We are determined to make a positive difference to the region and communities we serve, and have decided to measure our performance through a Community Perception ODI. In 2017/18, a survey of customers found 55 per cent of those asked agreed that we care about the communities we serve. This is a rise from 52 per cent in 2016/17 and we have committed to increase this to 60 per cent by 2019/20.
More than two million people a year visit our water parks, which offer the chance to spend time outdoors in a variety of pursuits – from fishing and sailing to walking, cycling, wildlife watching and more. Our parks cover more than 4,428 hectares of parkland, woodland, nature reserves and water, most of it around our reservoirs at Rutland, Grafham, Alton, Pitsford, Ravensthorpe and Hollowell, and at Taverham Mill outside Norwich. They conserve and enhance our region’s natural riches and help us make a positive difference to the communities we serve.
We have led the way in providing safe access to reservoirs for swimming. The UK’s largest inland beach opens at Rutland each summer, while the giant inflatable Aqua Park is also a huge draw. It is one of the largest floating obstacle courses in the UK and will be a fixture at Rutland for the next 10 years. Grafham, Alton and Pitsford Water host numerous triathlons and swim events throughout the year.
Rutland Water retained accreditation through Visit England’s Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme (VAQAS). Grafham Water has also applied for accreditation and we will learn if it has been successful in 2018. All our parks have retained Green Flag status, which recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, providing the benchmark standard in the UK and around the world.
We continue to operate at the heart of two education initiatives to develop the technical skills of 14 to 19 year olds and provide opportunity for employment to the next generation. We are the lead sponsor of the Greater Peterborough University Technical College (GPUTC), which opened in September 2016 and aims to provide a world-class technical education with an emphasis on sustainable engineering and construction. The academic and industry sponsors shape the curriculum and offer employer projects that will bring the learning to life. Anglian Water and its civil engineering alliance partners are also sponsoring two BTEC courses at the College of West Anglia in Wisbech.
Our alliance partners have employed 12 apprentices who graduated from the college in 2017/18. We also opened the Wisbech Technical Training and Development Centre, specialising in engineering. These activities will help us to find the skilled employees of the future. We continue to take people into our graduate and apprenticeship programmes, and are now offering paid summer internships.
We aim to make a long-term difference to the communities in which we work. This can be seen in our education programme, our employee volunteering programme and our work on projects such as Wisbech Beyond 2020, which has helped that community create their vision of the future.
We brought together our supply chain companies with local community and educational leaders, the local council and MP to launch a campaign to reconnect the town to the rail network. This was integrated into council travel plans, won funding through devolution deals and progressed into Network Rail's investment appraisals process. We have also supported the council and the local community in exploring what sustainable, resilient development could look like. This has resulted in a proposal for a new, climate-resilient Garden Town development.
For many years we have been active in the Prince of Wales' Responsible Business Network, Business in the Community (BITC). Every year BITC celebrates leadership in responsible business. In July 2017 we were honoured to have been named Responsible Business of the Year in recognition of our Love Every Drop strategy, which seeks to put water at the heart of a more sustainable way of living. Responsible Business of the Year is one of the UK's highest accolades for business. It is given to companies that put social and environmental concerns at the heart of their strategy, demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and embed it in the culture of their entire business and supply chain.
Our education centres at Chelmsford and Leighton Linslade opened in 2007 to engage current and future customers on issues such as water conservation and responsible use of the sewer network. We are also improving the prospects of many more young people through long-term partnerships with schools in our region; widening students' horizons, extending their aspirations and equipping them with valuable skills for later life.
Our Community Education team has seen 355,693 people since it formed, including more than 28,000 children in 2016/17. The team carried out 270 school visits last year, delivering free sessions in more than 170 different schools. The programme continues to evolve in response to changes in the curriculum and to business needs. In 2016/17, there was a focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related activities, linked to employability skills and expanding students' knowledge of careers within Anglian Water.
We support National Women in Engineering Day and this year we invited more than 200 students from seven Huntingdonshire secondary schools to take part in science and engineering challenges, meeting engineers from Anglian Water and our alliance partner companies. The children completed a range of challenges and were encouraged to consider engineering as a career. As a result, 99 per cent of the girls who attended said they learnt something about engineering and 94 per cent were more positive about it.