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Cumbria is home to England’s highest mountain, deepest lake, and largest National Park. And in Copeland, it boasts the parliamentary constituency with the highest average wage outside London. In 2015, the borough was behind only the City of London and Tower Hamlets in terms of take-home pay.

But the raw numbers don’t tell the full story. Copeland’s nuclear heritage allows it to punch above its weight in average salary terms. It is home to around one third of the UK’s nuclear workforce and hosts the industry’s most complex site: Sellafield. Yet the rewards are not evenly spread. Just ten miles from Sellafield’s famous skyline, Whitehaven’s Woodhouse estate sits in the top 3 per cent of most deprived wards nationally.

A 2019 report by the Cumbria Community Foundation found deep disparities in educational attainment across the county and a worrying number of young adults without any qualifications at all. Multiple research studies have found west Cumbria is economically over-reliant upon Sellafield.

With the number of jobs on the site forecast to fall over the coming decades it is a built-in vulnerability which needs to be addressed. Sellafield Ltd, the site’s operator and Cumbria’s largest employer, is a key player in the battle to confront these issues. And Copeland’s former MP, Jamie Reed, is leading the effort as the company’s head of corporate affairs.

“We’re a not-for-profit, wholly-owned subsidiary of government with an internationally important mission,” he says. “Safe, secure, and cost-effective decommissioning of the Sellafield site will always be our priority. But we’re empowered by an act of parliament, via our owner the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, to ensure our mission benefits local communities.”

Copeland and the neighbouring borough of Allerdale, Reed explains, are “textbook examples” of the importance of the levelling up agenda. “When I was in parliament, I described areas like west Cumbria as being characterised by ‘rugby league towns’,” Reed says. “These are places on the periphery of larger conurbations, built on 20th century industries, underinvested, overlooked, but with an indelible sense of pride in their community.”

According to Reed, national doctrines “don’t always work” as they can “remove agency” and often aren’t receptive to the needs on the ground. “Our social impact programme – Social Impact Multiplied – recognises this. It is built using local expertise and evidenced need and aligned to key Sustainable Development Goals identified by the United Nations. Our investment leverages funding from other sources – often three times as much – and addresses areas in need of improvement in those identified communities.”

The “Six” programme

Sellafield’s “Six” programme focuses on the following objectives:

1. Resilient economies
Projects that enable inclusive growth in the capacity, diversity and capability of our local economies.

2. Thriving communities
Projects that assist our communities to thrive by supporting sustainable activities that create self-reliance and independence.

3. Social value chains
Projects that create the maximum social impact through the Sellafield supply chain.

4. Sustainable incomes
Projects that improve access to sustainable incomes, beyond Sellafield Ltd, by increasing skills, knowledge and access to economic opportunity.

5. Collective impact
Projects that leverage collective impact and investment by engaging with partners from our local communities.

6. Improved performance
Success across these objectives helps to drive improved performance in the delivery of the Sellafield mission and in the value provided to the taxpayer.

Since 2017, the approach has delivered significant success for communities closest to Sellafield’s operations in Cumbria and Warrington.

Campus Whitehaven
Sellafield invested £10m into a new school campus which brought together a mainstream secondary school in need of replacement with a special educational needs (SEN) school.

The WELL project
Co-created with local schools and Cumbria County Council, the “Western Excellence in Leadership & Learning” (WELL) project is a £1.7m per year investment from Sellafield Ltd designed to raise attainment in every classroom in west Cumbria.

Economic development and diversification
In working to diversify those local economies most dependent upon Sellafield, investment has been made to leverage funding for the development of economic sectors unrelated to the nuclear industry.

Helping communities cope with crisis
When the Covid-19 pandemic affected those communities closest to its operations, Sellafield worked with local recovery agencies to help provide food for the most vulnerable as well as £200,000 for the procurement of 20,000 items of PPE for the NHS.

Warrington Youth Zone
Sellafield Ltd is a founder patron of Warrington Youth Zone, an exciting, much-needed facility to be built in the centre of Warrington which will give young people right across the town a place to call their own.

UTC Warrington
UTC Warrington, opened in 2016, has helped to secure apprenticeships, employment and higher education for its students. As well as providing financial support, Sellafield Ltd employees continue to support students with work experience and mentoring.

Increasingly, more is being asked of companies by their employees and the communities in which they are based. In 2019, the Edelman Trust Barometer found 67 per cent of employees expected their company to address social issues. Edelman recommends companies should care for the communities in which they operate by being “… part of the solution on education, inequality and infrastructure”.

Last summer, after more than 40 years of adhering to principles that prioritised shareholder value above everything else, the American Business Roundtable (the US equivalent of the CBI) made a dramatic change to its definition of the Purpose of a Corporation. Its new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation was signed by leading American CEOs, including those at JP Morgan, Johnson & Johnson and the Ford Foundation, who have now committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.

“It feels like the world is catching up,” Reed says. “We’re not saying we’ve got everything right, we are learning all the time. But what I think we have proven is that collaboration and cooperation are key.”

Communities have to build their own futures, he notes, and local people must be “listened to” and “empowered”. Fundamentally, Reed says, it isn’t possible for any business to succeed “if everything else around it fails… Sellafield brings this into sharp focus – we need a vibrant, dynamic community and economy in order to deliver our nationally important mission for decades to come.”

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