Page 7 - DDN 1403 web

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March 2014 |
| 7
Practice exchange|
Social enterprise
Graham Marshall
shares how
Spitalfields Crypt
Trust’s social
enterprises have
helped service
users build the
confidence to get
back to work
, setting up a painting and decorating social enterprise was something of a
no-brainer. For all sorts of reasons, employment is quite low on the list of priorities for the
majority of people that we work with. Some of that’s down to lack of skills, confidence and
experience – and now, especially in the current economic climate, it’s also due to limited
employment prospects. Learning to paint in a safe and understanding environment seemed
like a good way to change all that.
The seed of the idea actually came from our own service users. I used to ask the guys in
our recovery hostel about our work and how we could improve it. Time after time, I would hear
the same thing: ‘There's not enough to do, Graham.’ Filling the time once the drink or drugs
are gone is one of the hardest things in those early days of recovery. They often used to ask
permission to paint their own bedrooms and the communal rooms, and so it all started.
They came up with the business name YourTime, which for them captured both the fact
that it was both ‘their’ time and ‘their’ opportunity. After the first two years of working on
both paid and voluntary jobs, we pitched our services to our landlord, the Providence Row
Housing Association. Many of their clients were single, homeless people with alcohol and
drug problems – lives we were used to encountering. Providence Row was sympathetic to
our work and highly supportive, and we soon started receiving
regular work from them. They awarded us a contract to decorate
their ‘voids’ – vacated rooms in need of decoration – which was
fantastic, if a steep learning curve.
Buoyed by the impact of using enterprise as a tool for recovery,
we enthusiastically embarked on our second venture, a coffee-
bookshop in the heart of trendy Shoreditch. Our plan for Paper &
Cup was three-fold – make it look, feel and taste like a serious
business and not a charity, support our trainees to the best of our
ability through great training, and when appropriate, provide a route
out of benefits and into work while fostering a culture of care and
fun. We followed this approach not only for business reasons, but
therapeutic ones also. We wanted customers to come into our shop
because they liked it, and then have them discover that we are a
charity. We also wanted recovering service users to feel a sense of
pride and aspiration through working in a first-rate coffee shop.
In our enterprises we want not only to raise people’s expectations,
but to also exceed them. We want to ease them back into working life
by engendering a culture of trust and really help people to begin the
journey away from dependence, into independence.
We have just launched our third foray into the world of social enterprise. Restoration Station,
an upcycling furniture project, is the offspring of our training and development centre, the New
Hanbury Project. Having developed out of our furniture-making classes, we recently opened our
doors onto Shoreditch High Street to greet customers with the tagline, ‘Restoring furniture,
rebuilding lives’. We’ve already sold our products alongside some fantastic designers at the
East London Design Show.
It has been amazing to watch our volunteers’ enthusiasm and passion for the project grow
daily. One of the volunteers recently said, ‘To have strangers come into the shop and say they
love something you’ve made and then buy it is a wonderful feeling. It’s been the best buzz I’ve
had in recovery! I’ve really started to believe in myself. I felt well proud.’
So what have we learned? Well, a lot! It’s been such a worthwhile journey, and one that
I'm glad we’ve taken. We’ve given people a taste of full-time employment, witnessed the
adoption of healthy new behaviour and helped raise self-esteem.
I would offer three main tips to anyone thinking of setting up a social enterprise: go
slowly, ask other entrepreneurs lots of questions and learn from their mistakes.
Don’t be perceived as a cheap or easy option. Avoid promising to do a job any cheaper
than anybody else – unless there is a heavy reliance upon volunteer labour – or the needs of
beneficiaries will be neglected. A successful social enterprise is one that provides its
beneficiaries with great employment and training opportunities, at a cost that is sustainable.
Train, train, and then train some more. At SCT, we have pledged that our social
enterprises will always be characterised by great support. We will provide comprehensive
learning and work experience that will prepare people for a real work environment.
Social enterprises have now become an integral part of our ‘pathway to recovery’ to help
people put their lives back together. The energetic transformations we have witnessed on
our journey have been powerful. There is absolutely no doubt that the sense of achievement
that our trainees and volunteers feel are good for them.
Graham Marshall is CEO of Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT),