Tag Archives: funding

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.

*     *      *      *     *

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

Your Own Place – seeking security

Latest in the new ‘More Expert by Experience’ series

Rebecca croppedI am re-discovering a social enterprise and Community Interest Company – Your Own Place (YOP) in Norfolk – which works with young people aged 16-25. I first interviewed Rebecca White, YOP’s Director and Founder, in December 2013 when we were both at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich. Two years on, I wanted to find out how Your Own Place had developed and, in particular, Rebecca’s experience of ‘going it alone’ as a social entrepreneur now working more-than-full-time on the enterprise.

To quote YOP’s own publicity ‘We aim to prevent youth homelessness through a number of interventions.  At the core of Your Own Place is our delivery of Tenancy and Independent Living Skills (TILS) training.  Our principle outcome is successfully sustained tenancies for first-time tenants who may need a bit of support along the way.’

Ultimately a social enterprise stands or falls by its income-generating capacity. YOP’s first year trading achieved an impressive 36% of total income; the year two figure is slightly down because of the need to focus on raising development funding.

Like all business start-ups, subsidies are important for social enterprises in the early years (unless you have the support of those traditional small business investors – friends, family and fools). I was interested to know about Rebecca’s success with a crowdfunding campaign.

Understandably, she was very happy with the outcome – £7,000 raised (I’d been advised to aim for £1500 – £2000 for a first campaign). Reflecting on the experience, Rebecca has some advice for others thinking about crowdfunding. “You need to prepare well and it’s a lot of hard work to maintain momentum during the campaign. Success depends on having access to [online] networks. I think we did well for a first effort with a fund-raising technique which is quite new to Norfolk.”   

YourOwnPlace logoMore recently YOP has been successful with an application to the Tudor Trust for £56,000. This development is significant for bringing stability and security to the organisation, helping planning and, importantly, taking some of the pressure off Rebecca who is now able to recruit a Peer Training Coordinator.

But how Rebecca would find ‘letting go’ a little, surrendering some control to another employee? Her response was typically honest. “Obviously this is ‘my baby’ and I’m a control freak. But on balance I’m excited more than fearful as I enjoy managing people; we had an employability support worker last year.”

Looking back over the past 12 months, Rebecca’s sees it as a reputation-building period for Your Own Place. “We’re building credibility with funders and commissioners, getting coverage on radio and in the press is easier, and people are coming to us for our expertise. It’s a slow pay-off for all the early work upfront. We’re gathering momentum, making useful contacts (after kissing a lot of frogs…) taking us in sometimes unexpected but exciting directions. 

YOP Peer researchers (4)It would be deceptive to pretend that the past 12 months has all been positive and Rebecca acknowledges that there have been some young people who haven’t benefited as much as she would have hoped. “We’re working with challenging, often hard to reach, young people so, despite our best efforts, some will fall by the way. But I remember some wise words from a supervisor when I worked in London. ‘Don’t take it personally as a failure – it doesn’t mean they haven’t taken something away from the experience. You’ve planted a seed and there may be a pay-off later.’ We had one trainee who ditched a summer course on day one, but later came back and asked for a meeting to find a mentor.”

Rebecca is clear that Your Own Place’s vision remains unchanged – that the destination is the same even if the route has changed a bit. The comment reflects her advice to others to take opportunities and make the most of all the pro-bono support that’s available. For Rebecca, this means returning to the School for Social Entrepreneurs for their ‘scale-up’ programme in London (which also means getting a mentor).

“Don’t be too proud to admit you need help – take all the support that’s going” advises Rebecca. Wise words from someone who oozes self-confidence and authority, but isn’t afraid to ask.

Further reading:

Close to homelessness https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/close-to-homelessness (December 2013)

Follow Rebecca and Your Own Place at www.yourownplace.org.uk http://www.facebook.com/yourownplacecic  www.twitter.com/yourownplace

Time Trials  #2 – precise time

HourglassMy dear old dad used to say he was baffled by people who spent good money on a watch that would be ‘accurate to within a 1,000th second over 100 years’ (or whatever the claim) because no one needs that accuracy.

True – but time and some precision is surprisingly prevalent (some would say dominant) in much of our lives. The other Saturday I made a day trip to York. To summarise my day in terms of times …

5.15am Rude alarm awakening

5.59 Three trains to arrive in York (on time) at 8.31

9am parkrun time 23.32 (9 seconds off my personal best for York)

11.30am and 1.00pm – Two meetings

3.00pm  York City vs Tranmere Rovers (my team) – 90 minutes + 9 minutes extra time

18.31 Two return trains arriving (4 minutes later than advertised) 21.11

The first blog in this pair on the theme of time [https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/time-trials-1-precious-time] shows how the importance of time depends on the context.

At The Repair Shed – our burgeoning social enterprise in Hemel Hempstead – we’re enjoying funding support from the Innovation in Waste Prevention Fund. The implication of this is that we have to account for our spending (how much) and demonstrate our achievements (how well) in a time-limited period that ends on 30 November 2015.

I’m the first to say that, when spending someone else’s money (and even when we’re not -see https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/building-a-shed-the-second-100-days) we should be accountable, but the clocking is ticking. We now have to try to realise the plan of action we submitted to the funders according to the timetable we presented with our bid for their support.

But where ‘innovation’ is concerned there’s inherent risk that things will not happen when/how it was intended – assuming the innovation is real. And we’re working with volunteers who can simply walk away, so there’s no guarantee of having feet on the ground and hands on deck to make it happen at all!

So the time pressure is real and I’m reminded once again of Olive Quinton‘s insight around starting a business (she created social enterprise Lofty Heights) – be patient; other people’s timetables will be different from yours.

I’ll try to be patient Olive, but it won’t be easy.

PS Here’s a tip when organising meetings. If you advertise an unusual start time – 2.13pm say – people are more likely to remember it and turn up on time!

 

Learning about Earning: lessons 7 and 8 from a social enterprise start-up

Top down vs bottom up

I have a problem with reconciling the character of many entrepreneurs (energetic, impatient and confident, even to the point of arrogance) with the idea of a social enterprise as a cooperative and collaborative enterprise. To my mind, users should be involved, as far as possible, in the design of the business (co-production) but this, of course, takes time and patience.

But I also accept that the entrepreneur is the one with the vision to mobilise resources and take the idea to a stage where (hopefully) others can take over – leading from behind. This frees up the entrepreneur to move on with a new idea (or new location if replication is the name of the game). Starters are not always good finishers…

Further related reading: 20 social enterprise leadership tips http://bit.ly/1rpFhQD Do you have the character of a social entrepreneur? http://bit.ly/ZdJ1hH Can you take people with you/ sell the vision? http://bit.ly/1BkU9qJ Are you accountable to others – even when you’re spending your own money? http://bit.ly/1nAA8Yx

 Cash in hand vs gifts in kind

“In year 1 you pay the business, in year 2 the business pays itself, in year 3 the business pays you”

 Whatever kind of business you’re starting (unless you’ve got a ready-made cohort of paying customers from day one) you’re likely to need a couple of year’s support before the business takes off. The social enterprise model is not an easy route to go down so you may need longer.

Traditionally, start-up support comes from ‘family, friends and fools’ and in the social enterprise sector there’s a growing supply of social investment (although there currently seems to be a mismatch between supply and demand). But alongside the need for some cash (you can’t run a business entirely on fresh air and goodwill) there’s a generous supply of free, non-cash support.

Alongside what’s available online…

  • Social Enterprise Start-up support – School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, Wenta Business Incubation in Herts and Beds (free for first three months), Social Incubator East in Cambridge, Inspire 2 Enterprise, and UnLtd.
  • Partners that are willing to help if there’s minimal direct cost to the organisation (Community Action Dacorum and Sunnyside Rural Trust in the case of The Repair Shed)
  • Company sponsorship – Triton Tools as official supplier of tools to the UK Men’s Sheds Association. More on The Repair Shed funding mix at http://bit.ly/1wdmgp3

If you’re interested in exploring ways to turn ideas into action, join Chris Lee for a day-long workshop on December 4 in Chelmsford Details at www.voluntarysectortraining.org.uk/courses/event/70/Ideas-Into-Action

 

Building a shed – day 300

IMG_4446So what progress with plans to develop a would-be environmental social enterprise – The Repair Shed – to bring older men together to stay healthier for longer by making, mending and learning?

July 27 was 300 days into my 12 months with the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SEEE) in Ipswich on the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up programme.

That particular day – last Sunday – I was busy with the third Royston Repair Cafe, but had time to smile as I recalled our first Community Repair Day at the Hemel Food Garden Open Day on 7 June – our first real ‘public outing’ and lots of fun. If you want to see what we got up to in Hemel, go to our new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed for photos and a link to a short video clip.

Day 300 was also a good point at which to do some accounting – to update my expenditure records and prepare a third and final claim to the SSE for the final tranche of their £4,000 grant. As I did the sums, I realised with some alarm that when my final £500 comes through it will be pretty well accounted for!

As my wife regularly reminds me, none of the £4,000 has actually paid me. But it’s helped me get around by car and train (lots of learning and development – in Ipswich and London, and regular travel between Royston and Hemel Hempstead and, more recently, Stevenage – see below). It’s also helped me cover office costs and publicity without which I could never have got this far. But it won’t pay the bills much longer and my wife’s patience might also have its limits. So what to do?

Back in March, I wrote about the wisdom or otherwise of trying to start an enterprise with no money – more at http://bit.ly/1kjOsoT – soon I really will be ‘running on fumes’! I’m not yet reduced to hitchhiking around Hertfordshire but it’s time to get real – to be prepared to make the case for working unpaid for a little longer, or…

Earn income: In early July we made our first Repair Shed sale – a pallet pub (see photo above) to a customer in Yorkshire! It’s long story – a unique present for someone who’s got everything… I was thrilled but, as my wife pointed out, the wood may have cost nothing but it took me several hours to make.

What price my time? But I’ve just firmed up an affordable supply of pallets from a local social enterprise in St Albans so I see no reason why our pallet furniture production shouldn’t take off.

Another way to earn income, of course, is to get a job (or a proper job as my wife calls it – by which she means one that pays for my time). While I’d love to have the luxury of devoting 100% of my waking hours to developing The Repair Shed, I realise that I may have to do with just three out of six days a week, if another job that will help pay those bills comes along.

Which explains why, in May and June, I applied for two jobs for which I thought I was eminently well suited and which would have nicely complemented development of The Repair Shed. Unfortunately, the recruiting organisations didn’t agree.

Gifts in kind – Notwithstanding my past interest in timebanking (and plans to set up a time bank at The Repair Shed) I realise that the world cannot survive on bartering alone. But that said, our good friends at Hemel Food Garden – Sunnyside Rural Trust – are happy to help us out with free facilities while we’re getting up and running. In return, we’re repairing and refurbishing donated furniture for them to sell to raise funds for their work.

My ‘pallet pub’ not only generated a little sales income but, through a special deal arranged by the UK Mens Sheds Association,  we’ve been awarded £250 to spend with Triton Tools in exchange for my pallet pub project plan (trying saying that after a few pints!) which will be published on Triton’s website.

Finally on the bartering front, I continue to enjoy free desk space and the support of Wenta’s business incubator in Stevenage (ref my earlier blog at http://bit.ly/1pxVX7I) and I try to help them out in return, including input into a social enterprise workshop.

Fundraising – the other way to get paid for my work is to successfully bid for a grant to develop the Repair Shed to a point where it has the potential to be financially sustainable through selling goods and services. Following four unsuccessful bids, I’m preparing a fifth application to an environmental source. This latest effort may have a greater chance of success, if only because I’m not relying on my fundraising ‘skills’ alone.

The bid and my plans for the months ahead are now being scrutinised by a new steering group (reference my Day 200 blog http://bit.ly/1nAA8Yx) and a fund-raising sub-group. That said, as always I take full responsibility for the ups and down on the Repair Shed journey – including running out of fuel!

Running on fumes – a case for lean business start-up?


Month six of my year-long journey on the Lloyds Bank School for Social Entrepreneurs start-up programme. The creative environment at our monthly group learning sessions in Ipswich at the Eastern Enterprise Hub is always stimulating. Our last gathering got me thinking…

running-on-fumesStarting a new enterprise is always a balance between getting going and doing your homework first. Clearly having a sound plan and a solid funding base before developing a business makes sense, but could the ‘lean start-up’ approach be a quicker route to financial viability?

When I was at primary school, my mother seemed to be driving around on very little petrol much of the time. If I pointed out the petrol gauge was in the red, she would simply speed up – “to get home before it runs out” she’d explain.

Yes, pressure – to get home, to meet a deadline, to get a business up and running – can lead to irrational behaviour. But maybe real entrepreneurship means just that – cutting corners and taking risks (with due regard for health and safety) and doing things differently – however irrational and ill-advised it may seem at the time.

Bedford-based social entrepreneur Lynn Serafinn uses the phrase ‘running on fumes’ in an excellent blog post on social enterprise start-ups in which she passionately argues against letting your heart rule your head when it comes to money. But maybe, just maybe, there are benefits to be had from taking my mum’s approach to overcoming a shortage of fuel for the journey? Four thoughts on this subject:

Motivation: We know that in a dangerous situation, our adrenalin kicks in to enable physical feats – jumping clean over a sofa to avoid a violent confrontation was one such achievement for an unfit friend of mine. More general discomfort can also encourage us to go further, faster. I know a couple who built a house in just less than a year while living in a garden shed that was little bigger than the double bed inside it. Their friends decided to do the same thing – but while living in a nice, comfortable warm house. They were struggling to get their house finished many years later.

Real market testing: In his much-praised 2011 book The Lean Start-up, Eric Ries suggests that it’s a good idea to put a product out into the marketplace before it’s fully developed. Getting a product developed for sale at ‘just beyond pro-type stage’ will get more genuine feedback from purchasers than will more theoretical market research. Also, Reis argues, by launching the unfinished article in which you’ve invested relatively less cash and care, you’re more likely to respond to criticisms positively and adapt your product – which is what innovation is all about.

Less padding, more purpose: Without the luxury of unlimited resources, the new enterprise is forced to hone in on essential spending (assuming you have some objective ways of defining ‘essential’) with a keen focus on purpose; what are we trying to achieve? I’m currently watching a national programme of activity evolve through two broad development routes – top-down (the deluxe model) and bottom-up (the lean machine approach). A few years from now I’ll be intrigued to see which route has been the more sustainable and, ultimately, more successful.

Attracting finance: Even when seeking start-up funding, it may be a good strategy to get your business out there before you have all your proverbial ducks in a row. A social lender recently told me “proof works” when pitching for finance. A shining business plan with figures to impress is just that – a plan and a promise – whereas hard evidence, of demand for new real products and services, counts for a lot.

What do you think – is ‘running on fumes’ the way to go fast, or go bust?

References:

Lynn Serafinn’s blog post http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/2013/10/show-me-the-money-thoughts-on-social-enterprise-start-ups

The Lean Start Up by Eris Ries www.hive.co.uk/book/the-lean-startup-how-constant-innovation-creates-radically-successful-businesses/13291794

Funding your social enterprise with or without money www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2014/feb/10/how-to-guide-funding-your-social-enterprise