Category Archives: Experts by experience

A passion for pallets

???????????????????????????????Creative flair, a willingness to roll up sleeves and ‘have a go’, to experiment and being prepared to fail, all make Dawn Taylor well suited to a recent, perhaps surprising, career development. Dawn is founder of York-based enterprise Purepallets which does what it says on the tin (or should that be timber?) turning pallets into crafted items fit to grace any home.

From wine racks and candle holders to what can only be described as ‘letter wall shelving’ (B anyone?) pallet product design and creation clearly excites Dawn.

But perhaps the new career move is not so surprising, as Dawn explains… “When I was young I was a tomboy. My dad was a plumber and built our extension by himself, and I helped him. I learnt how to mix cement and lay bricks, so from an early age I’ve not been scared to try new things.” 

So, practical from an early age and Dawn’s creativity – probably also rooted in her past – has been honed through a career in retailing, including 14 years as a visual merchandiser with a major UK high street store.

And what could be more creative than turning a much-maligned product – the humble pallet which many of Dawn’s friends think is only good for firewood – into a thing with real appeal, each one unique? Having “fallen into making pallet products by accident” – an unexpected commission to make a wine rack – Dawn was soon bitten by the upcycling bug. She has just started experimenting with paint effects but still delights in the beauty of the ‘pure pallet’ finish which, when embossed with the original owners logo adds to the story behind the product.

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Now taking a service break with her current employer, Dawn has nine months to see if she can ‘give birth’ to a financially viable business. The product range is developing nicely – mainly through commissions from a rapidly widening customer base that values the bespoke nature of each item. With low overheads to date – pallets are sourced locally at low/no cost, the workshop is a garage at home, social media and word-of-mouth are the main marketing tools – there may be a temptation to under-value the finished product.

But Dawn believes her promotional offer – quality and uniqueness at affordable prices – could create a sustainable business model. While pallets grow on trees (well, sort of…) Dawn’s talents do not. With these she may just be able to differentiate Purepallets’ product range from others and have champagne corks popping.

See Purepallets products at http://on.fb.me/1xtfc8T

 

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Fast food, lifelong learning

Barry AllardDespite the best efforts of the slow food movement from Italy, the prevalence of ‘fast food’ and all it stands for disguises the real time it takes to put a nutritional, high-quality meal on the table and under-values the wider health benefits of cooking.

Luckily people like Barry Allard and LEAP CIC in Norwich know how food and catering can give direction and purpose to individuals leading often chaotic lives. Some of these people are now benefiting from a new enterprise – The Feed – as Barry explains.

“At LEAP we’re about supporting homeless people, or those disadvantaged in other ways, to lead more fulfilling lives. We’ve recently launched a catering enterprise – The Feed – to develop specific skills, while also providing coaching and training; person-centred support. Learners achieve personal development goals – in self-esteem, taking responsibility, dealing with the past, planning the future, gratitude – all the time getting support for progression towards employment.”

leaplogoThe journey into work for LEAP clients may be relatively short, but for others it can be a long term association. People with complicated home lives, furthest from the jobs market, can get the kind of extended support from LEAP that other schemes often simply cannot afford to offer.  One trainee is now employed at LEAP, and it’s hoped others might follow as the enterprise grows.

I wondered how Barry and LEAP got into food and the idea of setting up The Feed in the first place. I discover that, like me, Barry is passionate about food. He also points to the creativity and health benefits associated with catering.

The Feed logo“With cooking, you can get tangible results by making something quickly – a sense of achievement for the person doing it. In the longer term we hope to set up an academy with a 12 – week programme so more learners so they can get their hygiene certificates and develop particular skills – in pastry, for example –  from local chefs”.

Healthy eating is an important part of the LEAP offer: “We’re modern in terms of street food and event catering, but the food still has that healthy kick” says Barry.” As a social enterprise we also aim to embrace ethical supply in the business – we buy local wherever possible.”

I wonder what Barry’s advice would be to someone thinking of starting a social enterprise and getting into catering?

“We’re there to help homeless people into work, but it’s not an easy busy model – working with unpaid trainees in low-cost at one level, but expensive at another- managing volunteers is demanding. So I’d advise you to get support and advice from others who have already been there. Finding mentors is really important. There are people around who can reduce the fear as you go into the unknown.”

“Catering is very hard work. People often don’t realise how much preparation goes into putting food on the plate. And it’s not easy to build all the preparation time into the price of the finished product. Planning, managing trainees, producing good quality food, and making money is a difficult juggling act.”

I leave Barry with a mental image of a chef in a busy kitchen frantically spinning plates on the ends of sharp knives and decide to stick with my particular passion for food – eating it – rather than Barry’s – creating a business with it.

Find out more about The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk and on Twitter @TheFeedCIC

Barry is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

Brendan’s dreams #3 – For the love of brewing

After 15 years of selling beer to pubs, the Iceni Brewery in Norfolk has scaled back production and founder Brendan Moore is a happy man.

Brendan Moore 2“I’ve now created the business people imagined I’d created when I started. I have time to go for lunch and I’m now where I’ve always wanted to be – producing beer for the known demand. In the past we tried to force demand which wasn’t good for the quality of the beer.

I work mainly on my own – Kathy comes in to help 15 hours a week. I sell direct to the public through the shop at the brewery and people contact us for beer for events. I limit the number of big events I brew for to limit the strain on supply (and the strain on me!)  I also supply a couple of farm shops, but adding the cost of travel cuts the margin.”

I suggest to Brendan that it sounds like he’s now operating at a scale he’s comfortable with?

“Yes – working hard should not be part of your business plan. The most successful business people are not physically working hard – guard against it. People think I’ve almost committed a crime when I tell them I stop for lunch. I do regret the amount of time I missed with my own kids, but I now have time with my grandchildren.”

IMG_4182Before letting Brendan go off to attend to more important business – brewing beer that people love – I asked him if there was a turning point that got him to his current happy state.

“Once I decided to downsize, everything just came right. I stopped doing things that lost money, or didn’t make much, and started doing things I dreamed of, things I liked to do and which people wanted me to do. What I’ve learnt is that people want to buy beer from a hobby brewer! “

To find out more about the Iceni Brewery and, of course, Brendan’s very special brew, go to www.icenibrewery.co.uk

Brendan’s dreams #2 – Liquid assets… at a price

After dreaming about starting a brewery, Brendan Moore does just that. He learnt the art of the master brewer, and some hard lessons, along the way as he recalls…

“The Iceni Brewery [in Norfolk] started as a 64 cask brewery producing beer to go into pubs, which is what we did for 15 years. We’d got very bad business advice at the start – just to make more, to make as much as possible, and to sell it as widely as possible. That’s probably the worst advice we ever had. 

When you’re brewing for stock [without being sure of demand] you have all sorts of problems. And when you employ people they want to work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year so you tend to make beer because you have the staff to do so. That’s the wrong motivation and, as times goes on, you’re always trying to sell your worst beer. You have to shift the old stuff, or the beer that’s not selling very well, first. Your best beer – the beer people want – is sitting there waiting to get old!”

IMG_4194Scaling up was also taking Brendan away from the thing he loved – supplying beer that was brewed with love to people who loved the beer he brewed. And it wasn’t just the pressure to expand that was to take the business in a different direction, as Brendan recalls…

“Prices kept falling back until they were the same as the day we started, and all the time costs had gone up, so now we don’t go into pubs. We moved into bottled beers and concentrated on supplying equipment to other breweries wanting to start up. “

I wondered what Brendan had learnt from that period in the Iceni Brewery’s history?

“What attracts people to start small businesses is that it’s an opportunity for them to be themselves. What you sell in a small business is yourself, and you hope people around you will want to support you. In our case, we didn’t have products people could buy from us; they couldn’t help the business directly. Our salvation was opening up to sell direct to the public; we then discovered how much people did want to support us.”

To find out where Brendan has now got to on his brewing journey, follow this ‘Enterprise Essentials’ blog.

Brendan’s dreams

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

Brendan Moore’s professional association with beer is a story of three halves. First there was the dream, then came some hard business lessons and, more recently, Brendan has realised a new dream; to have a job with lunch breaks.

Iceni_Logo_Mono_curvesBrendan’s dreams # 1 – I had a dream

After a trip to the Iceni Brewery in Norfolk to interview its founder and brewer-in-chief Brendan Moore – who wasn’t actually there – I end up talking to him on Skype. If he finds the technology an effort, Brendan certainly isn’t constrained in telling me how he first got into brewing – a story I’ve since related to many others, over a pint of course.

“I was working in the food industry in Cambridge and we were to be made redundant but we knew we’d get a good redundancy package. I had time to think about what I would do next and I went home and dreamed – literally – of having a brewery!

The more I looked into it – I went to a couple of breweries that told me how they’d done it – the more it all seemed quite possible. It was also a good thing that when I told my wife about my dream she supported and encouraged me.

Our next door neighbours told us later that they worried about us because, in 1995 when I started, people weren’t doing that sort of thing as often as they are now. They thought it was a very risky thing to be doing.”

I was intrigued to know why Brendan has chosen East Anglia for his new venture.

IMG_4182“We did geography in Northern Ireland but it was mainly the geography of England for the English exam system. When we were studying East Anglia, it was easy for me to draw it – that big bulge – so I swatted up on that part of the country. I also thought it would be a nice rural area to be in – just like my background in Northern Ireland. I later discovered that the malt barley is excellent so it seemed to be the ideal place to brew in Britain”.

To find out what happened next in Brendan’s entrepreneurial journey, follow this ‘Enterprise Essentials’ blog.

For a cartoon telling of Brendan’s dream go to www.icenibrewery.co.uk/history.asp

Respite and other rewards

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

BFF logoFamily relationships are obviously important to Hayley Couldridge. It was her own mother’s encouragement that led her to set up BFF – Breaks for Families – a provider of respite care – giving tailored temporary care to disabled children to give their family members a break.

At the age of 16, it was while tagging along with her mum to give extra support to a young man with particularly challenging behaviour that Hayley discovered she had a natural ability, and the necessary patience, for giving such one-to-one support. The tangible reward for that effort was progress for both the carer and the cared-for family member.

As Hayley explains “Within 18 months, my mum decided I could do it on my own. I took the young man swimming and bowling, and encouraged him to develop some independence in the community away from his parents. I’m now working on building up his self-esteem and confidence.”

It’s clear that Hayley is inspired by the remarkable progress she can see in the nine families with whom she now works through BFF.  She relates the story of a boy with severe epilepsy. “He was 13 but had the ability of a four year old. 16 months ago he was moved to a mainstream school and he’s now thriving and has developed an interest in cooking. He’s more confident and will go and ask people for help. His ability is now close to his age – such progress in just 16 months is amazing.” 

BFF design

 

I ask Hayley about the secret of her success and she responds without hesitation. “The USP [unique selling point] is BFF’s tailored package of support for the whole family, not just the particular child.”

Maybe her ability to relate to young people trying to make their way in the world comes from Hayley’s empathy with them. “At 23, I’m young and inexperienced” she says “But my advice to others is not to let your age and level of understanding get in the way of seeing through your vision or achieving your ambition. You are the expert in your particular field.”

For many, BFF means ‘Best Friends Forever’ and for a very lucky few it also means Breaks for Families. And those young people are lucky indeed to have Hayley as a ‘best friend’ who clearly loves her work.

“Working with children with disabilities is so very rewarding. The smile on a young person’s face when they have achieved something or had fun gives you such a good feeling inside. It’s the best job in the world.” 

To find out more about Breaks for Families, contact Hayley at hayley@breaksforfamilies.co.uk or call her on 07883578976. You can also find Breaks for Families on Facebook and Twitter @Breaks4Families

Hayley is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

Magic moments

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

Music and Memory miracle moment“… It’s as if they’re coming to life from a cocoon. It mainly starts with the eyes – a smile, a look at me and the guitar… Some even get up and dance, or start calling out words. The many happy outcomes and benefits have been so amazing that I’m now doing this as part of my career.”

The career is that of James Hogg – founder of Music and Memories – who uses his musical talents to provide reminiscence sessions to connect with people with dementia. 

Just as James shies away from calling himself a ‘performer’ or ‘entertainer’ (it belies the interaction going on) so he also resists using the word ‘therapy’. “Therapy is a very broad term – it could include walking and running. When does entertainment become therapy?”

What James goes on to describe is indeed more like a musical conversation rather than a performance; he judges the reactions of the audience members and then responds accordingly. Like all good conversations, the interaction can take unpredictable twists and turns. “Sometimes I’ll stop if someone shouts something out. I’ll go over to them and they’ll be talking about a memory or they might start singing. Every session is quite different and the lovely thing is that it can end completely differently from how I thought it would.”

James is expanding his work with groups in nursing homes to embrace one-to-one sessions, bringing with it new possibilities. “When I’m doing a one-to-one session I can focus on tunes and songs that are particularly pertinent for that person. I was working with someone in his 30s with brain damage and I thought he’d recognise the classic 60’s tunes. I was doing those and popped in a couple of instrumental tunes – mood music – to see his reaction.

He couldn’t move much, his only recognition was in eye-blinking, but he connected. He was trying to turn his head towards me, his breathing changed, suddenly there was a leg movement, a big kick – excitement!” I can tell the excitement was as much for James as for this young man, and it explains a lot about why he started Music and Memories.

James has a musical background (he trained as a music teacher originally) but it was a forced career change that encouraged him to tap into a gift and a passion for making people happy through music.

“I’d been frustrated that I wasn’t making more of my music. When I was invited into that first care home I didn’t have much of a plan, I played and sang a few songs. I then approached other homes, gained confidence and started experimenting. I’d change the mood, put new words to well known songs…” 

It’s clear that James is still innovating, ever-sensitive to the particular needs of the group or the individual – in that place, at that time.

“The other day I stopped and read out the words of a song because they were so lovely. Everyone listened intently – the power of words as well as music. My growing experience of dementia and associated cognitive behaviour means I’m getting increasingly connected with people but it’s always unexpected.”

For someone so obviously creative and un-phased by spontaneity, I’m slightly surprised by the down to earth nature of the advice that James has for anyone thinking of starting a social enterprise.

“Unless you have a real desire and passion, don’t do it. Social enterprise is not a route to making money, so the desire to make a difference has to be genuine. But passion is not enough. You should learn as much as you possibly can about the subject, but don’t feel you have to do it all at once. It can’t all happen overnight, so have realistic expectations.”     

To find out more about Music and Memories, contact James at jwhogg52@gmail.com

James is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

For more profiles in the ‘Experts by Experience’ series, go to http://bit.ly/1hQ4CCo