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BP and cities

From its support for university research, to an extensive arts and culture programme, BP has a long history of encouraging innovation and creativity within cities and communities in the UK. And with more of us choosing to live in cities – prompting challenging questions on everything from social mobility to air quality – that support is more important than ever
Pedestrians in Leicester Square, London

From its support for university research, to an extensive arts and culture programme, BP has a long history of encouraging innovation and creativity within cities and communities in the UK. And with more of us choosing to live in cities – prompting challenging questions on everything from social mobility to air quality – that support is more important than ever.


“If you look at the trends around population growth, we’re going to see a rise in megacities [with populations of more than 10 million], which correlates with growth in innovation and productivity,” says Ian Duffy, head of UK communications and community development. “But the question is how do we manage all this in a sustainable way?”

 

Transport and cities

Vehicles travelling on UK motorway interchange
One answer could lie in the future of mobility. The way we move goods and people around is changing rapidly. At the same time, concern about local air quality and a rise in the power of ‘metro mayors’ mean that “cities are increasingly shaping their own mobility policy, rather than waiting on country-level action,” says Bob Sorrell, BP’s vice president for research and innovation. “As a result, car manufacturers are starting to look at those city strategies to inform their own development work.”
“It’s not just the transport operators and mayoral offices that we need to work with on this, but other corporates, power companies, investment funds and start-ups – what we learn from them all gets fed back into our mobility strategy.”

 

Jo Dally, mobility city partnerships lead, BP

It’s also why BP is working with a growing number of UK cities to help them explore future mobility options. “We’re one of four founding members of the Smart Mobility Living Lab’s [SMLL] shared research programme in London, which is trying to answer some of the big questions around infrastructure, consumer behaviour and business models,” says Jo Dally, BP’s mobility city partnerships lead. “But we’re also looking to support projects in cities like Manchester and Birmingham to help them respond to the changing landscape in transport.”


Partnering on projects like SMLL creates new connections between city authorities and the rapidly expanding mobility sector. “It’s not just the transport operators and mayoral offices that we need to work with on this,” says Dally, “but other corporates, power companies, investment funds and start-ups – what we learn from them all gets fed back into our mobility strategy.”

 

R&D and cities

Scientist in ICAM laboratory, Manchester

For a company like BP, which has operated for more than a century, the need to keep learning and adapting is imperative. One of the ways it does this is through long-term, strategic university relationships and support for world-class research programmes, such as the International Centre for Advanced Materials (ICAM).


Established in 2012 with a $100 million commitment from BP, ICAM is an academic partnership between the University of Manchester, Cambridge, Imperial College London and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (in the US) studying global energy issues. Since its inception the centre has made several breakthroughs, including in corrosion and self-healing materials.


“ICAM is all about applying a huge collective brain to some of the biggest challenges facing our industry, understanding how materials react at an atomic level to the harsh environments in which we operate,” says Sheetal Handa, associate director of ICAM.

“There’s an immediacy to our relationship that means, in theory, I could have a problem on Monday and have ICAM studying it by the end of the week. That’s a powerful thing.”

 

Bob Sorrell, vice president for research and innovation, BP

For Sorrell, this ability to address real issues is ICAM’s greatest strength: “There’s an immediacy to our relationship that means, in theory, I could have a problem on Monday and have ICAM studying it by the end of the week. That’s a powerful thing.”


But the benefit flows both ways. In 2018, some 40% of BP’s global research and development expenditure went on work conducted in the UK and, while institutions like ICAM allow a new generation of scientists and researchers to apply fundamental science to real-world problems, investment attracts more investment. “ICAM has helped build the UK’s scientific credentials in this field,” says Handa. “Manchester has told us that without it they don’t believe they would have won the Henry Royce Institute.” 


Nurturing these academic relationships is critical for BP, says Anna-Marie Greenaway, global director of BP’s international university partnerships programme, because they offer access to the latest academic thinking: “It connects us to a global innovation ecosystem and because everything is digital now, everyone is sharing knowledge at an unprecedented rate. That gives the UK a global perspective on real-world challenges and BP access to a diverse pool of talent and ideas.”

 

Diversity and cities

Imperial College, London

And some of the university programmes that BP supports actively encourage that diversity, such as Imperial College London’s We Innovate education programme, which helps women entrepreneurs accelerate their start-up businesses. “Government research shows that for every £1 of venture capital investment, less than one penny goes to all-female led teams,” says Greenaway. “That’s a shocking statistic.”


For many people, it is a city’s diversity that attracts them in the first place. And as a responsible employer, BP wants to make sure it truly reflects the society in which it operates. That can mean anything from backing local Pride celebrations to supporting social enterprise programmes such as arc, a London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy programme designed to help social enterprises based in east and west London and Yorkshire (where BP’s petrochemicals plant is based) achieve sustainable growth. 


As a founding member, BP has helped this needs-led, skills-based volunteering programme flourish, putting social enterprises such as Aspire and Mediorite in contact with employees willing to volunteer their time and skills to help them grow. Volunteers like Dheeraj Choudhary – a sourcing director for BP procurement who has worked with Aspire for the past six years on everything from financing issues to strategic planning and is now a member of the board.

“I wouldn’t know how to find these people – people with a genuine desire and the patience to work on social enterprise projects like ours – if it wasn’t for arc.”

 

Lucy Ferguson, founder and director of Mediorite

“I was brought up in a family where it was important to give something back,” says Choudhary. “It was a tough few years for Aspire, but I think I helped them and we’re now in a position where we can start to broaden our horizons.”


For fellow board member Katharine Sutton, Choudhary’s expertise has been instrumental in turning things around. “We were in a difficult situation when we met Dheeraj but he has become an invaluable member of this board. We have arc to thank for that.”


Like Sutton, Lucy Ferguson, founder and director of Mediorite, says that arc offered her a lifeline, introducing her to two BP employees who understand what she is trying to achieve and want to help. “I wouldn’t know how to find these people – people with a genuine desire and the patience to work on social enterprise projects like ours – if it wasn’t for arc,” she says.


Since its inception, arc has helped create more than 5,000 jobs, contributing more than £400 million in gross value added to the UK economy. Meanwhile, BP has become a member of arc partner Social Enterprise UK’s Buy Social campaign, which works with corporate procurement teams to help build markets for social enterprises in both the public and private sector. 

 

Arts and cities

Crowd watching open-air opera at Trafalgar Square, London

Of course, economic value can come from many quarters and in the UK arts and culture now contributes more to the national economy than agriculture, adding £10.8 billion in 2016 alone. And yet, almost three quarters of all arts institutions in the UK have been affected by public funding cuts. Which makes arts and culture programmes like BP’s crucial if that value is to continue being realized. 


For more than 50 years, BP has supported several major cultural institutions and programmes, helping more than 50 million people across the UK access the arts. Just this year, the company announced £1 million in support for new special exhibitions galleries at Aberdeen Art Gallery. 


One city that really knows the value that arts and culture can bring is Hull, where BP has a petrochemicals plant. During its year as the UK City of Culture in 2017, Hull attracted 1.3 million more visitors, contributing more than £300 million to the economy. As a major partner, BP created a bespoke programme for the city, including a visit from the BP Portrait Award exhibition, BP Big Screens performances and a 12-month running programme of lectures. “The impact was amazing,” says Ellie Westwood, communications and engagement advisor at BP’s petrochemicals plant. “I think we helped change a lot of people’s minds about our city.”

“The impact was amazing. I think we helped change a lot of people’s minds about our city.”

 

Ellie Westwood, communications and engagement advisor at BP’s petrochemicals plant, Hull

Cities matter. They may only take up around 9% of the UK’s total land mass, but their role as economic engines, centres of innovation and, increasingly, as policy leaders, means that their contribution to the national economy is far greater. A significant part of BP’s own UK engine may lie several hundred miles offshore in the North Sea, but with offices and manufacturing plants located to key urban hubs, the variety of programmes it supports – some for decades – has created ripples of economic value that can be felt in cities across the country.