Posted: Tuesday 29th May 2018

Social media campaigns and practical life lessons on how to manage your money - just two of the ways North West consumers of the future think their water bill money could be used to support communities.

The ideas are among the first to emerge from a pioneering partnership between water firm United Utilities and some of the region's most socially and politically engaged young people.

Working with Youth Focus North West, United Utilities wants to make sure its long term plans meet the priorities of those most likely to be footing the bill - today's under 25s.

The first focus group of 16 to 18 year olds from Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester met at the company's Warrington HQ to discuss reservoir safety and the affordability of water bills.

As the two year partnership progresses, groups of young people from every area across the North West will concentrate on the following issues they think are the most important:

Cumbria: rural flooding due to climate change.

Lancashire: flooding and sewer blockages caused by fatbergs and wipes.

Merseyside: financial life skills to help people manage their water bills.

Greater Manchester: urban flooding due to climate change, and reservoir safety.

Cheshire: water efficiency to help people manage their water bills.

The initiatives from the first focus group are already being taken forward by United Utilities. Better use of Instagram could feature in the company's annual reservoir safety campaign as soon as this year, while an initiative to develop a module on better financial planning for a Curriculum for Life will help young people who start living independently early.

Even more ideas will be fed into the company's next five-year business plan and into other strategies which look up to 25 years ahead.

Here's what some of the young people who took part had to say:

Beth Mortensen from Bury said: ''It's amazing to see that big businesses have realised that young people are the future and are finding ways to help us in regards to safety and affordability. It was a very productive day and you can see that United Utilities have actually listened to us and asked for help, help for young people by young people.''

Megan Dwyer from Sefton, Merseyside said: ''It was great for us to be involved and to have a meaningful impact on such a large business. Too often young people are included in a very tokenistic way, so the day was a refreshing experience. It was very interesting to hear about the different things that United Utilities offer (such as the water-saving freebies) and I really enjoyed reflecting on the information and giving feedback."

Maximilian Czekalski from Warrington said: ''I'm really glad that such a big company as United Utilities gives opportunities like this to young people and motivates us to take voice in cases that affect us all. I'm happy that in cooperation of workers of United Utilities and Youth Focus North West members we have successfully worked on solutions about reservoir safety and bills affordability. During the day we've learnt much about United Utilities work and helped improve it. I believe that day was successful and solutions that we have provided will help United Utilities with future campaigns."

Sarah Biddulph, of United Utilities' sustainability team, said: "We constantly engage with customers through tracking surveys, panels, trials and research, but, like many sectors, until now we have not found a way to bring young people into this debate very effectively. Young people are our future customers so it's essential that we do.

"Our long term plans- some as far out as 25 years - will clearly impact this group so at the Greater Manchester inaugural Youth Summit in October we asked for their help. Climate change, fatbergs and affordability of bills were their main concerns and we're now working on these issues with groups in every local authority area across the region."

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April 2021

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