UK National Asbestos Register (UKNAR)
As a community interest company, UKNAR (UK National Asbestos Register) incorporated as a social enterprise in January 2020, based on the knowledge and experience of Metro Safety Group – one of the country’s leading providers of fire, health and safety services to property managers. The business was established to help management and duty holders manage asbestos simply and safely while better informing and educating those people who may be at risk.
Andrew Paten, Director, explains: “When it came to the subject of asbestos I was probably as ignorant as most of the population and it was only about three years ago I found out more about it and realised it was a much bigger issue for the UK than I thought. The fundamental issue is that there is still a lot of asbestos about, it’s in about half a million work places, one and a half million homes, as well as thousands of public buildings such as schools – it’s all around us. Asbestos is mostly safe, until someone disturbs it and then it releases nasty little fibres in the air. These fibres are inhaled and they stick in your lungs and many years later it can cause a disease called Mesothelioma – a form of cancer which is unfortunately incurable.
People just don’t know where asbestos is, although the information does exist – it’s there in documents, files and folders – but the people that need to don’t often see it or when they do see it, it’s not in a good format. We realised this was a really big problem with thousands of people a year being exposed to it. So, what we’ve done is use some modern day technology and we take peoples asbestos registers and put it in a format that makes them easily legible so anyone can read and understand it. This helps people know where asbestos is so they don’t disturb it. This exposure is preventable, and this is where UKNAR comes in.”
Funding support via the OxLEP Business eScalate programme
One of the co-directors of UKNAR, Candy March, knew of OxLEP Business so reached out to them for support. Following initial discussions the team at OxLEP signposted them to the eScalate programme – a business support programme designed specifically to support social enterprises in Oxfordshire.
Andrew says “We were delighted when we discovered that as a social enterprise we were eligible for grant funding through the eScalate programme. We were in a position where it was critical for us to receive some financial support so we could run a business viability study. It was crucial for us to determine if the business had market viability for us to invest into it further.
Our successful grant application with OxLEP meant we were able to run the viability project in the latter part of last year. This study was all about establishing if there is a market for this and would the duty holders of these buildings be willing to pay at a price that works for them, and one that we would be able to provide the service at. We also needed to explore the systems and technology we needed to be able to deliver the service successfully. So there was a lot of research that was needed.”
With the financial support from OxLEP, UKNAR were able to undertake extensive market research and product design, they built a CRM system, engaged with a PR agency and also delivered two pilot service projects.
“With the eScalate grant funding we were able to connect with a PR agency to give us credibility. This was very important as it enabled us to speak to people we wouldn’t have ordinarily been able to connect with – not just duty holders but people in the industry that we needed to engage with.
Another key part of our project was to put free pilots of our service into properties and engage with the people to find out how our service really works on the ground. We then gained research and feedback on how we need to develop the product in reality and what it is we need to do.”
The results of these pilots have helped the team at UKNAR refine the Asbestos SMART and the UK National Asbestos Register database in general, as well as enabling them to make sector specific adjustments. The prototype they have developed is not a state-of-the-art solution and is based on an ageing platform. The feedback from the pilots has enabled them to build the first draft of a spec for the development of a new IT system, on a new platform, which will have the additional features needed for a national roll-out later this year.
Keeping people safe for the future
When asked “How do you see the future for UKNAR following your engagement with OxLEP Business?”, Andrew replies: “What we got from the project was that we now understand what it takes to make it work, I think that’s the key thing. Plus, the project was so helpful in us clarifying viability in a couple of tangible market segments – giving us more market understanding and confidence about our financial projections. We now know what market segments want and what they are prepared to pay for it.
Alongside the brilliant support we received during our grant application, our business advisor at OxLEP has also given us some great introductions to people like the Chartered Institute of Builders, who know that their people are particularly vulnerable to asbestos exposure.
If we hadn’t had the support and investment from OxLEP Business we wouldn’t have been able to get off the ground. We would’ve gone into hibernation during the pandemic and would now be trying to run the viability project from scratch, in a very noisy post-pandemic world. It would have taken another year to get where we are today. We are so grateful to OxLEP and what they’ve done to help our business, without them we wouldn’t feel as confident in the future as we do now. Their support has been extraordinarily helpful and has been invaluable.
We now hope that our work will help many thousands of people in the future, by keeping them safe from the dangers of asbestos.”