway towards taking an informed partnership approach to managing its urban land assets, delivering services with real benefits for the region’s local communities and natural environment.
The Urban Partnership Strategy framework represents a roadmap for a new way of thinking about Yorkshire Water’s assets and partnering opportunities, and forms the first building blocks in Yorkshire Water’s journey towards being a shared value based business.
Because this wasn’t a traditional “engineering” type of project, the initial concern was that Arup would provide a team with a more traditional, engineering perspective. In fact, the team was a breath of fresh air and an absolute pleasure to deal with. We had a truly collaborative approach to developing and progressing the project, which resulted in an outcome that was far better than could ever have been expected at the beginning ” Peter Coddington Project Lead, Yorkshire Water