The context is changing. Are we ready to be open with communities about Brexit?

Written by Alexis Krachai

I’m sorry but we need to talk about Brexit. Not the politics, not the issues around whether we stay in the Customs Union or Single Market. Plenty of ink is being spilled on those topics. Rather we need to talk about the impact Brexit will have on how we engage communities about the development of our built environment.

Before the EU referendum, local authorities around the country were already under a large amount of financial pressure. By 2020 the grant each Town Hall gets from Whitehall is due to be removed and replaced by the ability for local authorities to retain all of the business rates generated in their area. Essentially, local authorities will be on their own, with little government revenue funding support. Many of them will have a huge gap to fill to even get close to the resource levels they had prior to 2011, or even just a couple of years ago. This is a massive shift in how frontline services are funded. It will trigger the need to acknowledge that a new logistics park or office development will be even more critical to funding the services that every community relies on. Development can no longer just be seen about jobs and growth. It will have to be seen as the means of funding services that we all rely on.

Then came Brexit. One impact of the vote and our decision to leave is that we will no longer be able to access EU funds. Some will argue vigorously that this does not matter. The money we cannot access will be made up by saving the money we send to Brussels. I’m not brave enough to get involved in that debate but what is important is acknowledging how much of our built environment has been reliant on funding from European institutions.

Take for example, the European Investment Bank. This little known organisation granted loans worth €13.5 billion in the 18 months running up to the referendum. After that, the figure has dropped to just €3 billion. If you are interested in the details, then take a look at the research commissioned by the Local Government Association and the Institute for Government.

How does all of this relate to how we engage with communities? For us the answer is obvious. Effective communication is all about context. The clue is in our company name. If the context for a conversation with a community changes then so does the tone and tenor of the communication. Facts are important but so is acknowledging peoples’ perspectives and how those evolve over time.

The removal of the Revenue Support Grant and the imminent disappearance of EU funding is going to make local government resources stretch to breaking point. It will also mean that infrastructure, residential and commercial development will become even more important; not just to help grow the economy but to help keep the lights switched on in our care homes, community and sports centres.

Which local authorities and developers are going to be the first to be open and honest about the environment that is rapidly evolving and the impact it is going to have on every community across the UK?

One tricky step at a time for the new Sheffield City Region Mayor….

Written by Leigh Bramall

As the dust settles on the election of Dan Jarvis as the new Sheffield City Region Mayor, attention will inevitably turn to what the area can expect of him and what his approach will be. It’s a particularly salient question given the public discord between the South Yorkshire local authorities on devolution for Sheffield City Region, caught up as it is in the heady cocktail of politics around a potential whole One Yorkshire deal. Crucially, it is currently a question that has no definitive answer.

Expectations of the Mayor from the private sector are relatively high. One suspects the pressure from the public will be less dramatic at this stage, given the low profile campaign and lack of interest and understanding in the role that exists. But what is happening now does and should matter. It has the potential to unlock significant funding for development and jobs and perhaps more importantly, strengthen the position and prominence of the area with investors and government.

What is in little doubt is that Dan Jarvis has the potential to provide the public facing and advocate role that South Yorkshire – essentially the area the Sheffield City Region Mayor represents – needs to improve its image on the national stage. With his background and schooling as a relatively high-profile MP, he is well versed in projecting confidence and tackling the media. However, after that, things become more difficult for him.

The first, and most important task Dan Jarvis will have is to resolve the current impasse between Barnsley and Doncaster on one hand, and Rotherham and Sheffield on the other. Currently, the powers and funding of £900 million plus over 30 years depend on each council signing up to the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and its powers, which Barnsley and Doncaster have failed to do. This impasse will not be easy to resolve but a failure to do so risks the South Yorkshire Mayor never getting past first base. Dan Jarvis’ position as a Barnsley MP, backed as mayor by Sheffield and Rotherham, means he is probably better placed than most to achieve this, but it remains a big task. The hope must be that the offer of significant funding on the table will see pragmatism and a diplomatic approach smooth over bruised sentiments on all sides. The clock is ticking however, and if there is no progress as 2018 approaches an end, the whole venture could die a slow, lingering death that would actually further harm the image of the area and do little for Dan Jarvis’ own personal standing, even though this would probably be unfair.

Throughout this period of trying to get a South Yorkshire deal to work, the One Yorkshire proposals will continue to cast a lingering shadow. Those backing One Yorkshire will take one of two views of the South Yorkshire deal. Some will believe that South Yorkshire’s deal needs to be a success to give credibility to a One Yorkshire deal – after all, if they can’t make it work with four councils, what chance for 18 or 20?; others will wish the South Yorkshire deal to fail spectacularly and probably never get going, proving that only a One Yorkshire deal will work. These jockeying positions are likely to inform a complex political backdrop over the next year. They also sit alongside the ultimate question of whether a One Yorkshire deal is even desirable or will ever happen.

Dan Jarvis committed in his manifesto to make the South Yorkshire deal work. In so doing, he has at least partially tethered his own future to its success. The remainder of 2018 will determine whether this pays off or not. But with a full time MP role to fulfil and internal turmoil to resolve, the private sector in Sheffield City Region may have to wait a little longer to get the type of mayor they want. The hope must be that the wait is only a few months, and does not once more become a distant prospect.

Arctic Monkeys

Right now in Sheffield a team are fitting out a shop in the heart of the city. The windows are blanked out but behind the glass there is a hive of activity. The shop will be open for only 3 days, from Friday 11 – Sunday 13 May. It will never open again. It will sit alongside equivalent stores in New York City, Sydney, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo. It will be a shop that will showcase items unavailable anywhere else on earth. It will be a shop designed to celebrate one of Sheffield’s most important and celebrated exports; the Arctic Monkeys.

The first question that springs to mind is why is this happening? On Friday 11 May the band will release their 6th eagerly awaited album. Along with our colleagues from Colloco, we helped the record label to identify the unit and get the necessary permissions to make sure Sheffield was in the centre of what will be a globally significant event for the music industry.

Why does this matter? It matters because Sheffield like any city needs to grasp opportunities. Cities generate interest and become globally relevant not through strategies that sit on shelves but through making things happen. This week and in the coming weeks Sheffield will be talked about on every continent as the city that gave birth to one of the world’s most talented bands. Seeing the city referenced alongside Tokyo, Sydney and New York will hopefully instil pride and ambition. You never know, it might also make another group of friends pick up an instrument to trigger another creative process.

That is the power of cities. They bring people together to make things like this happen. They spark and power innovation in music, technology and the arts. They inspire the next generation to think about what they want to say about the world they live in. That’s why what is happening behind the blanked out window matters. It’s not just a pop-up shop. It is the latest example of the type of practical innovation that Sheffield is renowned for around the world.

Supporting the growth of offshore wind

Written by Alexis Krachai

Pride is described as one of the seven deadly sins. That’s right if pride becomes hubris and arrogance but pride can also be a force for good. An energy that encourages you to do more if you feel part of something bigger.

Counter Context are proud to have played a role in the growth of the offshore wind industry in the UK. Since 2012 we have been working with the world’s leading developer of offshore wind projects to help them engage openly and meaningfully with stakeholders and communities.

On a day to day basis we focus on building understanding on what is happening on each project. We work hard to ensure local residents, businesses and stakeholders get the information they need. We have supported projects being built in the North Sea and the Irish Sea. We’ve worked the length and breadth of the coastlines on either sides of the country.

Rarely do we have the opportunity to take a step back to look at what we have been involved in helping to achieve. We’re realistic that our role has been relatively tiny but it does instil a sense of pride.

We get to remember that we have seen millions, if not billions, invested into the UK economy. We have seen our client create 100s of jobs. We have watched as they have played a central role in bringing the UK offshore wind industry together to engage with government about a deal that could see a further £48 billion invested in essential energy infrastructure by 2030. We get to stand alongside them as they engage with their colleagues and peers at ever increasingly high-profile conferences such as the one held by RenewableUK at the end of April.

We also get to explore international opportunities. Last week a team from Counter Context flew to Boston to talk about the rapidly growing offshore wind industry in North America. It was a fascinating and successful visit. I’ll write more about that in future dispatches.

In the meantime, if you are interested in reading about the sector deal that could see £48bn invested in UK infrastructure then you should take a look at this helpful article published by www.humberbusiness.com.

Events – A catalyst for growth or a drain on resources?

Written by Alexis Krachai

If you ask most people to remember positive experiences from their work or personal lives, they will often highlight one thing. They will not talk about a process. They might talk about a conversation. More likely they will talk about an event. An amazing night out. A weekend away. A conference that resulted in a new job or career opportunity. Events are what define our lives. Events define our careers. Events define those places we call home.

Not persuaded? Think about what the 1992 Olympics did for Barcelona. They were the catalyst that transformed perceptions of a provincial Spanish city and turned them global. The same can be said of the 2002 Commonwealth Games that were such an important milestone for Manchester as it grew more confident in the early part of this century.

Some will cite that large-scale events are a drain on resources at a time when frontline services are under threat and businesses should be focussed on investing in their own P&L. It is true that the wrong event, designed by the wrong people at the wrong time can drain resources for decades but done properly they can turbocharge how a town, city or region thinks about itself. What’s the key to success? Having a strategy and recognising an event is not and end in itself. It needs to be part of a bigger picture aimed at achieving wider objectives.

Just look at what the Tour de France did for Yorkshire. The arrival of the peloton for the opening stages of the 2014 race injected £128m into the regional economy alongside Cambridgeshire, Essex and London. More importantly, Yorkshire has leveraged that once in a generation opportunity and is now home to the hugely influential and important Tour de Yorkshire that will once again wind itself through our towns and cities in early May. Why does that matter? Cycling has helped to take Yorkshire to a global audience. That matters when, in 2014, the global cycling market was valued at €35.7 Billion.

What does this all mean for those individuals and organisations that are thinking about events and are trying to draw investment, residents, businesses and visitors to their locale?

Here are our 3 top tips:

  1. Don’t be cynical. Have your eyes open to every opportunity that might pop up. Tomorrow’s idea might become the next South by Southwest or Sundance Film Festival. From small ideas grows global impact.
  2. Grow your own. Small events carefully nurtured and supported can grow and grow and help to showcase all that a city has to offer. In Sheffield we’re an incubator of bright ideas for events that have become fixtures in the calendar. Just look at Doc/Fest. Since beginning in 1994 Doc/Fest has become the UK’s biggest documentary festival and the third largest in the world. If you are interested in the interface between music, art, technology and dancing then you should also look out for No Bounds later in the year. It has all the makings to become what Sónar has become for Barcelona.
  3. Be confident. Who would have thought Barcelona could have got the Olympics or Manchester the Commonwealth Games? It’s easy to dismiss events as folly and froth – and make the mistake of assuming that they should not command the attention of city leaders.

On the contrary, if you want to stand out you need to be bold and you need to be confident. If you don’t build it then it’s certain they will not come.

Why graphic design and print is essential in building key stakeholder relationships

Written by Paul Watkinson

Throughout my career at Counter Context I have seen first-hand how our design portfolio has expanded. Our design team now supports a client base spreading across numerous different business sectors, and produces a wide range of materials, from newsletters to websites and everything in between.

Why is design and print so important?

Well it’s simple really, your audience will judge the visual appeal of your material in a matter of seconds. We often work on very sensitive projects and our design collateral is often the first point of contact schemes have with key stakeholders. In design terms, the old saying “never judge a book by its cover” couldn’t be further from the truth.

The design you create needs to target your audience in a way that is functional, attractive and professional. Your design should be a reflection of you, your values and your beliefs. It should provide an instant connection to the products and services that you offer. A great design forges this connection; poor design means no one will stick around long enough to find out more, or worse still, will leave people with a negative view of you and your project.

To create a design that really stands the test of time, we first start with the very cornerstone of design – the brand. At the very early stages of a design brief, setting clear brand guidelines will help provide a consistent approach to messaging and grows brand recognition, ensuring the end user has the same experience visiting a website as they do reading a brochure. It goes without saying that good design should include useful features, such as easy to follow navigation, legible fonts, strong colourways and high-quality imagery. Consistency conveys professionalism, and professionalism conveys credibility.

The usefulness of graphic design extends beyond a brochure and website. It is important to produce visual aids that help communicate ideas that cannot be expressed with words alone. We translate complex, technical information into easy to understand pieces of artwork that leave a positive impression and avoid misunderstandings.

In the age of digital marketing, print can be often overlooked; surely a printed brochure is a printed brochure? This is not the case. Traditional methods still have their place in society. Print options have developed significantly.

I could talk for days about the different print options available, but that can wait for another day. A couple of key considerations to really make a design stand out is the size of the document and the paper. The size plays an important role, whether it is a bespoke size to stand out or standard ‘A’ size you can really make your document influence the reader to read the content enclosed.

Also important is the paper you use and, trust me, there are thousands of options most people are not aware of. I won’t bore you with information on all the varieties of paper but it is worth knowing and discussing with your design team the vast array of weights and finishes you have available. Consider whether your business wants to use recycled paper or FSC paper from a sustainable forest. The paper you use will dictate the entire look and feel of a document. Coated paper will help give you a fresh, contemporary feel with low ink absorbency giving shaper images. Uncoated paper will give you a more traditional feel which is becoming more popular in current times, with a fresh, crisp, vintage feel leaving rich images.

Graphic design can easily be overlooked when working in busy businesses and communicating with many stakeholders. Often, digital methods of distribution can be favoured for its cheaper price tag and ability to distribute materials to a large number of people instantly. However, smart companies need to consider different formats for different abilities; some people are not proficient with digital media, some people have disabilities that means they require larger print copies and braille, and some people just prefer a hard copy. A hard copy certainly has a different impact to a digital document.

It’s a balancing act of course. Digital and print can both work hand in hand. Well-designed printed collateral is still incredibly important for companies to consider when trying to build trust and understanding in a project.

If you’re interested in seeing some of our design work, search Counter Context on Instagram or contact us to find out more.

Ballots on estate regeneration – an exemplar in community engagement or a recipe for disaster?

Written by Harriet Knowles

We keep a close eye on the debates surrounding development in London. What starts off as an issue in the capital usually filters out into the regions.

As we get closer to the local elections on 3 May, the issue of large-scale housing estate renewal has become one of the most contentious political issues in the capital. The combination of some 1960s and 70s council estates coming to the end of their expected lives, coupled with the intense pressure to deliver more homes in London, has led many local authorities to look to partner with private sector developers to demolish and regenerate these estates. The aim is often that a degree of densification makes these schemes viable: social housing can be re-provided (in some form or other), whilst a new element of open-market housing provides the private developer with their returns.

But these schemes have been contentious. Replacement social housing for long-term residents has not always been provided in the same quantity, the type of accommodation has been different, or the terms more expensive. The choice for existing residents, seeing their homes demolished, has sometimes been to decide between a smaller home in the neighbourhood or moving out of London entirely. In this context, ‘stealth gentrification’ and ‘social cleansing’ have been emotive phrases often used by critics.

Trying to grapple with these issues, Sadiq Khan published in February his plan for best practice in estate regeneration. The Mayor wants to see an increase in affordable homes; full rights to remain or return for existing tenants; and a fair deal for leaseholders and freeholders.

One of the proposals within this plan aimed to put the existing residents of these estates back in the centre of the picture: a proposal to include mandatory resident ballots in estate regeneration projects of over 150 homes which include the demolition of existing homes owned by a social landlord. The consultation on this proposal closed earlier this week.

Khan’s announcement made headlines and sparked a lot of debate. Issues such as who gets a vote – existing social tenants (naturally) and those who have been on that council’s housing waiting list for more than a year (makes sense) were included, but some commentators have asserted that others who might benefit from the new homes and jobs were not. Private rental tenants living within the estate would not be balloted, nor would owner-occupiers who have moved in recently. More broadly, what about those on housing waiting lists in neighbouring authorities or living in substandard homes in the private rented sector?

The question of when the ballot takes place is another tricky issue. The proposal is for a ballot at the early stages, before a developer or investor has been procured. This makes sense to ensure plans are not too advanced before residents get to have their say, but it does present challenges as people will be asked to vote on what is effectively a broad-brush aspiration. If a ‘yes’ vote is achieved, what happens later down the line if the scheme needs to change? These complex projects can take years to realise, and often flex and change in response to market conditions. How much would a scheme need to deviate from its aspirational path before another ballot is required?

And in the campaigning ahead of the ballot, is there a danger that it is used to represent wider political agendas rather than the specific detail of a development proposal?

It does seem that a binary yes/no vote is a blunt tool to help shape a complex regeneration scheme. A pessimistic view is that the initiative could actually result in the opposite effect to its intentions and halt the supply of more social and affordable housing in London.

However, few would argue with the intention to put existing residents back at the heart of discussions about how their neighbourhood is developed. This proposal has started a useful debate about the importance of effective dialogue with a wide range of local stakeholders and interest groups. The hope is that we will see a gradual move away from the cursory PR as consultation, usually occurring right at the end of the design process.

At Counter Context, working on a number of similar schemes, we advocate a more iterative and meaningful approach, starting the engagement process early to discuss broad principles and ambitions, then continuing the dialogue throughout the more detailed design process and the planning process. If we are unsure about the idea of a one-off ballot, it’s because this more iterative approach to engagement allows for debate, compromise, and – dare we say – changing your mind if you’ve got something wrong…which occasionally happens to the best of us.

We’ll be awaiting the outcome of this particular consultation with interest.

Public-private partnership is crucial to fund the transport aspirations of the North

Written by Leigh Bramall

Funding for our transport infrastructure aspirations is one of the big topics of the day. The challenges are substantial. Securing financing from central government often takes many years and the current business case modelling used by Treasury and DfT to decide upon spending priorities, is all too often appearing to favour schemes in London and the south east. The outcome is that, despite the rhetoric, initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse can often face an uphill battle to be realised.

This was the topic discussed at a recent ‘Inside Government: Improving Transport Infrastructure Across the Northern Powerhouse’ event in Manchester. A look at the challenges to fund the aspirations of the North for investment in transport infrastructure highlighted some sobering statistics: in his 2017 Autumn Statement, the Chancellor set a commitment to increase spending up to 1.2% of national GDP per annum on economic infrastructure – which includes energy, flood defences and digital, as well as transport infrastructure. Existing government commitments account for 1% of the 1.2%. This leaves just 0.2%, or £4 billion per annum, left for projects requiring a long-term commitment or that are in the pipeline including HS2, Crossrail 2 and the proposals set to emerge from Transport for the North, which alone have an estimated price tag of up to £8 billion per year, leaving a £4 billion gaping hole to plug.

The answer to this conundrum inevitably has to fall in part to public-private partnerships. This would likely be the case under a Conservative or Labour government. A future Labour government has committed to a whole raft of renationalisation programmes of key infrastructure, which is likely to require tens of billions of pounds of public money. Whichever way you look at it therefore, leveraging private finances to boost public spending would seem to be needed to deliver on infrastructure to some extent, whoever holds the reins of power.

Two key questions arise from this funding straight jacket:

  • How do we ensure that the schemes we do fund are the right ones (i.e. they deliver the best return on investment)?
  • How can the funding gap be bridged to deliver on all the priorities that are identified?

There was a wide recognition that the government needs to evolve its modelling to properly take account of the total benefit of investment in transport infrastructure. Crucially, the business case model used by government to justify investment tends to focus on meeting existing demand, rather than recognising the potential for improved infrastructure to stimulate new demand – something that is a considerable barrier to investment outside the south east. In addition, current models fail to properly recognise that building infrastructure such as rail lines/stations and roads will have a greater or lesser impact in terms of stimulating economic regeneration, depending on where it is located – simply drawing a line that moves people as quickly from point A to point B misses this point somewhat.

This link between transport infrastructure and regeneration and investment is crucial when looking at how the public and private sector might work together to generate some of the funding to plug the £4 billion transport funding gap, as well as to fund smaller regional or city priorities like the expansion of tram systems.

Land Value Capture (LVC) was the buzz word at the event. Evidence shows that the biggest beneficiaries from transport investment are existing land owners in the immediate and near vicinity of new infrastructure. They often benefit from increases in the value of their property or land from the date of an announcement for new transport investment being made rather than when a start to construction is made. Where local or national government owns the land, it can clearly capture increased value through land sales, especially where the subsequent planned use generates maximum ongoing income through Council Tax, New Homes Bonus and Business Rates. Where the land is in private ownership, the possibility of windfall taxes to recoup some of the increase in value was discussed, albeit that the powers to do this do not yet exist. In many cases, a public-private partnership where mutual interests are recognised and catered for, was felt to offer a way to maximise both regeneration and the income streams that can be borrowed against to part fund transport investment.

Clearly, engagement between the public and private sector is crucial to make much of this work. It is not something that has always come naturally to some on the side of either the private sector or public sector at its various levels. But the lesson is clear – those who can demonstrate innovative approaches to contribute to infrastructure costs, increasingly stand the best chance of securing limited government resources.

MIPIM

Written by Alexis Krachai

25,000 property and investment professionals talking about property in the South of France each March. To some it’s a sun-soaked, champagne-fuelled jolly. For others it’s a 4-day endurance exercise defined by wall-to-wall meetings and networking. To be honest, it is a bit of both. These are my thoughts on why it matters.

The UK economy, like any economy, runs on investment, confidence and conversations. If any of these three dries up, you can guarantee a downturn (we don’t like the R word). No investment means no growth. No confidence means no investment. No conversations mean no confidence and no investment. Why; because confidence and investment is always derived through people talking to one another.

MIPIM is a fixture in the calendar of those politicians, government officials, investors and developers serious about improving and shaping the built environment around the world. Whether you are interested in housing, commercial office space, infrastructure or place-making, MIPIM is where you go to hear new ideas, discuss challenging topics and make connections.

Counter Context has been represented at MIPIM for the last five years. Each year we return to the UK completely exhausted but full of ideas and weighed down with business cards of new colleagues, contacts, clients and friends. MIPIM is about making connections. Connections between ideas and connections between people. It is about lifting your gaze to the horizon.

Let’s be honest; too many of us spend too much of our time thinking about the immediate priority or the next thing on our to-do-list. How often do we have the time and space to take a step back to look at what the rest of the world is doing? As our colleagues at Sheffield City Region Executive have identified, this year, representatives from more than 100 countries and in excess of 500 city delegations attended MIPIM, alongside 26,000 real estate, city and political leaders, including 5,400 investors. These figures point to one thing. If you think you have nothing to learn from engaging with that community, then you do not understand communications and you do not understand the built environment.

And what about the sun-soaked location? The weather is largely irrelevant. The importance of MIPIM means that even if it was held in some far off rain-lashed, frosty location they would still come flocking. Undoubtedly the sunshine does help just as good weather lifts any mood. It makes people more open and approachable; largely as they are not huddled under thick rain coats, umbrellas and hats. For the record they were on Thursday when it poured down for ten hours straight. People still got up, purchased over-priced, under-engineered umbrellas and they carried on talking, often out in the rain.

And the Champagne? Is a lot consumed? Yes, but there are 25,000 people there. Does Champagne give off the whiff of exclusivity? Yes, but in reality the availability of fizzy wine stems from it being made in France and therefore it is relatively cheap. If MIPIM was hosted in the North of England, you’d see more beer consumed.

So what does all of this mean for communities back home? The same communities that read headlines about sun-soaked jollies to the South of France need to be reassured that this event is delivering results. Transparency is important. Understanding what was spent and how it was spent by Local Authorities ensures that money is spent on the right things. After that, it is important for the industry to keep making the link between MIPIM and frontline services.

The conversations we had at MIPIM last week will likely see our clients and other developers look to invest money that will help our cities to grow and to attract new businesses. The taxes those businesses pay will increasingly fund frontline services. This is one of the biggest and invisible trends shaping our cities. By 2020, every Town Hall in the UK can say goodbye to a direct grant from Whitehall and also, now, EU funding. That shortfall needs to be made up elsewhere. It either comes out of the back pocket of local residents or from taxes paid by businesses.

If you are not at MIPIM then the investment and businesses will go elsewhere. It’s the same as recognising that if you do not turn up for a job interview, someone else will get the job.

20/02/18: The basketball debate: supporting disadvantaged communities

Brexit is not the only B to be the topic of conversation in the House of Commons. Recently, for the first time in five years, basketball was debated amongst MPs.

You may be wondering, why are we bringing this up?

Around this time last year, Counter Context were approached by Sheffield’s very own b-ball players, the Sheffield Sharks. They wanted to know if we were interested in sponsoring their Respect programme which works with local communities. Being naturally curious and thinking about our core expertise – communicating with key stakeholders and communities, we set out to find out more.

What we uncovered was that the Sheffield Sharks Respect programme reaches over 600 young people in the Sheffield City Region every year. This programme is aimed at children aged 9 to 11 who are vulnerable and at risk to pressures in society including cyber bullying, child exploitation and crime. The Respect programme is designed to give children a dynamic learning experience, which includes six hours of basketball coaching and two hours of in-school education. A few hours might not sound much but these sessions can open up a young person’s eyes to a world of possibility. Unsurprisingly, we quickly signed up to lend a hand. The Shark’s Respect programme became our nominated charity for 2017 and 2018.

Going back to the House of Commons focus on basketball. This was an important discussion around how inclusive the sport is and the difference it makes to young people’s lives. Reading the Hansard transcript it reminded us of the importance of schemes like the Respect programme. In turn we thought we’d be rather bold and urge other businesses to do the same.

Alex Sobel MP, who led the debate and is the Co-Chair of the APPG for Basketball, explained: “UK Sport recently announced £226 million for Olympic eligible sports until 2021. That includes £14.5 million for equestrian sports, £25.5 million for sailing and more than £6 million for modern pentathlon—a sport that requires a horse, a sword and a gun. None of those sports is within reach of the young people we see playing basketball. We are funding elite sports for elites.”

We know this country is not doing enough for those that come from disadvantaged communities. Having spectated at many matches and met those who play basketball both socially and professionally, it is apparent that they all come from many different backgrounds. It is one of the most inclusive sports. The UK neglects to see the vital and significant difference it can make to the lives of those living in disadvantaged communities.

Here, here. We’ve seen this first hand.

Working with the Sheffield Sharks, meeting their players and hearing some of their stories has been hugely inspirational. They are not all people who are born into a family of high-achievers. They weren’t brought up in gated communities and given elite extra-curricular activities in which to gain a head start athletic career. These are people who have fought to get to where they are today. Some of whom have had a difficult start in life, who could have easily fell into a life of crime, have turned their lives around.

It is those players that deliver the Respect programme. Every day they inspire the next generation to dream and to believe.

If the governing bodies can’t and won’t front the cash for these important programmes it is imperative that businesses do their bit. We were only too happy to stand up and make a difference. We often hear the work of big corporate charities but what attention do we give smaller programmes like this? Programmes that might change a young person’s life from a life of crime to becoming a world-class athlete.

We believe that businesses should support the communities they work in. Be part of the solution not the problem. We’re a small fish in a huge pond but if all companies did “something”, it would make a huge difference all across the UK. We’re not talking sponsoring programmes for kudos or the PR often gained by supporting the more “popular” charities but doing something different. Meet with your smaller local charities and find out about the different schemes they’re working on. When you go out into your local community, I guarantee you’ll be surprised at some of the hidden gems that are out there.

Written by Alexis Krachai