In this article, CGI member Kathryn Ratcliffe speaks about our work in our local communities, sharing how CGI and the Canal River Trust are teaming up to add beauty and biodiversity to local canals.

December 2021

As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to appreciate the simpler things of life: walking my dog in the countryside, taking in nature, admiring the wildlife.

I have a large garden at home, and previous owners had let the lower section 'do its own thing' over the years. Though I’m not much of a gardener, lockdown gave me the time to weed, install bee bombs and plant wildflowers. The results were amazing: the flowers have grown quickly, and bees, birds, squirrels and even a resident fox come for regular visits.

The experience gave me a newfound appreciation of nature – its beauty, tranquility, and the calming effect it can have. I was inspired to take on a nature-based Responsible Business project, and fortunately, CGI was on board.

I wanted to do something physical but inclusive, while also being COVID-friendly. I wanted to incorporate biodiversity, to raise awareness of local issues, and to do something that was truly worthwhile.

I spend a lot of time by canals and rivers with my dog – she loves to swim – so working on a long-neglected allotment along local canals seemed the perfect fit. I spoke to the Canal River Trust (CRT), and happily my contact was as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. We hit it off straight away, and began to look for locations in need of some TLC.

Our work with the Canal River Trust

A small CGI team eventually undertook two initiatives.

The first was the restoration of a well-known allotment on the Kennet & Avon Canal that had fallen into disrepair after the previous owner passed away. The CRT had acquired the allotment and hoped to restore it and offer it to a community group to maintain.

CGI canal project volunteers

Our CGI team stepped in. Ten CGI members cleared brambles, nettles and vegetation, built raised beds for planting, pruned trees, and created a pathway from the main entrance. It was hard work in often inclement weather, but between the great banter and the pride in our work, it was great fun. The results were incredible – the plot seemed so much larger when we were done.

The second project saw our team working on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, converting a World War II pill box into a ‘bat hotel’ – a safe haven for bats. This time 13 CGI members put up bat boxes, repointed brickwork, and cleared and widened the canal path. The weather was stunning, an ecologist was there to give us a talk on bats, and once again, the difference our work made was enormous. It’s amazing what a few people can achieve in just a few hours when they’re motivated.

Through both of these projects, I had four major goals:

  1. Do something worthwhile
  2. Incorporate biodiversity
  3. Wow the CRT
  4. Network with CGI colleagues

I feel like I achieved each of these aims, though at the same time my eyes were opened to what could be achieved with even more team members and time.

Why organisations should commit to being a Responsible Business

I was blown away by the enthusiasm shown by our team. These experiences were a total change from our day jobs, which meant that everyone was eager, hard-working and fully committed. The CRT were in awe of how much we got done – it was so much more than they'd expected. It was so rewarding to see that our work had made such a difference, and that the Trust was so genuinely pleased and impressed.

I’m thankful to work for a company that takes being a Responsible Business so seriously. Far from a tick box exercise, it is really important to CGI – every member is given one day a year to volunteer for whatever cause they choose. CGI has a Responsible Business lead who works to set up initiatives and encourage members to join.

I had a few last minute cancellations due to ill health, work pressures and personal commitments, but those who took part – which was the overwhelming majority – absolutely loved it. The positive feedback didn’t just come from the CRT, it came from my own team:

  • “The best initiative I’ve seen in CGI”
  • “A fun and informative day”
  • “Can we do it again next year?”
  • “It was so relaxing to be working by the canal”

In a Responsible Business programme you have the very essence of a win-win – team members do important work that they feel good about, and organisations like the CRT get the helping hand they need.

And with corporate social responsibility forming a critical part of the CGI culture, the organisation ultimately wins too, as an ever-increasing number of talented people are looking for these sorts of programs to be offered by their employer.

At the end of the day it makes CGI an attractive place to be – a fact that I can personally vouch for.

Find out more about our Responsible Business initiatives