Tag Archives: financial management

What price learning?

There’s a famous Mahatma Gandhi quote “Live as if you’ll die tomorrow, learn as if you’ll live forever.” I love it because it puts learning in its rightful place – at the heart of our lifelong journey.

This love of learning in its widest sense is exemplified by a social enterprise in Cambridgeshire – GAP Learning. The two creative sisters who run the enterprise sent me their newsletter some time ago and, with permission, I’ve reproduced it for this blog.

Austerity hits hard

Local authority budget cuts are visible everywhere. Brilliant organisations that provide meaningful social impact and community cohesion are lost. For example, more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010; 45% of councils have cut provision for young people by around 30%. Public spaces are closing, social and essential services are experiencing crippling budget cuts. Closer to us, the Cambridge & District Volunteer Centre closes its doors tomorrow after 26 years; HOPE Social Enterprises in Huntingdon, a Craftworks venue, closed last month with the loss of their volunteer programme and shop. Everyone we partner within the training, advice and support world seems to be affected.

And Adult Learning (our world) will be doubly hit. Due to Brexit, the UK is losing the European Social Fund which part-funded almost all our free courses such as Fullspoon and Craftworks. What money there is, is increasingly difficult to secure with lengthy applications that, even if you have the fortune to win, have so many limitations attached the people you are trying to reach and support are knocked back by the sheer force of documentation and data gathering required for them to access the help. And if you’re a small charitable business, like GAP Learning, it’s tough out here with no credit rating or specialised departments. We’ll even have to say goodbye to our office in October.

But that’s what’s happening to us as a small business, it’s nothing compared to how some of our fellow humans are suffering and there will be no means to help them if things continue as they are: people facing cuts in welfare and benefits, people facing mental health challenges, people living with disabilities, people who are lonely and in need of a friend. There’s never been a better time for people to get together in their community to support one another. Teresa and I identified that people feel better when they make or create and that space to think is enough to see that changes can be good and necessary. We set about building a business that provided the means for people to get together to have fun, build passion and confidence and inspire hope in a future, whatever that may be.

Cambridgeshire County Council have been instrumental in enabling our work thus far and we will always be grateful for the opportunities they provided for us to support learners hardest to reach. We may have no contracts upcoming but we will not give up on our mission [see manifesto below]

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GAP Learning Manifesto

We will make positive change for the vulnerable, the unheard, the overlooked to give those without voices a means to communicate

We will create a sustainable business that puts people first – not the profit. We don’t give two hoots if you ticked the financially unviable box. We all have value

We are the change-makers, activators and will enable others via non-threatening, empathic, loving and caring means to open new ways to breathe

We are not commercial – we are utilitarian. We use sustainable materials to make products that will last. That have meaning. A purpose.  A beauty

We celebrate diversity. Not just recognise a random festival once in a while

We will not stand for racism, sexism and all other everyday isms that belittle, degrade or maintain control over others

We stand for Equal Opportunity for All.  The same mirror for each reflection – full and bright and clear

We recognise, support and partner individuals and companies that want to make a positive change in society

We value sisterhood. Family; Love; following your dreams; the small, quiet voice in the corner, in the shadow; the darkness

We value the symbiotic, natural world around us

Our language is clear (for those over eight years old).

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A hopeful future

Our idea is to become sustainable as quickly as possible by selling goods and services. We’ve been getting the Craftworks Rocks ready – with new branding and everything and are actively looking for venues to host a box for us.

We will develop more corporate and paid-for workshops but of course we will still look for small grant pots to run stand-alone projects. In fact, we’ve got a new project The Fixing Shop funded by Santander Foundation starting over the summer.

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If you take a look at the Gap Learning website (http://gaplearning.co.uk) you’ll get a good idea at what’s at stake here. And while you’re there, check out ‘She Loves him tho’’ for another demonstration of the sisters’ creativity.

As Teresa and Amanda point out, what’s happening at GAP Learning is, sadly, nothing special. The current cuts have no respect for quality. But I’m sure they would love to hear your thoughts on possible ways out of their current sticky patch. I know the sisters won’t be giving up and you could be part of their fight!

STOP PRESS: A recent [ 7 July 2017] newspaper headline confirms how budget cuts are hitting local services for young people –  Council plans to scrap four dedicated children’s centres in Cambridge and 15 others across county in bid to save £1million www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/childrens-centres-cambridgeshire-county-council–13291759  and there’s a petition against the closures  www.cambridgelibdems.org.uk/no_childrens_centre_cuts

Read more about Teresa and Amanda at:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/gap-learning-a-growing-family

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent

The Feed – a recipe for resilience

Latest in the new ‘More Expert by Experience’ series

Barry AllardThe Feed is a trading arm of Community Interest Company LEAP (www.norwichleap.co.uk)  providing fine food, catering services and more, in and around Norwich. They’re passionate about food and people – well, that’s what it says on their website – and nothing The Feed’s founder Barry Allard, a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, tells me makes me think otherwise.                                                                                                                                                                                    I’m re-interviewing Barry 18 months on from our first chat about what starting a social enterprise demands and how he and his growing team have overcome the challenges.

The ‘social’ part of the enterprise is about providing work experience and training in hospitality and catering for those who, for a variety of reasons, are furthest from the job market.

The academy that Barry talked about in September 2014 has now supported three cohorts of learners through a 12-week course. The Flourish Employment Academy involves formal training working in the business and day workshops at local food producers.

When I ask about the intention 18 months ago to source ingredients locally, Barry is upfront about current considerations,

“We aim to use local producers wherever possible, and the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival community have helped us with this, but increasingly we also have to be aware about the cost of buying local.”

Balancing the ‘social’ and the ‘enterprise’ – principle and profit – is nothing new amongst businesses like The Feed that set out to bring business solutions to social problems. Barry is honest but positive about how they’ve been getting their house in order in recent months.

“I was realising that the hours I was putting into setting up The Feed [and LEAP – also founded by Barry] were not sustainable, and I required people with the necessary experience in the catering and hospitality industry.”

Feed logoThe solution was to take the big step of employing an experienced chef and adding to the staff team another recruit with relevant catering and retailing skills. Barry believes that they are now getting on top of the figures with better costings and the ability to make more informed decisions about which events to attend to make money and/or raise their profile. This has also enabled The Feed to make more contacts in the industry.

Another major development is the relocation of The Feed to Open – a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue in central Norwich working with and for young people. Access to bigger kitchens, and opportunities to cater for conferences and other events on-site, has demonstrated the benefits of The Feed’s willingness to work in partnership with others.

18 months ago Barry Allard was aware that the catering and hospitality industry was not easy sector to work in. It seems his opinion hasn’t changed,

“It’s a difficult business; there’s the upfront expenditure with no guaranteed return and the potential for waste. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into putting food on the plate with associated costs, and success is often weather-dependent.”

Barry hasn’t yet worked out how to control the weather, but I’m left with the impression that he and his team are getting a firm grip on the financials and also seeing reward in preparing learners well for the world of work wherever their careers take them.   

Further reading:

Fast Food, Lifelong Learning https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/fast-food-lifelong-learning (September 2014)

Follow The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk Twitter: @TheFeedCIC   Facebook: thefeedCIC

Drown your puppies

no-dogs-allowedIf you’re familiar with the Boston Matrix (a marketing tool not a Hollywood blockbuster) you’ll also probably know the term ‘dogs’. These are activities that are not making money nor contributing to the mission of the organisation being assessed.

If you identify any ‘dogs’ in your organisation the advice is to drop this activity or, as some put it more provocatively, ‘drown your puppies’.

The beauty of this particular phrase is that it grabs the reader’s attention (whether or not you’re a puppy-lover) and it also encapsulates the truth that organisations often have pet projects that are kept alive, often by the people who created them, for emotional reasons. Blind to evidence that an activity has become a waste of time and money (it may always have been so) charities are probably more guilty than the average for-profit business of getting their head and heart balance wrong. Smaller charities are particularly good at ‘flogging dead horses’ (another brutal animal image!)

For social enterprises – businesses with a social purpose – success is often defined as achieving the ‘triple bottom line’ of social, financial and environmental objectives. This makes the identification of ‘dogs’ more difficult because the activity may be justified for non-financial reasons. At the Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, where men aged 50+ come together to stay healthier and happier for longer through making, mending and learning, we’re dealing with ‘pet project issues’ of a different kind.

As readers of a recent blog may remember, the making part of Repair Shed members’ activity has to date largely involved using reclaimed timber to make products for homes and gardens. I think some of us have surprised ourselves with the quality of the work we’ve turned out – I know I have – pleased with the result and… reluctant to see it offered for sale.

Objectively, the Repair Shed should be trying to sell as many products as possible – to make money, create more storage space, and to save more timber from becoming waste. Subjectively however, perhaps we’re worried others might not be as proud to own the products as we were to make them. So there are mixed feelings when a project that people have been working on is sold – because making it again will never generate the same sense of achievement. The silver lining is that if your creation remains unsold, you can always take it home and show if off to friends and family who will appreciate it (or say they do).

It must be the same when starting out on any creative journey. In retirement, my friend Carl has taken up painting. This year he bravely submitted two pieces to our annual art exhibition and put a £60 price tag on each of them. Much to his surprise he sold one of them but, excited though he was, he couldn’t disguise his relief that the ‘right’ painting (ie the one in which he’d invested less time) had been bought.

It’s a tough lesson – if you want to succeed in a creative business you must be prepared to let go of your best work and risk it being under-valued.

A related blog – The paying customer is always right – is at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/the-paying-customer-is-always-right

More on the Boston Matrix at http://www.oxlearn.com/arg_Marketing-Resources-The-Boston-Matrix_11_35

Enterprise essential – Learn about price, value and negotiation

Even in times of economic hardship we under-value the products and services we provide and pay too much for those we purchase. Price is only one of many factors that influence the purchasing decision. Learn to sell well in the open market and to win contracts. When buying, develop your negotiating skills with suppliers – a recession is a good time for bargains eg in stationery and printing.

 

 

Enterprise essential – Get on top of the figures that matter

In a fast-changing business environment you may need to identify new performance indicators and tighten up your financial monitoring – including actual, against forecast, income and expenditure. Do this more rigorously and more often and share your findings throughout the organisation. If you don’t know the figures that matter, find out!

 

Enterprise essential – Manage your cashflow

‘Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is reality’. It’s no good having a smart office and a warehouse full of products if you can’t pay your staff at the end of the month. Control your cashflow by maximising income (while not compromising your social purpose) and chasing debts. Control costs (easier when they are variable rather than fixed) but think strategically – a short term gain may be a long term loss.