A record number of delegates and visitors attended the British Water Cooler Association’s annual conference and trade show, themed ‘Insight to Change – learn, unlearn, & relearn’.

Pictured: speakers at the 2019 conference and trade show of the British Water Cooler Association (BWCA): (l-r) Brendan Hanlon from the BWCA’s chosen charity, Just a Drop; Rebecca Ireland, an employment lawyer and Partner with gunnercooke LLP; Richard Hall of Zenith Global; keynote speaker, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change and former Secretary of State for the Environment; Jon Wicks, Chairman of the BWCA; and Phillipa Atkinson-Clow, General Manager of BWCA.

Held on March 28, at the Nottingham Belfry, the event was a sell-out event with 130 conference delegates and 38 exhibitor stands.

The keynote speaker at the conference was The Rt. Hon. the Lord Deben (John Selwyn Gummer), formerSecretary of State for the Environment and chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, a role he has held since 2012.

Lord Deben told delegates: “We’ve always underestimated and underrated water. Water is a sacred symbol of every world religion – everyone takes it seriously. What your industry does is close to the hearts of people. They have deeper feelings about water than sometimes they’d admit. But we are running out of water. We are experiencing not climate change but climate disruption.”

Lord Deben added that the water cooler industry needed to shout louder about the environmental benefits of water coolers.

“You provide water in a way that is particularly valuable in today’s world. We are going to have to change the way we carry goods in terms of our packaging. You have a plastic bottle but it is reused again and again and again. Plastic can be valuable if it is reused and reused. The watercooler is essential for providing water sustainably.”

With reference to penalties being imposed by the government to deter purchase of single-use plastics, Lord Deben said: “At the heart of any environmental change is making it easier to be good and more difficult to be bad. The chancellor is putting a price on doing the wrong thing. Your industry needs to tell the story. People who make the decisions about whether they have your product see it as a luxury not a necessity.”

“There are few industries which have such good stories to tell. I don’t see sustainability and environmental policy as an expensive add on. It is an essential part of making money, saving energy and water is good for the business. What you do is worthwhile.”

Another highlight of the conference was a presentation by the employment lawyer and qualified workplace and employment mediator Rebecca Ireland from legal practice gunnercooke LLP.

She spoke about employment law and the effects of the current political situation, touching on immigration law changes in light of Brexit; how companies could tackle skills shortages; the agile workforce and the multi-generational workforce.

Rebecca said: “Immigration is a concern for businesses. In the case of a Brexit deal, the EU settlement scheme will be open to EU nationals and families but only for a short period of time. If you enter the UK after that people only have until December 2020 to apply for settled status. People can come in for up to three months but if longer they need to apply for a ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain’.

“If, in the case of ‘no deal’, people don’t have settled status by June 2021, they will be deemed to be illegal workers.”

Touching on the skills shortages which exist and may worsen after Brexit, Rebecca said: “Skills shortages are well-documented. You need to assess what skills you need for your business, assess whether your business will need different skills in the future and consider whether you can develop new skills from within the workforce.

“Another way to deal with a skills shortage is to strengthen your resource pipeline by strengthening your apprenticeship schemes and develop relationships with schools to attract the best school-leavers. But be aware this is a long-term investment and so you need to ensure you retain those newly skilled people.

“Think about automation including the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence). Think about enhancing your employer brand to improve staff retention by getting the overall culture right. It is all about making your workplace culture attractive to a multi-generational workforce.”

The conference also heard from Brendan Hanlon from the BWCA’s chosen Charity Just a Drop, who told delegates about the work the charity is doing to provide clean water for communities in Africa.

Brendan Hanlon pointed out: “In Zambia, where BWCA’s fundraising has provided boreholes, one in three people lack access to safe water.”

BWCA’s efforts haveso far helped 1,025 people in Africa and, excluding the charity auction held on March 28 which raised £9,500 during a gala dinner, the fundraising campaign has raised an impressive £56,521.

Brendan said: “Raising over £50,000 is more than we’d ever hoped for three years ago.”

He added: “In addition to the BWCA’s efforts, a number of members have contributed direct and this is fantastic. Over the last year two new partnerships from Abbeychart and BWT UK have been forged.”

BWCA trade show

The trade show held on the afternoon of March 28, was a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the cooler sector and was described by organisers as a resounding success with 38 exhibitor stands and an array of companies launching new goods, services and show offers. This year, a highlight of the trade show were the seminars which were free for delegates.

Crystal IS Seminar

James Peterson, product manager for Crystal IS, delivered a talk about the company’s UVC LED based reactors for both water cooler OEM installation and distributor retrofit. He described how this new technology offers benefits over mercury lamp disinfection and microbial reduction filters, providing benefits to customers and distributors.

Bardi Seminar

Fabrizio Cottafava from R. Bardi presented the “Victoria 5G” washing, filling and capping solution to increase quality and profit whilst, decreasing costs. He said: “The biggest challenge of HOD bottlers today is providing the highest quality at competitive prices in a congested market”.

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