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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Heidi Mottram

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive, Northumbrian Water Group

What have been some of the key learnings for you since March last year and are now applying in your business?

I’d like to start off by saying how proud I am of our response to the virus. Our people have continued to deliver great customer service throughout and have kept the water flowing for our communities during the most trying of times. We have been able to serve customers and organisations such as the NHS while also keeping our employees safe.

Also, I think the past year has really taught us how truly important our services are to people. Where would we have been without clean water for the frequent handwashing, or even those comforting cups of tea?

I think we have also learned a lot about how crucial innovation is to business continuity. Without technology, like virtual meter-reading which allowed us to carry out jobs without accessing customer homes, we would not have been able to keep our services running as well as we did. Innovation has always been at the forefront of our business as we continue to be leaders in this space, but we will build on this even more post-pandemic.

Over the past few months, we have tackled many tough and exciting challenges, that we never imagined that our business would have to face. Some of our biggest challenges have included becoming the first water company in the country to open Covid-19 testing facilities at some of our treatment sites, as well as deploying home-testing kits for all of our employees in order to keep them safe. 

As we move forward from the pandemic and look to the future, what business opportunity most excites you?

As we move on from the pandemic, I think one of the biggest challenges is looking at climate adaptation for the long-term. But this is also a fantastic opportunity to make a difference. Climate change is something that we are all facing, and even while in the midst of a pandemic, it has still remained at the forefront of our agenda. We all have the opportunity to make a difference and strive towards net zero. For example, we will be looking at using advanced technologies such as Digital Twins and pilots of large-scale battery storage to help us reach our goals.

I am excited to see how we all adapt over the coming years to make big changes.

Given the important part that technology has played in all sectors during the pandemic, how do you envisage technology developing in your organisation going forward?

Over the past five years we have undergone a company-wide digital transformation and now have leading technologies for all of our employees.  The timing of this has very much worked in our favour, as this has served us extremely well in the past year.

Of course, there is always room for innovation, which means we will continue to develop our technologies in a number of different ways in the future. This is one of the huge benefits of our world-renowned Innovation Festival, which has seen us working with partners on technologies such as Digital Twins and Underground Mapping to ensure that we are doing the very best for our customers.

Each year, our festival brings together thousands of innovators from companies across the globe – so it is exciting to know that we are not only developing our own technology, but enabling theirs to advance too. 

When are you planning some form of return to the office and how is this being structured?

Within our business we have a whole range of different people doing different jobs. Our frontline operational workers, for example, have continued their work in the field and on site throughout the pandemic to keep the water flowing for our customers. However, we are currently evaluating what it will look like for our teams who have been working from home.

We are taking a team-based approach and looking at which departments would be best placed back in the office. The first phased returns have been our customer contact teams because we need the stable technology and hardware for them to carry out their roles effectively – however we are taking a hybrid approach so that we can get the best of both worlds.

With sustainability and ESG being more prevalent on the Board agenda, what is your business doing to meet net zero carbon emission targets by 2050, if not earlier?

I am very proud that our business has committed to being Net Zero by 2027 – a promise that we are certainly currently on track to deliver. Since 2009 we have reduced our operation emissions by 46%, and we are the first and only water company in the UK to use 100% of the sludge remaining after sewage treatment to produce renewable power. This is a real game-changing innovation for our business.

We have helped lead the UK water sector to create a joint commitment to become net zero by 2030, and we are the only industry to do so. Collaboration and joint innovation is the only way to conquer this challenge.

How has your business changed in its approach to employee wellbeing during the pandemic and what will it continue to do more of in the future?

It goes without saying that the pandemic has been really hard on us all, and although we were already doing a lot in the wellbeing space, we have definitely needed to adapt and do more over the past year to ensure that our people were feeling as well mentally as they were physically.

Towards the back end of last year, we created a bespoke website, called Living Well, for our employees. Inspired by the Danish concept of Hygge, this is where our people can go to find a variety of different wellness resources, such as relaxing playlists, yoga sessions, webinars, and personal resilience toolkits. I am extremely proud to say this concept has recently won and been shortlisted for a number of awards.

Who or what has inspired you recently? (They don’t need to be famous)

One of my close colleagues, who has previously been treated for cancer, is now campaigning to raise awareness for early diagnosis detection.

She recently shared her story with the company in order to make sure that our people are able to look out for any warning signs and has encouraged them to get checked.

Throughout April, she got 75 of our people involved in Bowel Cancer UK’s ‘Step Up For 30 Challenge” and they have managed to raise over £2,300 so far, which is simply amazing.

She is absolutely fantastic, and she inspires me every day.

Lots of people took up new hobbies in 2020. Have you learnt a new skill or taken up a hobby during the pandemic and will you continue with it?

I feel like there has been so much pressure on people over the past year to take up a new skill or to learn something new – but actually for a lot of people it has been hard enough simply getting by with everything that has been going on.

That being said, we decided to move house last year and much of 2020 was taken up with decorating and doing up the new house as a bit of a project.

I have now moved in, and I’m happy to have seen the back of DIY for a while!

Have you booked your 2021 holiday(s) yet?

I haven’t got anything booked yet, but I think there are some absolutely fantastic places that we can go on holiday to within the UK. I am really pleased to see that tourists are returning to our leisure site at Kielder.

This year has been particularly difficult on those working within the tourism sector, and I really hope that everyone supports tourism in order to help it bounce back.

Any words of wisdom?

Carpe Diem – seize the day!