Nigel Howell was determined to improve FirstPort’s approach to charitable giving when he became chief executive of the property maintenance company three years ago.
"We used to receive a fair number of requests from staff to support charities and they were always really good causes," he says. "After a while you realise you can’t be doing any significant good because it’s so sporadic."
Howell and his board concluded that what the company really needed to find was a charity that the whole firm could get behind, so he set some criteria. "I wanted it to be property or housing-related in some way, because that’s our business," he says. "I wanted it to be UK-based, because that’s where we operate. I wanted it to be national, because we have people all over the country. And I wanted it to be big enough that we felt it could make a difference, but small enough that we could make a difference to it."
The company came up with a long list of eight potential partners, which it reduced down to three charities. The board then reviewed the shortlist and selected the homelessness charity Emmaus as winner.
"What we liked about Emmaus was that it’s not solely about providing a roof over people’s heads," says Howell. "It will take people in only if they help others who are in a worse position than themselves. I thought it was a powerful statement to say to someone who is at rock bottom ‘we want you to help someone else’."
The partnership began in 2016 and last month FirstPort announced that it had raised £100,000. The money has funded four new rooms at Emmaus Hertfordshire and supported the creation of three new rooms at Emmaus Hampshire.
Howell says that FirstPort’s staff have really got behind the partnership. "They’ve done cake bakes, cycle rides and the graduates have walked up Snowden. We also did a gift sack collection, because a lot of Emmaus’s residents have lost contact with their families," he says.
However, he concedes that the volunteering aspect hasn’t gone quite so well. "There have been occasions on which we’ve done furniture collections and the furniture has gone to charity," he says. "But it has proved a bit more difficult on the volunteering side."
Overall, Howell believes the Emmaus partnership has worked really well and the company has no plans to change charity partners in the near future.
"It has felt natural to us," he says. "We care about housing and the difference it can make to people."