Tag Archives: scaling up

Growing your enterprise – Nurture by Nature

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series

New Nurture by Nature logoNurture by Nature are connecting young people with nature and history at their stunning 6-acre site of ancient Norfolk woodland. Hannah Burns, fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, is the inspiration behind the creation of an oasis of tranquillity. Exactly two years on from my first and last visit to Attleborough Wood, I get an update.

I’m surprised to hear Hannah summarise developments over the past two years as “laying the foundations and getting the structure in place.” This seems like an extended gestation period, but then I remember she’s in this for the long term; Nurture by Nature has a 20-year management plan. 

In reality, Hannah’s baby is now an energetic toddler as she explains “we’re trying new things, lots of activities, we’ve got a growing team, we’re working with more schools, we’ve got an office and tool shed [play area] and equipment [toys].”

But importantly, Hannah is clear about the reason she set up Nurture by Nature in the first place. “The ancient woodland is our priority – we’re here to take care of it as guardians and advocates. We’re trying to educate the next generation; make them more mindful about minimising their environmental impact.”  

The fresh air and exercise is obviously working well for the three staff members, four directors, and up to 15 volunteers. There is now talk of ‘scaling-up’ – hopefully with further support from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London.

Hannah B - Nurture by NatureFor Hannah this is also about recognising her limits “admitting I’m not an expert in everything”, letting go “we’ve now got a strong team”, and bringing in outside help “we’ve had external marketing support to develop our public image”.

The painful pregnancy and birth that seem to accompany many, if not all, social enterprise start-ups are reflected in Hannah’s advice to other would-be entrepreneurs. “Don’t give up – it’s about your head and heart. I’ve been tired and tearful, had sleepless nights about taking risks, some months I’ve been unable to pay myself, and it can be lonely. But the change in the last year has been amazing. I’ve got supportive directors, each with specific expertise and, as staff, we care for each other.”

Another characteristics of people like Hannah is that they have too many ideas for the time available – mindfulness courses and weekend retreats being just two. Funding permitting, the next ‘big thing’ is a visitor centre, regular opening hours, and more work with schools.

“Think future, act now” could be Hannah’s mantra as she, no longer alone, continues to grow young people and ancient woodland in rural Norfolk.    

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/freedom-to-think-outside-no-box-required (Nurture by Nature, November 2013)

Find out more about Nurture by Nature  www.nurturebynatureforestschool.co.uk www.facebook.com/NurtureBNature www.twitter.com/nbnforestschool

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

The numbers game

???????????????????????????????I’m a big fan of parkrun – the weekly 5K run (not a race…) enjoyed across the UK every Saturday at 9am by over 50,000 runners of all ages and abilities.

My first parkrun was in May 2013 and I’ve since led two parkrun teams in raising awareness and funds for Movember, run at five courses, and spent 9 months trying (unsuccessfully) to set up a parkrun in my home town. I enjoy marshalling at some of the runs (along with over 5,000 others volunteers) almost as much as the running. What I was told when I started –“it’s not about the running, it’s about the community” – is absolutely true for me and, I believe, a vast number of other parkrunners.

Looking only at the numbers is one way of measuring whether parkrun is successful. The organisers have an amazing array of statistics – compiled and updated weekly by the individual parkruns and available for all to see. The stats paint an impressive picture and the organisers and sponsors are rightly praised for mobilising so many people to take exercise on a regular basis. Note the parkrun seeds were sown 10 years ago – long before the 2012 Olympics. For me, the personal stories from members of the parkrunners’ community are an equally powerful testimony to the importance of the parkrun phenomenon.

But now parkrun is facing a problem of its own success – the number of people wanting to get involved is causing concern about wear and tear on routes, pressure on facilities such as parking and toilets and, in some cases, is bringing runners into conflict with other users of the public spaces. I also sense that over about 150 runners, the special dynamic of the community changes, but this is just a gut feeling.

The parkrun UK strategy for dealing with the spectacular increase in interest seems to be to create many more parkruns – having ten by this time next year is the aspiration for my home county (where we currently have three). In theory, each would attract smaller numbers of runners, travelling shorter distances to get there, and reducing pressure on any one location.

It’s not just parkrun that has to address issues around growth. In the field of social enterprise, there’s an ongoing debate about how best to scale (up) successful producers and providers. The trick is to balance the often conflicting demands associated with addressing ever-growing unmet need cost-effectively while protecting the very thing that makes social enterprise so special; the closeness to customers, connection with the wider community and a sense of shared ownership within the enterprise itself.

It’s the age-old debate about appropriate scale, quality vs quantity of (jargon alert!) outputs and outcomes, and about the breadth and depth of provision. Those concerned about the development and growth of social enterprise, interested in scaling up to make enough difference to enough people’s lives to be taken seriously by mainstream naysayers, might do well to look to the runners in their local parks for some of the answers.

More about parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk

Enterprise essential – collaborate to compete

In the social economy, successful collaboration is as likely to sustain your enterprise in difficult times as is successful competition. Partnerships and consortia are a growing trend for bidding or contracts. But don’t over-estimate the potential savings from scaling-up your enterprise – particularly when you are selling services rather than products.


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.