The next few years will be challenging as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the role of small business will be essential in supporting communities. With our strong foundations and powerful network, Heart of the City will continue to be at the forefront of helping SMEs to make a positive impact and do well by doing good.
What is clear as we look back is just how far the agenda, and consequentially Heart of the City, has come. The concepts of responsible business have transformed over the last 20 years; moving from disparate focusses on the level of corporate giving and recycling, to visions of multi-sector collaboration that address systemic challenges to the way that society and business operates.
Those changes have been reflected in our own evolution, from our inception working with all businesses to give back. Today our focus is supporting SMEs to build solid foundations that helps them to understand their purpose and make sure they’re having a positive impact on their people, communities and environment. As responsible business has moved closer to the mainstream, so have we. This was clear in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, where we supported our members to survive and thrive. We helped them to navigate new challenges in the most responsible way, and consider how they can emerge with a greater focus on responsible business.
Throughout the last 20 years, support from the City of London Corporation, the Bank of England, City Bridge Trust and our ambassadors has been essential. We’re privileged to have had the support of so many Lord Mayors, along with the comfort of the financial and in-kind backing of the City Corporation. Similarly, Governors of the Bank throughout our time have provided guidance and support, for which we’re extremely grateful. We’d like to thank both the current Lord Mayor and Governor for their continued commitment as Co-Presidents.
We’ve also been fortunate to have had the support of so many incredible trustees, and people on our staff team over the years. Heart of the City’s success is built on their hard work and dedication, and we thank each and every one for this. The current board and team are committed to ensuring that Heart of the City, when looking back at the age of 40, will have made as much, and more, progress.
2020 has been a significant year in so many ways. One highlight that feels particularly poignant has been reaching our 1,000th business. This in itself provides a solid foundation from which to look forward. As the responsible business agenda continues to accelerate, we have the reach, the network and the experience to grow with it. Indeed, the challenges facing society – both the climate emergency and the inequality made stark by the pandemic – require us to. Small businesses will be essential to solving these problems. It’s fair to say that an effective social solution won’t be found without the involvement of business; and there can be no effective business response without SMEs. This is what has and continues to make Heart of the City’s work so important.
We continue to learn how best to support small businesses to approach these challenges. As we develop, we want to focus our support on addressing the outcomes that matter most to our members and wider society. That’s not to say we’ll stop helping SMEs to build the foundations of responsible business– we know that work is integral. But we also want to work with our members and networks to support small businesses to go further and address some of society’s key challenges, such as achieving net zero.
We want to say thanks to everyone who has supported us get to this stage. We hope you enjoy hearing our story throughout this report. And we invite you to join us as we build the next chapter and help even more small businesses to be a force for good.
"As Heart of the City celebrates its 20th anniversary it is interesting for me to reflect on its beginnings all those years ago.
In early 2000 the late Lord Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England was approached by Philip Evans from ABN AMRO Bank. Philip wanted to counter the stereotype of greed in the City of London - he wanted to tell the other side of the story. Workers and businesses in the City were fundraising large amounts for charities. Philip suggested holding a one day event in the Square Mile showcasing this and raising funds for DEBRA, a charity that supports people affected by Epidermolysis Bullosa. Philip named the day ‘Heart of the City’."
"Eddie liked this idea and as the Bank’s Community Relations Manager, so did I. However, we couldn’t support Philip’s proposal due to one of the Bank’s charitable criteria forbidding the lending of its name or those of the Governors to any direct fundraising initiative. So, I came up with the idea not to focus the event on fundraising for a particular charity, but to use Heart of the City to encourage City businesses to understand the benefits of community involvement. This would not only enable the Bank to take part but also promote a proactive message. Many City businesses at that time already had well developed community programmes and we thought it would be great for these organisations to do more, but more importantly, to share their expertise with companies that weren’t doing community work."
"Eddie agreed, and he asked Judith Mayhew of the City of London Corporation and Sir Howard Davies at the then Financial Services Authority to form a tripartite group to make this idea happen. By October 2000 the idea had snowballed from a one-day event to developing a sustainable strategy. A committee, chaired by Andrew Buxton, Chairman of Barclays Bank, had been formed. Judith Mayhew found office space at the Corporation and budget for Heart of the City salaries. Our mission was to help the City make a difference. We wanted to make it easy for companies in the City, City fringe and Docklands to get more involved in community and charitable work."
"20 years on, we’ve built a successful charity supporting small and medium sized businesses make a positive impact on people, places and the planet. In 2020 there has never been a greater need for Heart of the City’s work."
"I am proud to see Heart of the City celebrate its 20th anniversary. I became Co-President of the charity in 2020 but I have followed its progress from the beginning."
"The Bank supports Heart of the City with its mission to help small businesses across London develop their social responsibility programmes. The Bank has provided various types of support over the last 20 years. These include a Bank representative on Heart of the City’s board of trustees, staff have acted as mentors to SME leaders, and we have hosted a number of events at the Bank the most recent being the 2019 business plan launch."
"When the Bank co-founded Heart of the City 20 years ago, our vision was to encourage more businesses to take part in charitable and community activities by sharing best practice. I am pleased that this remains a core part of Heart of the City’s work, with many members supporting charities local to their workplaces and farther afield. But as the responsible business landscape has moved forward, so too has Heart of the City, adding more areas of focus for its members. These added areas of responsible business include environmental impact, mental health and wellbeing and diversity and inclusion. Heart of the City has continued to expand the number of SMEs in London that it can support. I am delighted to know that Heart of the City is reaching out to their thousandth SME in their 20th year."
"As we look to the future, more change is inevitable. 2020 has seen SMEs in particular face many new challenges, but it is reassuring to see that responsible business has not been forgotten. All those involved in Heart of the City are committed to making a positive impact on people, places and the planet."
"I’m delighted to be Heart of the City’s Co-President as it celebrates its 20th anniversary. During my tenure as Lord Mayor of the City of London, it’s been inspiring to see Heart of the City supporting small businesses across the city, encouraging responsible business and effecting a positive impact."
"Given the fundamental importance of SMEs to creating a thriving economy and ensuring our future success, we’re proud that in our City 99.9% of businesses are SMEs. We see new and exciting SMEs appearing all the time, and I believe it’s pivotal to support them in building the right foundations for growth and success – and that includes having a focus on being responsible. After all, the benefits of responsible business stem further than the societal impact and reach as far as improving employee retention and company performance."
"We know that collaboration is key to making responsible business work. That’s why Heart of the City’s work over the past 20 years has been integral for big and small businesses alike. When we founded the charity, it was with the goal of encouraging the sharing and distribution of best practice, and I’m pleased that has remained a priority across our history. The big businesses in the City continue to share their expertise with the smaller businesses around them, providing access to resource and support that enables all businesses to be more responsible."
"I’m incredibly proud to support this kind of collaborative work in my role as Lord Mayor. It can be difficult for SMEs to access the information, expertise and experience that large businesses have, and that’s why Heart of the City is so important. It’s uniquely placed to connect small business leaders, who want to make a difference, with those responsible business experts who can guide them through the challenge. Building these relationships is invaluable to businesses who wouldn’t otherwise have this sort of access."
"Throughout Heart of the City’s history, it’s been wonderful to see that so many City-based businesses have benefitted from this sharing of expertise. What’s even better in recent years has been working beyond the borders of the Square Mile. Thanks to support from City Bridge Trust, we’ve been able to expand our reach across London, welcoming SMEs from Southwark, Islington, Camden, Westminster and beyond, to our community. We’ve seen cross-borough networking for certain industries, who are sharing ideas and strengthening the responsible business agenda in their sectors."
"Responsible business 20 years ago is unrecognisable compared to responsible business as we see it today. In 2000, Heart of the City’s work was largely focused on encouraging companies to get involved with charitable activities, and in 2020 our support is widespread, focusing on a diverse range of ways that SMEs can have a positive impact. As we’ve seen with the pandemic, these needs are wide and varied, and good businesses are now focusing on employee wellbeing and considering their impact on the climate as we seek to build back better. A focus on climate action is an area that I’m championing as Lord Mayor and I believe that small businesses have a unique opportunity to rise to the challenge, set ambitious goals and pioneer the way for responsible business in this area. Indeed, I’ve been inspired by the reception that many small businesses have given to this agenda, and I’m delighted that such passionate energy exists across SMEs in the Square Mile."
"Heart of the City’s work in helping SMEs to have a positive impact and tackle these issues will be essential to the future health of our communities and the overall success of our economy. I for one am incredibly excited to see what impact this work will have had in a further 20 years’ time."
Bravand’s main goal for the introduction year as a Heart of the City member was to facilitate the delivery of free information sessions on web UX to audiences who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access this type of consultancy. Happily, this goal was not only met but superseded. Originally imagined as in-person workshops, but unsurprisingly quickly moving to online events, Bravand delivered five sessions over a few short months and reached over 400 attendees. The ongoing plan is to run paid-for workshops to organisations in a position to fund their consultancy to support delivery of future pro bono workshops to those who cannot.
Sustainability was also high on the agenda in terms of green hosting and web design, which is evermore key for anyone working in the digital space. During 2020 Bravand started working with a local supplier of green web hosting, making their own website and those of some clients green certified. They’ve also become members of Virtue, an organisation supporting businesses who strive to operate more sustainably to support a healthy future. The team is committed to be carbon negative, not only as a business but also as individuals, with team members offsetting their personal carbon emissions by planting trees using TreeApp.
You’ve been at Herbert Smith Freehills for over nine years now, currently as their Head of Citizenship, and working in responsible business roles for almost 15 years. Can you tell us how you started your career in this area?
"It goes quite far back, as the idea was instilled at an early age. Looking back, I’ve realised that my parents were ahead of their time as when I was young they had a shop that sold lots of organic products and they sold items per scoop, encouraging people to bring their own containers to save on wasted packaging. This is now a really popular idea with lots of re-fill shops just like this popping up."
"At a young age I was very environmentally and socially conscious, so when I started my first job in the City I was really surprised that the company I worked for didn’t recycle anything and had no support for charities in place."
"I’d started to become a bit disillusioned about where I was working, but during a rotation in the marketing team I had the opportunity to pitch an idea to the CEO and focused on the business case for responsible business initiatives. Shortly after, the Observer published an article questioning the ethics of certain companies, of which mine was on the list. Knowing I was passionate about this the CEO approached me and asked me to work one day a week on developing a responsible business strategy and from there it developed into a full-time role, a team and a global programme."
Looking back at those early stages of developing a responsible business strategy from scratch, what or who helped you to make it a success?
"Early on I was lucky enough to come across Heart of the City and quickly signed up for a free place on the Newcomers programme (now called the foundation programme). At the time I had no budget and little knowledge of what a responsible business strategy should look like, I started by wanting to set-up a recycling scheme and charity donations, but soon realised that it was so much more than this."
From Heart of the City, I had the support to develop a business case and consider what a strategy should look like and what plans I needed in place. Heart of the City also assigned me a fantastic mentor from KPMG, who provided advice, sympathy and encouragement along the way.
I also realised that it is vital to find sponsors or champions within your business. It is a difficult role to do alone, so find those that are also passionate about it and share your ideas."
What continues to inspire you and makes you love your job?
"Seeing the change that you’ve helped make happen and knowing that you’ve made a difference. Just one example is the apprenticeship programme we set up when I first started at Herbert Smith Freehills. I love seeing those apprentices now working across our business and doing great."
When the lockdown began in March 2020, digital creative studio WeAgile wanted to show that service-based businesses could find innovative ways to support their communities, as well as product-oriented companies.
One of the first decisions that WeAgile made, even before the lockdown, was to make sure the staff team was supported in whatever way was necessary.
And when schools closed across the UK, WeAgile wanted to help parents with home-schooling their children, so they launched WeLearn, a free weekly online group tutoring session.
"It was heartening to find that these sessions gave parents a breather in the middle of the day and taught children some very practical skills - not only maths but also how to use video conferencing platforms" Monshur Ali, Co-Founder at WeAgile
Fooditude changed the way they worked during the pandemic. In April, the Fooditude kitchen re-opened in a new format, kicking off their Covid-19 emergency response. They cooked meals for the most vulnerable and isolated people in their community, working with FoodCycle and BermondseyEST to get those meals to the people who needed them - delivering 37,178 meals!
We launched a brand new website and as our gift to the responsible business community, we made our resources freely available for the first time ever. We're so proud of our resources. They take knowledge and guidance from our brilliant ambassadors and turn it into practical, accessible ways for SMEs to make improvements in areas such as social mobility, charity partnerships, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, mental health and wellbeing, and much more:
And we wanted to hear from some of the businesses we've supported over the past 20 years. We asked 20 businesses to come and tell us about their responsible business journeys and what they've achieved as Heart of the City members. Click below to hear from a variety of businesses, from architecture practices to law firms and a climbing wall!
Cast your mind back to the year 2000. Depending on your age and whereabouts, your first thought may be either the Dot.com bubble, the Millennium (Y2K) Bug; or like me, you may fondly remember feeling excited at the prospect of hoverboards being readily available as a standard mode of transport.
While the Y2K bug never quite materialized at the calamitous scale that was originally feared, and many of us are still waiting (impatiently) for hoverboards, if we fast-forward 20 years to now, it's the Dot.com bubble, and the resulting digital transformation, that has unquestionably made a lasting impact. The exponential growth of technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives and in doing so, has created a seismic shift in how businesses interact with the world around them. The voice of the stakeholder is now amplified via social media which in turn has raised expectations and placed a microscopic lens on the role of business. And with each passing year, the lens becomes sharper in focus and broader in scope.
If I had a crystal ball, in 2040, we'll be celebrating how the private, public and third sector worked together to tackle the two major global issues of the 21st century: climate action and social justice. The sheer magnitude and complexity of both these challenges requires meaningful and thoughtful collaboration between businesses, charities and local and central government. There are already many great examples of this in action but as we move through this decade and beyond, we'll see much more harmonization in how this tripartite join forces. It's understandable that when we look to businesses in the context of these gargantuan challenges, we immediately think of those with global presence and thousands of employees. However, it's SMEs, that make up 99.9% of the business population and three-fifths of employment in the UK, who can arguably play a much bigger role in addressing these challenges head on. Heart of the City is positioned perfectly to support the SME community to do just that via our innovative foundation programme and powerhouse network of 1,000 businesses.