Guest blog: Building a brighter future

As part of our Mutuals in Action blog series, Iain Kirkpatrick, Chief Executive at Market Harborough Building Society, spoke to us about the future of the Society and what it means to him to thrive…..

Iain Kirkpatrick, CEO, Market Harborough Building SocietyNow in his second year at the helm, Iain Kirkpatrick has made great strides in transforming the Society’s commitment to the local community it serves. A firm believer in the founding principles of the building society sector, those of thrift and homeownership, he and his 140-strong team have launched the Thrive! Agenda. 

As they prepare to move to a new HQ this month, we caught up with Iain to find out more about Thrive!, how it aligns with their future plans and what is means for members, the community and employees.

First of all, can you explain what the Thrive! Agenda is?

The Society has a long and proud heritage of supporting people to have a safe place to call home and to build financial security and resilience.

The Thrive! Agenda is at the heart of our purpose as a Society and is a promise to continually stand up for what matters most and is our way of making a difference for our members and in our communities.

Our Thrive! Agenda builds on our heritage and is centred around four pillars:

  • Thrive at home – we believe that everyone should have a happy, safe and secure place to live.
  • Giving back – our desire to give back at every opportunity to colleagues, to members and to the community.
  • Supporting our community – our community has supported us for more than 150 years and now is our turn to say thank you to them.
  • Greener living – making valuable changes to protect the future of our planet.

Through Thrive!, we are investing our time and money into helping our colleagues, our members and our communities to flourish.  

What was the motivation behind it? 

We’re growing as an organisation, in fact one of the fastest growing building societies in the UK over the last two years. But as a mutual, maximising profit is not an objective.  Our aim over the long term is to optimise the delivery of benefits to members and the communities they live in, whilst generating sufficient profit to keep the Society secure, maintain our capacity to grow the business and invest for the future.  

MHBS was established with the primary purpose of allowing people in working communities to save and borrow so they could get the home they wanted and to support their families, so Thrive! is very purposefully aligned with the ambitions of our founders.

We are working as hard as ever to create a sustainable future where our colleagues thrive and reflect that in the way they serve customers and give back to charities and the local community, helping them to thrive too!

When we were developing the Thrive! Agenda we consulted with our members on our plans to invest our reserves in community good causes and our plans received their resounding support, alongside the full support of our Board. 

How does the Thrive! Agenda benefit members and the wider community? 

Thrive! is very much at the heart of our business.  It has galvanised our colleagues behind a common purpose, and together they’re committed to fight for our members and communities to thrive.

We continue to invest in providing new ways for members to save, new mortgage products to reflect the increasingly complex needs of borrowers and in the service we provide.  We want to be there for our members they really need us.  

For the benefit of our customers and colleagues, we’re committed to retaining our presence on local high streets across the footprint of our six branches. This is in contrast to many other financial services organisations whose withdrawal of branches impacts communities and local employment. 

High levels of pride and advocacy amongst our people are reflected in the way they serve our customers. We have excellent Feefo and Trustpilot ratings and we celebrate the feedback with colleagues. 

We’re committed to supporting local people in our community to have a happy, safe and secure place to live. So, we’re most proud of our affordable new homes programme which we believe is the only one of its kind in the UK.  Over the last two years we’ve invested over £2.2m to purchase seven homes in our heartland – that’s new homes for those on the local authority waiting list provided, not by the council or a registered provider, but by a building society. 

Whilst we’ve been helping people save and get on the housing ladder for over 150 years, home ownership has never been as unaffordable, inaccessible and unavailable as it is now. That’s why this strand of Thrive! makes an incredibly powerful statement. Seven families in our operational area now have a safe, warm place to live thanks to our members and their willingness to support us so we can support others. 

MHBS team outside one of the seven properties

Of course, Thrive! is much broader than social housing.  In 2022 we donated £100,000 to foodbanks to ensure people in our communities did not go hungry; we backed this up by donating another £100,000 to ensure local people weren’t hungry or lonely in the run up to Christmas and that local families could provide gifts to their children.  We gave £15,000 to a local housing charity in collaboration with The Melton and Hinckley & Rugby Building Society, a great example of collaboration within our sector. We directed £50,000 to our Charitable Foundation so they could continue their great work funding smaller programmes in our communities. We supported our Charity of the Year, Cransley Hospice Trust, via donations on behalf of every person who voted for them at the Annual General Meeting, by making a contribution from the easy access ‘Save and Support’ account, as well donating money raised from fundraising events. 

Leicester South Foodbank    LOROS, part of Thrivemas

 Our colleagues gave over 1,500 hours of their time volunteering with worthwhile causes including food banks, local litter picks, community centres, schools and sports clubs.   We were also proud sponsors of the 2023 Voluntary Action Leicestershire Awards to recognise the work of volunteers, charities and community groups, and to forge more meaningful and far-reaching connections with more local causes we can support and partner with.

What’s next for the Society?

The Society delivered an exceptionally strong financial performance in 2023, across both our Mortgage and Savings ranges.  And this success will allow us to continue to focus on giving back to our hardworking colleagues, our customers, and our local communities.

In just a few weeks our colleagues will move to a new head office building where they will benefit from a state of the art, modern workspace.  The transition will unite our colleagues in one building for the first time, creating a modern and flexible working environment which will encourage more team working and collaboration. This is good news for members, whilst also supporting the health and wellbeing of our people. 

The new head office       The Marketplace Community space

But there’s also something else that’s pretty special about this move that completely aligns with our Thrive! Agenda. The new office offers us the ability to share the benefits of the extra space with local community groups, clubs and societies by making facilities available for them to host meetings or other events.  

And with the greener living pillar of Thrive! in mind, we have re-purposed as much of what is already on site as possible to minimise wastage, and all the works are being undertaken by local contractors with the key project team all based within 15 miles of Market Harborough. We’ll also be installing electric vehicle charging points to complement the Electric Vehicle Salary Sacrifice Scheme we made available to all colleagues earlier this year.

When we were looking for a name for our new home, we looked to our past and decided on ‘Newcombe House’.  John W Newcombe was one of the early pioneers of our Society, a kindly but astute businessman who also showed great benevolence to the local community. We’re as passionate about supporting our customers and communities today as we’ve ever been and so it feels fitting that Newcombe House is a name that pays respect to our heritage whilst we continue the legacy of supporting the local community to thrive. 

Aside from the benefits of the head office move itself, we’ve been keen to communicate to our members that our in-branch offering won’t be impacted by our move. We are committed to providing face-to-face services in our Market Harborough branch, which is currently cited in one of our existing head office buildings. 

We know our branches are invaluable to many customers – especially the more vulnerable members of society.  The branch offers much more than a place to transact, our colleagues offer a wide range of support to help members look after their financial and personal wellbeing, as well as playing a vital role in their wider communities through fundraising and volunteering activities.

Indeed, Market Harborough has seen three major banks exit in recent years with a fourth one closing last week, so we are currently exploring other ways that we can help local people retain in-person access to financial services including through partnerships with other financial organisations. Watch this space for more on that!

Find out more about the Society's Thrive! Agenda here