"Even if you're a small business, you can have an impact'


Starting as they mean to go on

Richmond-based architectural practice WR-AP was established by Sean Weston and Max Rengifo in 2018. They joined Heart of the City at the beginning of 2020, early on in the practice’s life, as they knew they wanted responsible business and social value to be embedded into the way they work.

They’re a publicly-driven practice: they work on lots of local authority and public projects, enjoying community engagement and speaking to the public, understanding how through their work, they can make a difference. So, it made sense to WR-AP to join Heart of the City, to understand how to take those passions and make it work strategically for them.

But they also knew they needed to be a responsible business to stay competitive. When they’re bidding for work, they’re always asked what social and environmental credentials they have, and what social good they’ll bring to a project. This is especially true for public sector contracts, which WR-AP does a lot of.

Caring for their people

When they started doing our Foundations for Responsible Business programme, WR-AP knew they wanted to have happy staff. As a new business, the founders knew they could embed a working culture that cares for people – they go against the usual long hours that people can experience in the architecture world. They don’t put pressure on employees to work in this way and Sean has found that people really enjoy that balance. They also offer healthcare, flexible working and volunteering time, and Sean believes that these responsible business initiatives help them to keep people in the business. Employees at WR-AP are young in their careers and they’re very proud that since they started up in 2018, none of their employees have left to join other practices! “We must be doing something right” says Sean.

Changing to help the environment

As a result of our programme, WR-AP now uses fully green energy, recycled paper and have made some small changes that have a big impact on their carbon footprint. They’ve changed things like their usual coffee and soap to refillable ones from the local refill shop on the high street in Teddington – a win-win on reducing their environmental impact and supporting a small business!

The coffee swap has been less straightforward. WR-AP now uses reusable aluminium pods for their Nespresso machine, which has seen coffee consumption reduce a little as it takes longer to make a coffee now. It’s more work, but a longer break, and Sean says most people have come to terms with the change.

But it’s not just the workplace they’re changing, it’s their client work too. They’ve made a green guide for domestic clients and offer house audits to help clients reduce the impact their home projects have on the environment.

Staying involved in the community

The community is central to lots of WR-AP’s work, so they’re already supporting local people by involving them in projects that will improve their lives, and by including hours of community support in bids. All employees also have volunteering time they can use together and individually. Sean is a trustee at a local educational trust, and once a year the entire team does a volunteering day together. Last year they were at Ham Lands nature reserve for some large-scale gardening and upkeep – a great way to get together, support the community and improve team wellbeing. This year the volunteering day is employee-led, with a vote on what to do imminent.

Winning a Dragon Award

The team at WR-AP are really proud to have won the innovation award at the 2022 Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards, for work involving young people in a local regeneration project. They gave 16 young people (many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds) loads of real work experience that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to, and by winning, WR-AP hopes they’ll inspire other small businesses.

Sean said “We’re immensely proud to have won this award as it shines a light on SMEs having a social impact in their communities. When WR-AP was set up we wanted to make an impact and contribution in the community where the practice is based. This award gives us the validation that this founding principle was the correct one and we’re looking forward to making a greater social impact by rolling out the initiative to benefit young adults on other regeneration projects.”

How Heart of the City has helped

The WR-AP team has found our online resources and workshops have helped them to get to where they are now. Some of their favourite parts have been our awareness dates calendar – it helps them to stay on track and is a good reminder to keep on going if they’ve got busy and responsible business has slipped down the agenda a little.

They’ve met other people in the peer networking sections of our workshops. Sean has found it really useful to meet other people in the same industry, and to be inspired by what they’re doing.

And they’ve also really enjoyed hearing from responsible business experts in bigger businesses. Sean was unsure at the start – how could someone with such a big responsible business team and budget relate to a small architecture practice? But they found that wasn’t the case. They were able to take the guidance and adapt it to their own business.

The future of a responsible WR-AP

In the two years WR-AP has been a part of our SME community, they’ve obviously done a lot. So what’s next? Sean wants to improve, diversity, equity and inclusion at the practice, and get their work experience offering in a good position to bring more people into the business from disadvantaged backgrounds.

WR-AP also wants to find a local charity partner to align with, so they can support the community more often. Sean is hoping this will engage more employees in using their individual volunteering time, as there’ll be more frequent opportunities.

We’re really proud of WR-AP at Heart of the City. They’re a brilliant addition to our SME community and we can’t wait to see how they progress.

If you’re inspired by how WR-AP are using their business for good, you can join them in our SME community! SMEs from across the UK can join our Foundations for Responsible Business programme now.

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