Digging Deep

A7 Gas 8

As Phoenix Natural Gas celebrates the completion of a major construction milestone in the East Down gas network extension project, Executive Director, Jonathan Martindale, reflects on the role of corporate social responsibility in connecting with the community.

For the past two decades, Phoenix Natural Gas has built up a base of some 210,000 customers in its licence area of Greater Belfast, delivering a reliable and efficient heating source and establishing itself at the heart of many homes and families. 

As a household brand synonymous with the Greater Belfast community, Phoenix Natural Gas has been embraced as the fuel of choice in this area and enjoys continuous growth year on year as more properties connect to the network.

Twenty years on, the company is not only focused on growing its customer base within its existing licence area, but also expanding its network to additional new areas, the most significant of which is the current East Down network extension project.

In 2015 the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator approved a network development project to connect thirteen new towns in East Down to the natural gas network. A private investment of £60m by Phoenix Natural Gas would see an additional 28,000 properties connected in Annahilt, Ballygowan, Ballynahinch, Castlewellan, Crossgar, Downpatrick, Dromore, Drumaness, Dundrum, Hillsborough, Newcastle, Saintfield and Spa.”

As Phoenix Natural Gas Executive Director, Jonathan Martindale, explains; “This was a significant investment in the County Down area. Since the introduction of natural gas to Northern Ireland in 1996, the Greater Belfast area has benefitted from an improved utility infrastructure and a modern, more efficient and environmentally friendly heating source. Now, through this network extension project, homes and businesses in the East Down area will be able to enjoy the same benefits.”

“This summer we reached a significant milestone in the project as construction of over 90km of large diameter pipework was fully completed, bringing natural gas to all thirteen new areas. Not only that, but the project was completed nine months ahead of schedule, allowing us to concentrate now on the full roll out of natural gas to these areas.”

“This is a fantastic achievement for us given the engineering challenges faced along the way which included carrying out an underwater pipeline crossing at the River Lagan and navigating town-specific challenges. In addition, we faced a number of local challenges in terms of traffic management and considering the needs of the local communities in which we were working.”

“Stakeholder engagement was pivotal in helping ensure a smooth works programme. By engaging local Councils and political representatives, as well as key business and community stakeholders, we were able to gain a deep understanding of community requirements specific to the area in which we were working. This helped us navigate aspects of the construction programme which were technically challenging or would have a more significant impact on local businesses or traffic flow for example than regular works. We are delighted that the most disruptive stage of the project has now completed and we continue to have a presence in the areas to make natural gas available to individual properties.”

“When introducing our brand in a new area to a new audience, Phoenix recognises the importance of embedding ourselves into the local community and ‘digging deep’ to support local initiatives, adding value to the community we serve as part of our established corporate social responsibility programme.”

“Over the past 20 years, Phoenix Natural Gas has evolved its approach to CSR from simply being ‘the right thing to do’ to being intrinsically entwined with the business strategy, seeking to build a long-term, sustainable business that creates real economic, social and environmental value.

“Phoenix embraces its corporate social responsibility and embeds it at every level in the organisation. This is driven and delivered through the LIFE Programme - which stands for Leadership in the marketplace, Investing in our people, Fostering our community and Environmental responsibility. Driven by staff, the Phoenix LIFE programme exists to enable the company to positively impact the marketplace, workplace, environment and community, in line with main business objectives. It’s this kind of transformational thinking that identifies Phoenix as an organisation that embodies responsible business and it’s something that we are very proud of.”

“Two years into the County Down extension project, it’s great to look back on all that has been achieved so far and the breadth of community initiatives that we have been able to support under the umbrella of the LIFE programme. Whether this involves adding extra value to an established community event, or creating a bespoke new initiative tailored to community needs, everything that we do is designed to give something back to the local area and form a partnership with our communities.”

“Some of the highlights have included supporting a number of key sporting events, reflecting Phoenix’s corporate objective of helping improve the health and wellbeing of its communities. These events have included supporting Knockevin Special School’s third annual 10k run in Downpatrick, hosting a community football day in Crossgar with Kilmore Rec FC, supporting Spa Primary School’s annual sponsored walk, supporting the Down Special Olympics team and hosting two East Down schools at the Kingspan Stadium for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Ulster Rugby.”

“As well as supporting established community events, Phoenix seeks to plug the gap in community needs and earlier this year we partnered with East Down Athletics Club to revive the ‘Rollercoaster Races’. This was a running event held at Downpatrick Race Course specifically for local children, but due to a number of external factors, it had fallen by the wayside and was greatly missed from the local event calendar. This year Phoenix came on board to bring back the Rollercoaster Races and on the day over 250 runners and their families for a great day of fun – despite the rain!”

“Recognising our responsibility to local communities where construction is taking place, Phoenix continues to roll out its ‘Play Safe, Stay Safe’ campaign for local schools. This initiative has now visited over 1,000 primary school children in County Down educating pupils about the potential dangers associated with construction sites and the importance of environmentally responsible behaviour.”

“Phoenix has also partnered with Action Mental Health to deliver a specialist mental health and well-being programme designed specifically for secondary school aged pupils in East Down called ‘Provoking Thought’. The programme covers a range of information and workshops are tailored towards the needs of this age group specifically.”

“In particular, the Energy for Children Charitable Trust has been the backbone of Phoenix’s commitment to CSR. The Trust aims to reach deeper into the heart of local communities and provide financial support to those in need and has helped over 9,000 children to date. As we embed ourselves in the East Down area, the Charity is particularly keen to support disadvantaged children in these areas and we continue to promote the charity through the very strong relationships we have forged with community, business and political representatives.”

“For Phoenix, the East Down network extension project has been a tremendous success, both from a construction perspective and in engaging with the community. Whilst we may be a new face in the community, we’re here to stay and, as a company that cares for its communities, we will continue to make inroads into these new areas to really make a difference in our new hometown.”