Interview: how a brush with illness inspired water charity FRANK Water

Every so often we come across a charity or sharing site with such an incredible story to tell that we simply have to make noise about it, and that’s exactly why we decided to highlight the wonderful FRANK Water today.

The charity was formed in 2005 after CEO and founder Kate Alcott contracted dysentery from drinking dirty water in India. Since then Katie has made it her mission to raise money for safe drinking water and sanitation solutions across the country.

FRANK Water has established local health and hygiene awareness programmes, conducted R&D into sanitation solutions, and worked with NGOs to help an estimated 200,000 people in India improve their health.

How? By selling sustainable, re-usable water bottles at music festivals to cut back on waste, and offer free refills to ensure revellers stay hydrated while giving all of the proceeds back to water development programmes throughout India.

The charity also sources its own bottled water from a family run spring in Devon and sells it at independent cafes, while running funding drives like Karma Korma, and encouraging fundraisers at workplaces, among other activities.

We recently spoke with Katie about how FRANK Water started, and to gain real insight into the great work it does today.

Take it away Katie!

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Liftshare: Your story really is incredible, Can you tell us about the early days of Frank Water, and how challenging it was to raise that initial awareness?

Katie: I set up FRANK Water on a shoestring and enormous passion for the cause. My friends, family and lots of volunteers supported me and helped get the idea off the ground. The first thing was to create a strong brand – which conveyed trust and longevity and didn’t look amateur – this branding work was donated.

We were lucky that a BBC local reporter did a five-minute piece about us on the Politics Show, also in news, which really helped to spread the word. We went to local festivals and events in Bristol and the South West to spread the word – talking to people directly. More press and media attention followed – a new concept – female entrepreneur – doing good – personal story – all made for a really strong piece so editorial was relatively easy to get.

We won a few awards (local and national), which also put us on the map. Once the first project was funded (£4k after first year of trading) people trusted us and this helped to spread further and gain more support.

Liftshare: Because it’s easy for people to overlook the matter, just how big an environmental issue is bottled water consumption and why should we all consider refilling instead of buying more and more water?

Katie: Back in 2005, we thought it was odd that whilst the UK was drinking 2 billion litres of bottled water every year, people elsewhere were dying from drinking dirty water. Our original idea was to sell bottled water and donate 100 per cent of the profits to fund clean water projects, we still do that, donating each year to our registered charity FRANK Water Projects.

Although we do still sell bottled water we believe it should be considered a luxury item in the UK. We realise how lucky we are in the UK to have access to affordable clean safe tap water. We strongly believe the best option for the environment (and for your wallet) is to carry a refillable water bottle with you refilling instead of purchasing bottled water.

Our focus is selling refillable water bottles on our website. We believe that when you are out and about you should ask nearby cafés, restaurants and bars if you can refill your bottles for free. We are extremely proud of the innovative FreeFill service which we developed for music festivals in 2010 as an alternative environmental initiative to bottled water.

However, if you’re caught short, and don’t have your refillable water bottle on you, instead of purchasing a fizzy drink, fruit juice or coffee and tea – consider purchasing a local brand of bottled water that supports a charity! If you are in the South of England make sure the water is FRANK Water!

To celebrate FRANK Water’s 10 year anniversary we will be introducing a new stainless steel 10 year anniversary bottle – watch this space!

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Liftshare: On festivals, can you give us some insight into how you started approaching festivals and how responsive they have been to the scheme?

Katie: We started working with music festivals selling bottled spring water. Seeing the plastic bottle waste across the festival sites inspired Katie to come up with the FreeFill initiative. In 2010, FreeFill was trialled at WOMAD festival and was a huge success with the festival goers and organisers!

FreeFill works by selling refillable ‘FreeFill bottles’ to festival goers for £5.00. Once a bottle has been purchased, the festival goer is entitled to free refills of filtered, chilled water all weekend from fixed water stations and roaming mobile units which are manned by our amazing team of passionate, friendly volunteers. If a member of the public already has any type of bottle on them they can purchase a FreeFill wristband for £3.00, which entitles them to the same free refills all weekend.  All the profits from the FreeFill initiative fund our safe drinking water programmes through our registered charity, and being at festivals offers us a great opportunity to talk to our customers about world water issues.

FreeFill is a chance to keep festival goers happy and hydrated and reduce plastic bottle waste, whilst raising money for our safe water projects. Two of our festival partners WOMAD and End of The Road have already funded complete safe water projects for whole communities in India. Our other festival partners are all on track to fund a complete safe water project, these are; Cornbury, Bournemouth 7s, Larmer Tree and Shambala.

We really hope that festival goers will put pressure on festival organisers to introduce more environmental initiatives. Some of our favourite initiatives are from Liftshare, FareShare and Pootopia. We feel festivals are the perfect opportunity to promote sustainable behaviour change.

We at FRANK Water, love seeing customers return to festivals year after year telling us that they have used their refillable water bottle everyday! Our volunteers are told that they are ‘life savers’ – healing hangovers, ensuring festival goers can have a better time at festivals. Also, we are extremely grateful to our festival partners and we would love to hear from other festivals who would like to put the planet and people before profit!

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Liftshare: Beyond festivals, can you give us some insight into your activities with NGOs in India?

Katie: FRANK Water has been working in India since 2005 and since then has reached over 200,000 people in 128 communities. We work together with Indian partners to identify marginalised communities such as remote rural communities, people in poor peri-urban areas, and tribal groups. In these communities, a lack of water, sanitation and hygiene education results in a range of problems.

This includes high rates of waterborne diseases, particularly amongst children, lost days in school and ability to earn a livelihood through sickness, and increased gender inequality, with women and girls bearing the brunt of traveling long distances to fetch water and girls dropping out of school due to a lack of toilets and hygiene facilities.

FRANK Water now works across six states in India, and during 2014-15 will reach a further 70,000 people, helping to ensure that everyone secures the right to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.

Some key statistics are that 91 million people in India (7 per cent) do not have access to an improved source of drinking water* while 792 million people in India (64 per cent) do not have access to an improved sanitation facility, and 594 million people (48%) practice open defecation**

Over 186,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in India*** and lastly, malnutrition is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India****

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Liftshare: Lastly, can you give us some insight into your clean water research and what the road map might look like for the pursuit of clean drinking water in years to come. How can LiftShare members help?

Katie: FRANK Water is committed to making our work as effective, equitable and sustainable as we can. In order to do this, we carry out research that can help to improve our existing projects, inform the way that we work with new projects, and contribute to wider research in the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) sector. For examples of our previous research see here.

2015 is a key year for water and sanitation, with the world coming together to agree Sustainable Development Goals that will shape the development agenda for the next fifteen years. Water and sanitation are likely to form a key part of that agenda, with an increased emphasis on sanitation, inequality, the quality and sustainability of services and better integration with other development goals.

LiftShare members can find out about upcoming opportunities and how to get involved with FRANK Water and our activities by signing up to our newsletter at where of course you can donate, fundraise and purchase our products.

Help us advocate our message – write to festival organisers saying you want FRANK Water FreeFill at their festival, follow us on Twitter and Facebook and just generally SHARE our message on social media!

A very big thank you to katie for her incredible insight and for her wonderful, charitable activities. If you want to help FRANK Water raise money for sanitation and clean drinking water in India, simply head over to their website.

 *Source: Unicef and WHO 2014

** Source: Unicef and WHO 2014

*** Source: WaterAid 2014, calculated from Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group 2012 and UNICEF Child Mortality Report 2012

****Source: Unicef 2014

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