I went to Trafford Hall to a Housing Plus Academy Think Tank, Community Enterprise: Creating Sustainable Communities and they asked me to speak for 5 minutes. These are the notes I used and above is a picture of their garden.
I talked about what Peabody do which is run their community centres through their tenants (co-production). I talked about our Enterprise Hubs working with Clear Village and how we utilise any down time we have to encourage young enterprise by giving them space in our buildings in return for an offer in the community. Then I talked about my experiences from the past.
1. The best ideas are those that capture the mood of the moment, but even if you have the get up and go to lead, you need the right informed, preferably connected support. Opposition is everywhere. Very often it will be from people who can’t bear the fact that you had the idea and not them.
My first Community Development job was with The Children’s Society as Allder Project Manager. I was in my late 20s and thought I could conquer the world. Basically I was told I was to work with women and families, plonked down in an upstairs room of a church building and left to get on with it. I had absolutely no idea where to start. These days I would start with door knocking. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it then. I probably did not have the aplomb, would have been dumbfounded what to say and too shy. It would have felt intrusive.
Instead I started with a market stall and helium balloons. The freebie helium balloons were the child magnet and through that I got talking to the parents. I then had a contact list and we had a discussion event. ‘I’ had migrated to ‘we’ by then as we had recruited a part-time project worker. Viv was a brilliant artist. She used to say she could run an arts workshop from the boot of her car.
I sometimes find it hard to pinpoint why some things become a runaway success and others flounder. The women we had in that initial group were good at recycling and making do and mend. We started a Bring and Buy in the foyer of the local Library and offered teas and coffees. It escalated to two days and within a couple of years had moved in to a shop premises with a launderette and café. I got £17.5k funding from the Tudor Trust and was best mates with a retired Polish builder.
The whole thing caused an absolute furore. The priest at the church did not like it because we were competition to his market day tea and coffee making. The Children’s Society fund raising team did not like it because they had a charity shop about a mile away and felt we were taking income from them. The women involved loved it because the money they gained selling their cast offs was enough to pay for a loaf of bread or a pint of milk when maybe they had nothing.
We just rocked AND we had fun. I would never have held this up as an extremely innovative project. It seemed obvious to me. Instead of offering poor people cheap things through a charity shop, let them control it themselves. Some great people came and helped. I am still friends with Jill who came in as a housewife and ended up running parenting classes and training to be a social worker. She painted the shop sign in her garage. Rags & Roses we called it. It won a Barclays Community Action Award.
There were management issues that make me laugh when I think about them now. We worked with women with mental health issues and while they did have food hygiene training there was the odd moment (in front of customers as it was all open plan) when food would be picked up off the floor and slapped on the plate. Selection of goods put up for sale left something to be desired. We were a collective decision making body so standards were not necessarily mine.
What in hindsight did I do wrong? I didn’t do enough to take people of influence with me. I have made this mistake several times. Possibly I could not have taken some of these people with me because I had had the idea and not them or they just thought it was a stupid idea and wanted it stopped.
I didn’t exploit the publicity I had. I had a lot of interest and I didn’t realise the power of the media then. I thought if I worked beneath the radar my detractors would not be so angry, but in hindsight, positive publicity would have protected me.
It needed a better exit strategy when I left. I was only funded for 5 years. We did a brilliant job of closure with the participant residents, but not for the business, but in reality, looking back, I did not have the decision making power to do that.
I have seen many well run charity shops since then, but nothing that matched its chaotic uniqueness. A couple of months ago I went to my local walk-in Health Centre. On hearing my name, the receptionist, who I did not recognise immediately, said, ‘oh, I used to know a Hazel Durbridge at the Allder project’ and then proceeded to tell me what a great time they had all had at the project, getting invites to the Houses of Parliament etc. It made me feel good inside.
2. While you need to be legal too much emphasis on paperwork before you start is a killer.
After my 5 year contract with The Children’s Society came to an end I went to work at Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust. Housing Action Trusts (HAT) were non-departmental public bodies, set up to redevelop some of the poorest council housing estates in England’s inner-city suburbs. Six Housing Action Trusts were established under the Housing Act 1988.
Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust was rich and used consultants for everything. It was disempowering as staff, but in some ways interesting because I worked with some very interesting minds. While there I developed a business plan for a youth café, but it never got anywhere. They would argue prudence and caution whereas I believe in the ‘have a go’ mentality.
3. Choose something you love and get out and sell before you do anything.Peabody commissioned an organisation called pop up business to run a course down in Thamesmead. This is their mantra. Check them out. They get funding from Housing Associations and then run courses all over England that are open to any local people interested in starting their own business. The last place was Manchester.
4. Sufficient initial full on activity will create a tipping point which then ensures a bedding down and sustainability.EC1 New Deal was one of 39 partnerships across the UK who received £50 million over 10 years to turn a local neighbourhood around. I arrived half way through the programme and they were under-spending and felt to be underperforming. I was part of a team charged with changing the image and pulling together partnerships and projects in double quick time to get the money out the door.
The whole experience took me back to Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust. Like THHAT they had money so we were all on very good salaries, operated from swanky offices with all mod cons and actually had a prize for which operative could produce the most receipts in a month. I had to commission and monitor projects ranging from a £20k one year scheme to 3 year multi agency schemes worth £400k. At any one time I would be working on between 14-21 projects. I also produced a revised employment and enterprise strategy.
I initiated the revival of Whitecross Street Market as a food market while another colleague master- minded the infrastructure. I went round and recruited and supported local people to run market stalls. We had the gurus behind Borough Market co-ordinating the whole thing and creating tipping points was their thing. They brought in food specialists from all over the country and created footfall that has made the market sustainable. It makes me proud to see it today.
I also wrote the bid and initially managed the outreach, advice and guidance project that is still going as Connect. Both these projects won Regeneration and Renewal national awards.
5. Don’t be sniffy about community/social enterprise ‘purity’. Rich people like to do good.I also wanted to mention Robin Norris of Keystone. He owned Keystone Employment Agency at Kings Cross at the time. It is now a hostel. Basically the guy is a millionaire I met at some event and we put together what we felt was a bid for a sustainable EC1 employment agency, but we never got it to jump through all the hoops and get accepted. There was a consultant advisor who didn’t like the business plan, even though she said to me that she had done something similar herself. It was a lost opportunity as Robin had the business acumen to do great things. Very few of those EC1 projects survived beyond the funding period.
6. You will meet amazing, inspiring people who will add value to your experience of life
I have form meeting social entrepreneurs. I sat next to Lord Michael Young at a dinner back when I worked in Tower Hamlets and at the end of the lunch he offered me a place at his school for social entrepreneurs. I couldn’t take it because I couldn’t afford not to earn at the time, but I got a signed copy of ‘Family and Kinship in East London’. He was inspiring.
The Scarman Trust was set up post the Scarman Report in to the Brixton riots of 1981. ‘The Scarman report a shift from a concern about ‘race relations’ to ‘community relations’’. (Wikipedia) The Trust aimed to bring about changes in communities ‘in the way people wanted’.
It was an entrepreneurial organisation in its truest sense, surviving totally on the local credibility of its staff who were all great characters and the two men at its helm who had influence in the highest government circles and were able to bring in thousands of pound of funding. We were the lead intermediary for the New Millennium Volunteers grants. They were called Ray and Matthew, Matthew Pike. He is a man of great intelligence and breeding. I have a lasting memory at a Christmas event of him pulling out his cello and playing exquisitely in the foyer of a London hotel.
There are lots of Matthew Pikes on the web. He is the one that gets all the articles in the Guardian and looks about ten years younger than he really is.
We were a team of Directors covering England and Wales. I was East Anglia. We met every month around the country and I remember these team meetings as intellectually stimulating and energising. Matthew was an inspiration, though long term his management was a bit shaky and he and Ray fell out.
I was going through a very painful divorce at the time, but my saving grace was I managed to create a team around me who were fully functioning and immensely loyal to me. With the ultimate collapse of Scarman 3 years or so later two of them took over the area and set up their own company, Can Do Communities which is still going. Another guy I took on secondment from HM Customs remains a close friend. Matthew continues his entrepreneurial endeavours.
What did I learn from this time? It was the closest I ever came to starting a business. I wanted to combine my interest in travel and set up a small group travel company in developing countries. One of the team had been a financial director in a travel company. We went and did a recky of El Salvador. I had some of the skills necessary, but was unable to pull together the right team that might have made it a possibility. Now organisations like Intrepid run these types of trips all over the world. My only reservation about Intrepid is that as their success builds they are moving away from locally run hotels and building their own accommodation. I think this is mainly because so many travellers are so fussy about things like en suites, but of course they make more profits that way too.
7. There is no avoiding it. You must get your head around social media.
I went to a #DreamActInspire event organised by unltd.org.uk to support young social entrepreneurs aged 16-30. I went with a young man from one of our estates I want to encourage to use one of our centres to run afterschool activities based around football training.
I mention it because just this experience immediately highlights shortfalls in their social media presence.
The first guy I met after a very nice woman on the stairs who did not have a card, was Ed Young from www.whatbarapp.com who just started chatting to me. He has designed an app that advises you about how busy or otherwise local bars are to you, but actually he undersells himself as he is immensely personable. He studied anthropology at uni, then being good at cricket went to Australia with Gloucester to play cricket for 4 years. I think he should have an About Me on his website as one of the pieces of advice I picked up when setting up my blog was not only that you need to have an authentic voice (this guy is erudite – I wish the text on his site was static though instead of jiggy) and that people want to know who they are buying from.
My second inspiration was Siebren who set up Festival Reboot recycling wellies from Glastonbury. He was the first speaker and just touched my heart with his earnestness; ‘I am really lucky to be alive on this planet, among the top 10% in terms of opportunity etc., idealism, ‘make your life spectacular and you will make others’ lives spectacular too’. Do I believe this? Probably. It’s why I enjoyed the night so much.
I tried to find his website, but it was under construction. I wanted to buy things, but all I could find was a facebook page. He is about to do this full time after 4-5 years during which he also picked up a parasite on a trip to Kenya. He is a geek. I admired his constancy.
Whenever I sit with anyone now I first critique their social media presence.
8. Be the living breathing embodiment of what you are selling. Think about how you add value all the time.
It’s about thinking ‘how do I add value?’ with every contact I have in every single day.
I read a book called ‘The science of getting rich’ by Wallace D Wattles and it came to me by clicking on Stuart Ross & Gerard Chris & Merrilee www.lifestylebymyowndesign.com I don’t quite know how I got there. I am always looking at ways of developing my blog and that is tied in with, if I am not always striving and thinking of ways to develop myself, how can I effectively encourage and empower others in the job I do?
Anyway, it’s a bit laboured and religious sounding and was written over 100 years ago and I am just going to focus on a little bit of it. I sent it to my eldest son who wants to be rich and successful and he emailed back after 30 seconds saying it was a load of bo****ks, but it isn’t. You have to read it and concentrate and think about it.
This is the bit I want to focus on
‘And he must do, every day, all that can be done that day, taking care to do each act in a successful manner. He must give to every man a use value in excess of the cash value he receives, so that each transaction makes for more life: and he must so hold the Advancing Thought that the impression of increase will be communicated to all with whom he comes in contact.’
From a developing business perspective, it makes sense because it keeps your profile higher and you are in people’s minds when opportunities arise or they trust your credibility when that email drops in to their box to sell them something.
9. Finally ………………
12 guiding principles in starting your own business – courtesy of pop-up business1. Everything you want in life is waiting for you outside your comfort zone. Your biggest opportunities lie in the biggest problems.
2. Spend as much time building your confidence as you do building your business. Enterprise = confidence + motivation x2 + skills
3. Finished is better than perfect – the time will never be just right
4. Fail fast and fail cheap – it’s the fastest way to learn
5. The success of anything is built on trust – people buy because they know, like, trust
6. The more you give, the more you get. Your energy determines whether you attract or repel people.
7. Sell something to someone #nozerodays
8. Business is about having money, not owing money. Start from sales of profit not debt.
9. It’s all about your focus baby. The most efficient way of doing many things is to do one thing at a time. Lots of ideas is creative. Doing them is entrepreneurial.
10. Start small, make the best of what you have and love it. Enjoy the journey. If you’re not excited about your product your customers won’t be.
11. Keeping customers is cheaper than finding new ones. Treat every customer like they’re your only one.
12. Make the first move. You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you ask for.
They liked my speech! I got tweeted as ‘inspiring’ and Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy and Head of LSE Housing and Communities said that Peabody staff, ‘always shine’.
Trafford Hall is awesome and the food yum all made fresh using vegetables from their garden.
Loved the steak pie and the cooked breakfast. Something I took away and that is in my heart at the moment? Amanda Martin who is a resident inspector at London and Quadrant Housing Trust made the comment, leaders not bullies – we need a pied piper.