Published On: December 5, 2023

John Barradell OBE is Chair of the National Emergencies Trust and former Town Clerk & Chief Executive of the City of London Corporation. He has been actively involved in resilience-building and emergency response at a London-wide and national level. He led the response to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and chaired the London Covid-19 Strategic Coordination Group. John was Deputy Chair of the London Local Resilience Forum (LRF) and the Chair of the Local Authorities Panel of the LRF. He has written this article for NPC to highlight how businesses can reap benefits by playing their part in national emergencies.

In a world that is increasingly fragmented and unstable, International Volunteer Day as observed on 5th December every year serves as a reminder that unity and acts of compassion are needed more than ever. It is in times of crisis that we see not just the best of human nature, but the power of collective effort: what can be achieved when businesses, governments, charities and the public come together around a common purpose.

With this in mind, the National Emergencies Trust commissioned a unique new survey of the UK’s workforce to understand employee appetite to act during future UK disasters. The findings have now been released and they bring welcome feedback. The poll of 4,000 UK adults by Opinium reveals that three quarters (76%) of UK employees want their employer to play an active role during national emergencies, ranging from major flooding to terror attacks, or another pandemic.

While a third of employees would like their employer to step up in the response effort, by donating items (32%) or raising funds for those affected (31%), over a quarter are keen to play an active role themselves: with 29% saying they would like to be supported by their employer to volunteer their time to help those affected, while 26% would like their employer to support their personal fundraising efforts.

These findings are not only welcome news for disaster response charities like the Trust, but also for the UK’s wider resilience-building plans. In a whole-of-society approach, businesses can clearly play a critical role in both preparedness and response efforts.

At the same time, it is important that we acknowledge the significant benefits to businesses too. In fact, the Opinium survey findings show that empowering employees to volunteer or fundraise could significantly boost employee morale, while signalling a company’s commitment to its values. Well over a third (39%) of UK workers feel that getting involved in disaster response would enable companies to show they care about their communities. Meanwhile, just under a third (30%) of employees say it could strengthen their company’s culture.

Irrespective of their size or sector, businesses across the UK are intrinsically linked to the communities they serve, so it is perhaps no surprise employees want to see them play their part in disaster response. As a Trustee of the National Emergencies Trust during its Coronavirus Appeal, and the then Chief Executive of the City of London, it was a particular privilege to see the significant role that the private sector played in that appeal’s success.

More than 40% of the £100million raised was donated by the Trust’s Patrons, as well as hundreds of other businesses UK-wide. Alongside this, the support offered by skilled private sector volunteers was transformational. As one example, a highly experienced data scientist from a financial firm helped the Board shape the allocation criteria that would form the basis of the Appeal’s distribution.

Today the Trust is building on this business success story by launching an Appeal Partners programme, which has been developed collaboratively with Business in the Community (BITC). It offers companies a clearly defined role during domestic disasters; something that from my experience, has been actively sought by many but not found. Programme partners could make a meaningful difference by raising awareness and funds, and offering colleagues unique opportunities to volunteer their time during times of urgent need.

The Trust’s Patrons, which include Arnold Clark, Co-op, Christopher Laing Foundation, Clarion Housing Group, IKEA, M&G plc, NatWest Group, Sky and Tesco, support the charity year-round to ensure that it can activate at speed when domestic disasters arise. They also play an active part during its emergency fundraising appeals.

The Appeal Partners Programme will now welcome wider companies and networks to offer short-term support during national emergencies. This could include offering use of their channels, and harnessing their colleagues and networks to raise vital awareness and funds. Arup, Barclays, Business in the Community (BITC), Crowdfunder UK and Royal Mail are the first Appeal Partners to join the Programme.

While there is no doubt that the pandemic unlocked unique volunteering opportunities for some employees, including those on furlough, there is also no doubt that their appetite to act, or see their employer act, in the face of UK disasters remains steadfast today. Like those of us working in the resilience sector, they recognise that companies have unique resources, expertise and networks to act as agents of positive change during times of crisis. What is clearer now than ever before, is that people want their employer to leverage those assets when it matters most, to play an active and additional role in disaster response.

To find out more about the National Emergencies Trust’s Appeal Partners programme visit

Share this story

Related posts