This has been a year like no other, with businesses facing unprecedented challenges just to keep trading in many cases.
By Damian Holmes
But despite the long shadow cast by the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies have also shown their true community spirit, and played their part in supporting individuals and organisations who have been very badly hit in lockdown and beyond.
After the sad but inevitable cancellation of the Bradford Means Business Awards 2020, there was no platform locally to celebrate those businesses.
So Provident decided to team up with Bradford Means Business to launch the Covid-19 Community Response Award to highlight those firms who have worked so hard to respond to local needs and issues during the crisis.
And after entries from a number of local companies, the judging panel chose IAV Services, based in Keighley, as the winner, and it will now receive an award of £1,500 to gift to the voluntary organisation of its choice.
The AV installation specialist decided to offer its resources out to organisations who might benefit from them early in the lockdown, and worked with Inn Churches, which was co-ordinating the distribution of emergency food supplies and other aid in the district.
Staff from the company ended up doing more than 300 hours of voluntary work in the first three months of the crisis, working with the organisation to help with the warehousing, logistics and planning of the operation.
The judging panel – made up of Sharon Orr, Community Affairs Manager – Provident; Graham Pye, HR Director – Provident; Kamran Rashid, CEO – Impact Hub; Tim Rogers, Account Manager – LocaliQ/Bradford Means Business; and Steph Taylor, Programmes Director – Leeds Community Foundation – judged IAV to be narrowly ahead of Emerald Publishing and High Speed Training who were both Highly Commended.
The awards process involved companies in the Bradford district being asked to send in narratives of up to 1,000 words explaining what they have done to support their communities during the COVID crisis.
Sharon Orr of Provident said: “The judging panel was unanimous in its decision that IAV should win this award.
“As a small business who have seen their business significantly impacted by the pandemic, they have proactively diverted their energy and resources into supporting the community.
“We were particularly impressed by the way they consulted with Participate Projects to really understand what was needed and where their efforts could be best channelled.
“IAV’s support has undoubtedly contributed to the ongoing operation of organisations who are supporting some of Bradford’s most vulnerable during this crisis.”
The company, which has its head office at Marley Mills in Keighley, had expanded rapidly to four on site teams supplemented by workshop engineers just before the pandemic hit. It works across a range of industry sectors including education (schools, colleges, and universities), airports, private sector venues and meeting rooms, government offices and the NHS.
The entry describes how much of that work dried up at the beginning of the pandemic, with lockdown preventing many organisations from holding events and meetings in person, and infrastructure AV projects and regular maintenance of AV installations were put on hold.
“As sessions moved online the company found that it had significant downtime and spare capacity. We took the decision early on to look at how we might use some of our available resources to help organisations with the response to the pandemic,” the entry said.
The company has made a number of donations through the Bradford charity, Participate Projects, including installing AV equipment for enterprise training and kitting out the meeting room at Keighley Healthy Living with presentation screens, so it approached Participate to ask how it could support the Coronavirus response.
“We looked at our available resources – volunteers, transport, storage and equipment and came up with a plan based around addressing the immediate crisis issues and then helping organisations with addressing their need to change how services were delivered during lockdown,” the entry went on.
“We were quickly matched with Inn Churches who were coordinating the Bradford food hub for the distribution of emergency food and other supplies to the most vulnerable people in the district. After meeting with the team we were able to offer immediate assistance around warehousing, logistics and planning.
“This involved our team and vehicles helping Inn Churches with the collection and direct distribution of food to people and organisations across the District. We worked with the management at Inn Churches to coordinate a distribution plan and supported furloughed workers from other organisations with their operations.
“In total our staff did over 300 hours of volunteering for Inn Churches over the first three months of the crisis. As our Keighley storage site was relatively empty we were able to increase capacity for the storage of supplies by offering free storage space to the charity for three months. We moved surplus equipment and materials from the Bradford Hub to our site.
“We are continuing to work with Inn Churches to this day and intend to provide assistance to them in the longer term.
“The work with Inn Churches helped them to fulfil urgent deliveries to 21 food banks and meet the Local Authority emergency Covid response.”
IAV was also able to help a number of other organisations with their Covid response, including Keighley Healthy Living and Royds Community Association.
Moving forward, the company is continuing to work with the charities we have supported through the crisis.
“IAV has a strong commitment to our community and we will be continuing to support Bradford Together and business volunteering in the district,” the entry concluded.
Shaun Hardcastle of IAV said it was great to receive the recognition, but said he also saw it as an opportunity “to encourage other businesses in Bradford to look at how they can contribute to their community, and to showcase some of the amazing work of the charities we supported.
“If this award encourages a few other businesses to do some practical things to help charities like Inn Churches and Participate then I will see that as a huge success.”
He said he could easily have just shut down IAV when work disappeared, but that was not how they operated.
“As a business, we are not used to sitting still. When we found our work was all on hold due to the lockdown it seemed clear to me that the resources of IAV could be put to good use, supporting the work of frontline services that were under intense pressure due to the impact of the crisis,” said Shaun.
“I saw it as an opportunity to donate resources (time, storage space and transport) that would otherwise be dormant in extraordinary circumstances. It felt the right thing to do.”
He said they looked at the available resources they had and decided to use them as intensively as possible.
“We were lucky to have support from Bradford’s business brokerage, Participate, to help match that resource with organisations that needed the help.
“Working with charities like Inn Churches has been a privilege. Whilst I am obviously pleased that we were able to make a contribution we were simply one part of a huge effort by the voluntary sector, the public sector and volunteers to make sure the most vulnerable were OK during the crisis.”
Shaun believes that supporting the community is a key role of businesses. “There are lots of ways to do this,” he said.
“At IAV we try to support the local economy and prefer to pay a premium and buy services and goods from other local companies. Where we have resources spare we seek to use these in ways that support the community.
“We have installed surplus AV kit in local charities, donated surplus goods and volunteered our time for several years. Covid simply meant that we had more time to give. Businesses need to think about what they can viably do and make their donations relate to things that are important to their staff and customers.”
Looking ahead, Shaun said Covid-19 has made things extremely difficult in their industry, with many clients shutting down during the crisis and others putting major infrastructure projects on hold. “More than half of our work is in the higher education sector, where we specialise in AV installations in training rooms and lecture theatres,” he said.
“Many of these institutions have still not returned to normal use of these facilities and investment in these areas is very supressed. We are seeing some recovery in the private sector and are optimistic this will keep us going through to next summer when spending in universities resumes.
“We have been able to access some government support that has helped the business through the worst of the crisis. Seeing first-hand the way that different sectors have pulled together in the District to tackle the crisis makes me optimistic that the District can bounce back.”
Anthony Waddington, the chief executive of Participate, is full of praise for Shaun and IAV’s efforts. He said: “The response of IAV to the crisis in Bradford was exceptional.
“The company deployed their full resources during the downtime caused by lockdown to support frontline efforts to support the most vulnerable people in the district.
“The work of Shaun and his company is a great example of how a private business can use it’s time and resources to make a difference.”
Emerald Publishing was highly commended. Its Emerald Foundation supports charities and organisations in and around West Yorkshire, and as soon as the pandemic hit it provided its charity partners with additional funds, with One in a Million, Social Enterprise Academy, National Literacy Trust, Age UK, Social Bite and Bradford North Foodbank all receiving funding.
It also gave Centre Point funding and its sister company, Emerald Works, held a ‘Big Sleep in’ for Centrepoint, where seven colleagues took part, including CE0 John Yates to help raise much-needed funds, as well as a group-wide fundraising day where activities contributed to a donation to NHS Charities Together.
It has also made research on COVID-19, the management of epidemics and pandemics, and supply chain management free for anyone to access on its platforms, and set up a publishing fund to cover the article processing charges for research published on its Emerald Open Research platform that was related to the outbreak and similar healthcare emergencies.
Emerald Works also created two free Covid-19 support packs to help maintain physical and emotional wellbeing.
High Speed Training was also highly commended. It also became involved with Participate and its Covid-based project, Bradford Together, which helps communities around the Bradford area – including charities, health organisations, and schools – to respond to Covid-19 challenges.
The company provided a donation and then looked at other ways to help, particularly in its own area of expertise, online training courses. It is now in the process of setting up 11 Bradford Together participants (including Bradford and District Senior Power, Scholemoor Community Centre, and Keighley Healthy Living) with a variety of High Speed Training courses, free of charge. These include Food Hygiene, COVID-19, and Risk Assessment training.
Since lockdown began, it has also donated funds to Fareshare, which provides families in urgent need with meals; the NSPCC; and to Hospitality Action. It has also donated food hygiene courses to Fountain Foodbank and Kommunity Kitchen.