BLOG: Buy local and buy social - an investment contractors can make in society | Wates

Wates Construction recently confirmed £412,885 of spend with social enterprises in the year to date from its Birmingham base in Quinton. As SE champion in the Midlands region, Louise Ratcliffe discusses the role social enterprises play in building successful, sustainable communities when part of a local supply chain.

In my role as assistant surveyor for the Midlands, I am empowered to act as a champion for SEs across the region. Im one of four ambassadors for the sector and its our job to ensure we engage with pupose-led businesses and they form part of our supply chains for our vast project portfolio across the Midlands.

Its an incredibly fulfilling role as you may imagine. Not least because our partnerships with social enterprises ensure the projects we deliver result in a positive and sustainable impact upon society, long after building work completes. But we must also not forget – this sector contributes over £24bn to the UK economy every year and the goods and services they provide places them as extremely valuable partners to us and our clients.

Understanding their importance is vital for young people joining the construction industry like me. Main contractors such as Wates are trusted with managing client budgets and with this comes a big responsibility to invest money wisely. Collaborating with businesses and organisations that support local communities is an opportunity to contribute to the social mobility agenda and really make a difference.

Last year, Wates published a report* which found that every £1 spent with SEs generates £1.77 of social value. This means that investment in the sector from our Birmingham office has already created more than £730k of social value in 2018. And it wont stop there; at Wates we have committed to spending over £20m with SEs by 2020 as part of our position as a founding member of SEUKs Buy Social Corporate Challenge. Here in the Midlands, weve eclipsed our 2018 goal by 65% already.

Activities have included committing £80k of supply chain spend to social enterprises as part of our delivery of Audley Ellerslie Retirement Village in Malvern and £27k through our construction of The Bank on Broad Street in Birmingham city centre.

The means that purpose-led businesses including Streetwise Environmental and Recycling Lives are now part of Wates supply chain. Streetwise is an environmentally friendly social enterprises providing groundwork and landscaping services . Meanwhile, Recycling Lives uses its recycling and waste management operations to directly support and sustain a number of charity programmes. These include offering food redistribution to charities and providing rehabilitation and services to tackle homelessness. In 2017, Wates spent £654,000 with the SE which helped it to deliver 16,400 meals to those in need.

But our work with SEs goes beyond trading. We invest time and resource in building informed and sincere relationships with these companies in order to wholly understand their social motivation and observe how they tangibly benefit their respective communities. This takes the form of regular site visits to their offices and facilities and inviting SEs to join our Meet the Buyer events.

As an ethical contractor we always make sure we engage local suppliers and subcontractors as this ensures that project budgets are reinvested back into the local economy. It is therefore a huge privilege to be able to take this a step further and not only buy local but buy social too. The more of my peers that can join me in realising the importance of this, the bigger the impact we can have in helping to change lives for the better.

Louise Ratcliffe is an Assistant Surveyor and SE champion for Wates Construction Midlands.

*Impact Evaluation of Wates Relationship with Social Enterprises – Wates Group, May 2017.

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