General Manager Phillipa Atkinson-Clow On 25 Years Of The BWCA

A highlight of the 2018 BWCA conference held in Nottingham on 8 March was a review by General Manager, Phillipa Atkinson-Clow, of her work with the water cooler industry over the past quarter of a century, writes Jo Jacobius. She said:  “I’m going to give you my reflections on the past, a summary of the present and some thoughts about the future. But this isn’t about me; it’s about you – the members.”

The early history of the BWCA

She began by describing the early history of the Association: “We had a group of really enthusiastic entrepreneurs who were embracing this new hydration concept from across ‘the pond’” she said. “Coolers had been popular in the United States for many years but hadn’t happened yet in the UK.   One of these entrepreneurs was Alan Cornford.

“Alan Cornford was – and is – an absolute gentleman and I believe his influence right at the beginning set the tone of the Association that has endured for 25 years. And by ‘tone’ I mean what many members value so highly today.   The BWCA is somewhat unique in the trade association world.   Its members support each other, they share information.   There is an exchange of ideas with competitors, members actually helping each other, giving advice and, in times of need, rushing to their aid. Alan, I believe, laid the foundation for this culture and is definitely one of my BWCA heroes”.

She referred to the Association’s very first chairman, Peter Maddock, MD of Holywell Spring, as ‘charismatic and energetic’. “One of his first achievements was the introduction of a spike into a bottled water cooler. Having started the ball rolling, he then went on to Chair the newly formed European water cooler association in December of that year, running events in Paris and Brussels.”

Every BWCA Member is also a Member of Watercoolers Europe (WE). It too  celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. BWCA Chairmen sit on the WE Executive Council to ensure the UK Association has a voice in that forum.

The BWCA that we know and love was born

“Then came Michael Barnett, MD and owner of Hydropure Group”, Phillipa continued. “If Peter had the vision to begin, Michael’s chairmanship brought the energy and tenacity to make the BWCA a professional trade association with proper governance, strict codes of practice, an Executive Council, participating committees and financial stability. The BWCA that we know and love was born. The bottling plant audit had been introduced and undertaken by global auditors NSF International. But now the Distributor Audit was introduced with accompanying training in hygiene awareness, depot managers, plant operators and crisis management – all courses, whilst have been revised and improved, remain with us today”.

In 1998, under the guidance of Michael Barnett as Chairman, the Bottled Water Cooler Association became the British Water Cooler Association and it was time to embrace POU. BWCA

Then Phillipa spoke about ‘the industry’s fourth ‘hero’.’ “Today we stage our 20th trade show. Over the years it has gone through a few metamorphoses. In 2011, John Dundon became Chairman and transformed the event so that the conference, trade show and dinner were amalgamated into one day. If Peter Maddock was about vision, Michael Barnett about standards and governance, John Dundon’s legacy is one of passion for the industry, determination and a desire to make membership of the BWCA of benefit commercially. To build a stronger, more vibrant organisation representative of the passionate people within it.”

Learning Management System

As POU research was instigated: firstly into installation and location, secondly into tubing and just recently completed, into filters, she described how certain Members are giving their time, knowledge and energy to help produce what will become a new course POU Customer Excellence in two parts. The first part will be online and the second a day on site.

She explained: “As a result of this we are building a Learning Management System on to which all our courses will be uploaded for booking and certification. This will take the BWCA to a new level of professionalism and where possibly refresher courses will also be on-line.

Phillipa Atkinson-Clow

“Elevation of the POU industry is one challenge ahead that the BWCA and its Members are embracing.

“The Challenge of recycling plastic is another, with much talk of water fountains and self-filling stations. This is a hot media topic is on the Executive Council’s agenda. We will be looking at this and getting back to the Members.

“Our new Chairman Jon Wicks will be making his own mark on the Association. As a starter we have published a survey asking Members for your thoughts and views. We will be listening and we will be reporting back,” she promised.

Finally, she spoke of two of the Association’s initiatives.


The BWCA and the water cooler industry is proud of its sustainability credentials. Philipa Atkinson-Clow said: “Whether your priorities are running a better business, one that betters staff or your community or is financially more sustainable; a business which manages water better; or improving your carbon footprint , we have in our 5 for 5 Pledge some factors that every Member can sign up to and make steps to make their company even more sustainable. But importantly, the Pledge also helps us as an industry learn from one another AND tell the wider world just how sustainable we already are. Check out our case studies on the website”.


“Just a Drop aids people who don’t have access to the most basic of needs, fresh, safe potable water. We are now in our third year of supporting the charity and it is with enormous pride that I see how Members have embraced this and are really making a difference with their amazing generosity.

“Last October I attended the Watercoolers Europe Aqua Awards in Krakow where we had entered both the Best Environmental Practice and Best Promotion of Health & Hydration. It was with enormous excitement that we won both Awards.

“I see this Association as a place where Members participate and contribute, a place where there is real industry development. A place of achievement. And an organisation that each Member should be proud of. And long may it continue,” she concluded

Thanking her for her speech and her work, BWCA Chairman Jon Wicks said: “We’ve hear about the 4 heroes of the industry. But there is a 5th hero: Phillipa herself whose tireless work has made the Association the success it is”.

  • The Water Cooler Market In The UK Continues To Grow: Details HERE



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