During times like these, putting your people and your community first is more important than ever. Social value, giving back, community involvement – these are all terms we hear but what does it mean in practice and how can we make these activities meaningful?
At Aareon, our company ethos is fundamental to all that we do; it’s always about the people. Our products and services are designed to help housing providers best serve their customers and our employee programmes are designed to look after the well-being of our people.
Our annual employee survey in 2020 found that our people wanted to do more to give back in their own communities and to our customers. We’ve been active in supporting initiatives with our housing customers regularly over the years and this gave us a new focus for employee-driven volunteering and giving back.
The result? We created the A-Team! The Aareon team of volunteers is where everyone in the company has a day each year during work time to dedicate to a project. This is in addition to having ad-hoc time for smaller projects that they want to support.
To create projects for our A-Team, we asked our employees and our customer community for ideas. Our social value manager, Sarah Matthews, manages the programme of giving back – sharing our skills, creating content, helping people to stay in touch, supporting and empowering those looking for new opportunities, and looking after our people. The examples here are just some of the magic that we’ve been able to create.
Sarah Matthews, social value manager, Aareon UK, said, “The A-Team has given me a fantastic opportunity to connect with our customers. Volunteering really does present our employees with a way to give something back. I love helping my colleagues to invest in communities and futures by giving a little of their time. We really are living our values while helping to change people’s lives. That means the world to us at Aareon.”
Aareon’s coronavirus response
We transitioned 100 per cent of our people to being home-based at the start of the pandemic and they used the opportunity to help where they could. From 3D-printed visor headbands to crocheted mask-straps, delivering hot meals to vulnerable individuals, sending cards to care-home residents and hospital patients as well as being NHS Volunteer responders – it felt great to be able to help.
Christmas Kindness 2020
We asked our customers to nominate their projects and held an employee vote to select the top four projects to donate ‘Christmas Kindness’ cash donations; Great Places, St Basil’s, Curo and Halton Housing were chosen.
The vouchers we sent to Great Places helped Pomona Gardens provide a buffet on New Year’s Eve and a roast dinner on New Year’s Day for 20 of its residents. Great Places’ procurement officer, Stephanie Cameron, said that the residents were really happy to have full bellies, and most couldn’t remember the last time they had had a hot roast. The communal kitchen is small, so residents used their own ovens to cook parts of the overall meal and the night staff peeled all the vegetables. Residents also got a gift bag each when they collected their meal.
St Basil’s Housing’s team leader, Vanessa Newey, said that they had supported young people at their youth hub with the Tesco vouchers donated by Aareon. She said, “People were able to move into their new accommodation and buy essential food items to see them through until their benefit payments came through. Thanks so much – these have been really useful.”
For Curo, we donated to the Bath Food bank where Genesis Trust’s food manager, Grainne Moher, said, “We provide emergency food to people in crisis, particularly since the pandemic. Our team, along with the generous support of people and companies like Aareon, has provided 1,800 food parcels helping 3,400 people since the beginning of lockdown. Thank you once again for your support – we are so very grateful.”
We sent vouchers to Widnes Food bank on behalf of Halton Housing, which was the equivalent of sufficient food for 10 people for three days. Halton Housing’s social impact officer, Cheryl McCabe, said, “Halton Housing is all about improving lives and has worked continually to tackle food poverty, particularly during the pandemic. Aareon’s donation to Widnes Foodbank will support children and families in need, at a time when foodbank services are in high demand.”
Befriending & upskilling
It was great to meet some of the residents at SeeAbility, Great Places and Octavia Foundation, and to buddy with individuals for skills development and befriending. Technical support to introduce people to the world of video conferencing is part of our digital inclusion activities, and it has been great to help residents stay connected with family and friends during the pandemic. Aareon also sends send cards and occasional gifts to add cheer and variety to their days.
Coaching residents to get jobs
We’ve provided online IT career support for Great Places and Octavia Foundation. Our ERP support manager, Matthew Radmore, helped one young apprentice at Octavia Housing with his interview and CV preparation; we were then delighted to hear that he had been successful with his application for a full-time IT analyst role at Octavia.
Working with One Housing, we developed a re-usable ‘wellbeing toolkit’ for its staff and residents. With a variety of styles designed to appeal to everyone, the toolkit covers getting active, connecting with others, learning a new skill and local information. We look forward to sharing it with other organisations as part of our A-Team activities.
Linda Kelly, customer partnerships manager, One Housing, said, “I can’t thank you enough for the brilliant toolkit that Aareon produced for our vulnerable customers. I marvel at your ingenuity and ‘can do’ attitude in producing so much from just a few lines on a summary. My colleagues are already praising it, asking to share it more widely and saying they will use it personally. Thank you for working with us; your generosity of spirit is awesome and we’re so glad our vulnerable customers were the beneficiaries of that spirit.”
Aareon is pleased to support dedicated fundraising initiatives for charities close to our heart. For example, Aareon UK’s management accountant, Ruth Mepham, raised a fantastic £2,000 for Alzheimer’s UK by shaving her head live on an Aareon Team call, with everyone cheering her on.
We already have charity fundraising underway for two special causes during 2022 – The Royal British Legion and Cash For Kids.
Aareon UK’s ERP support manager, Matthew Radmore is deep into his training program to do an Arctic survival challenge in northern Sweden for the Royal British Legion. Being an ex-serviceman, the charity is close to his heart because it helps serving armed forces personnel, veterans and their families and provides care homes and rehabilitation. He has raised over 60 per cent of his target so far. To donate: justgiving.com/fundraising/arcticsurvivalchallenge2022-matthewradmore.
Our digital implementations consultant, Emma White, is doing a Himalayan trek for Cash For Kids. She said, “They do really great work with children across the south of England, providing money for school shoes, shopping vouchers, Christmas presents, warm meals during the school holidays and their youth clubs give the children life-skills and structure. Some colleagues and I volunteered in one of Cash For Kids’ warehouses, sorting out presents to go to children who would otherwise wake up to nothing on Christmas morning.” To donate: cashforkidsgive.co.uk/campaign/himalayan-trek-with-mark-collins-2022/fundraisers/emma-white.
Aareon mental health workshops
Aareon holds company-wide monthly wellbeing sessions, equipping our people with the skills to be resilient and thrive during lockdowns. The sessions’ topics have included mindset management, burn bright, mental fitness and mindfulness.
‘We Care’ is one of our company values and the Aareon UK leadership team wanted to make sure our employees know they really do have support and commitment to their wellbeing. This is a top priority for us and making sure we do all we can as a business remains on our people agenda for the future.
We’ve received lots of positive feedback from our people: “Thank you for arranging the wellbeing sessions. Companies usually talk about values but place emphasis on the money-making aspects, while just paying lip-service to their employees’ wellbeing. These sessions really show that Aareon genuinely cares about its colleagues.”
Social value for the public sector
Within public sector, focus on social value is seen in UK PPN 06/20 (Procurement Policy Note) and the recently released BS8950, but for us the heart and soul of any programme must be the benefits that can be realised by employees, customers and residents.
We can’t wait to see what other great ideas and useful activities we can engage in with our customers and their residents during 2021 and beyond.
If you are an Aareon customer and have a project or initiative you would like us to get involved in, please contact us at email@example.com or on 02476 323 723.