Posts tagged "Guardian Professional"

Is employee ownership the future for social care?

At a time of increasing need and decreasing revenues, a co-operative model could provide a solution

Serving tea and cake might not seem particularly pioneering but the seven staff with learning difficulties who work at the Cafe in the Park in Herrington Country Park near Sunderland are all genuine pioneers.

The staff work for Sunderland Home Care Associates (SHCA), the ground-breaking employee owned social care business whose executive director and founder Margaret Elliot explains what makes these cafe workers so revolutionary: “Even though the staff only work one day a week so they don’t fall foul of benefit rules, as employees of SHCA they still have a share in the business which makes them the only people with learning difficulties in the UK who have a share in their own company.”

The Cafe In The Park which opened last year in conjunction with the local council is just one of the innovative micro business projects which are now being rolled out by SHCA which in turn has helped to position the north east business on the cutting edge of social care provision in the UK.

The company was founded almost 20 years ago and now has 450 staff with an annual turnover of £5m.

“Our core business is to help older, disabled and vulnerable people remain in their own homes to live as independent a life as possible for as long as possible by providing a personal care service,” says Elliot who was awarded an OBE in 2008.

“I believe that the key to our success lies in our staff,” says Elliot. “If you give people a stake in the business and people are valued and know they are listened to, the outcome is that you will achieve high quality client service.”

As shareholders, staff take part in meetings every other month to set budgets, pay and conditions and are all involved in training and developing training programmes. Though many employees lacked formal education before joining, almost 300 employees have now gained NVQs in Care and Management.

“Staff members play a vital role in the decision-making process because they own a share in the company,” explains Elliot. “That means profits are spent on providing a better service or towards rewarding our staff.”

SCHA is now busily embarking upon an ambitious programme of expansion and diversification in an effort to secure additional revenue streams.

“We didn’t want all to put all our eggs in one local authority tendering basket,” says Elliot.

Consequently the company now provides mentoring support services for students with disabilities at Sunderland colleges as well as working with children with disabilities and providing support for their families.

The success of SCHA led to the launch of Care and Share Associates in 2004, a separate company with the aim of replicating the employee owned model of home care across the country.

Now almost ten years later Care and Share Associates has evolved into six franchised businesses across the north of England with over 400 staff and an annual turnover of £7m.

Dr Guy Turnbull business development director at Care And Share Associates explains that whilst each franchised company is independent, all six companies still share a number of key business services.

“The trick is finding a way of balancing local ownership and autonomy with the economies of scale of big business. Margins have got really squeezed in the social care sector so we need a high volume of hours delivered in order to compete with the private sector,” says Turnbull.

“We’ve centralised our payroll, business development and other strategic business functions to keep our costs as low as possible.”

So what does Turnbull see as the main USP that the employee-owned model can offer?

“Because our employees have a share in the business our staff turnover is much lower than the private sector and overall our business model yields significant benefits on performance,” says Turnbull.

“This is crucial in health care as you aim to have continuity of support as you want to have the same person toileting you every day. Plus as we have no external shareholders we can reinvest our surpluses in staff development and training.”

Turnbull is under no illusion at the potential for growth within the home care sector: “We want to become the John Lewis of the social care sector and become the UK’s leading employee-owned provider of high quality health and social care services.”

With the government planning radical reform of public services to enable entrepreneurial front line staff to form mutual organisations and take over the services they provide, Sunderland Home Care Associates is now firmly on the Whitehall radar.

On a visit to the north east two years ago, minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, signalled his approval of the pioneering approach being taken by Sunderland Home Care Associates: “Sunderland Home Care is a great example of how freeing people from top down control can produce much better services and better value for money for tax payers. I want to see more organisations like this springing up across the country.”

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Posted by admin - May 31, 2013 at 15:04

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Is employee ownership the answer for social care?

At a time of increasing need and decreasing revenues, a co-operative model could provide a solution

Serving tea and cake might not seem particularly pioneering but the seven staff with learning difficulties who work at the Cafe in the Park in Herrington Country Park near Sunderland are all genuine pioneers.

The staff work for Sunderland Home Care Associates (SHCA), the ground-breaking employee owned social care business whose executive director and founder Margaret Elliot explains what makes these cafe workers so revolutionary: “Even though the staff only work one day a week so they don’t fall foul of benefit rules, as employees of SHCA they still have a share in the business which makes them the only people with learning difficulties in the UK who have a share in their own company.”

The Cafe In The Park which opened last year in conjunction with the local council is just one of the innovative micro business projects which are now being rolled out by SHCA which in turn has helped to position the north east business on the cutting edge of social care provision in the UK.

The company was founded almost 20 years ago and now has 450 staff with an annual turnover of £5m.

“Our core business is to help older, disabled and vulnerable people remain in their own homes to live as independent a life as possible for as long as possible by providing a personal care service,” says Elliot who was awarded an OBE in 2008.

“I believe that the key to our success lies in our staff,” says Elliot. “If you give people a stake in the business and people are valued and know they are listened to, the outcome is that you will achieve high quality client service.”

As shareholders, staff take part in meetings every other month to set budgets, pay and conditions and are all involved in training and developing training programmes. Though many employees lacked formal education before joining, almost 300 employees have now gained NVQs in Care and Management.

“Staff members play a vital role in the decision-making process because they own a share in the company,” explains Elliot. “That means profits are spent on providing a better service or towards rewarding our staff.”

SCHA is now busily embarking upon an ambitious programme of expansion and diversification in an effort to secure additional revenue streams.

“We didn’t want all to put all our eggs in one local authority tendering basket,” says Elliot.

Consequently the company now provides mentoring support services for students with disabilities at Sunderland colleges as well as working with children with disabilities and providing support for their families.

The success of SCHA led to the launch of Care and Share Associates in 2004, a separate company with the aim of replicating the employee owned model of home care across the country.

Now almost ten years later Care and Share Associates has evolved into six franchised businesses across the north of England with over 400 staff and an annual turnover of £7m.

Dr Guy Turnbull business development director at Care And Share Associates explains that whilst each franchised company is independent, all six companies still share a number of key business services.

“The trick is finding a way of balancing local ownership and autonomy with the economies of scale of big business. Margins have got really squeezed in the social care sector so we need a high volume of hours delivered in order to compete with the private sector,” says Turnbull.

“We’ve centralised our payroll, business development and other strategic business functions to keep our costs as low as possible.”

So what does Turnbull see as the main USP that the employee-owned model can offer?

“Because our employees have a share in the business our staff turnover is much lower than the private sector and overall our business model yields significant benefits on performance,” says Turnbull.

“This is crucial in health care as you aim to have continuity of support as you want to have the same person toileting you every day. Plus as we have no external shareholders we can reinvest our surpluses in staff development and training.”

Turnbull is under no illusion at the potential for growth within the home care sector: “We want to become the John Lewis of the social care sector and become the UK’s leading employee-owned provider of high quality health and social care services.”

With the government planning radical reform of public services to enable entrepreneurial front line staff to form mutual organisations and take over the services they provide, Sunderland Home Care Associates is now firmly on the Whitehall radar.

On a visit to the north east two years ago, minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, signalled his approval of the pioneering approach being taken by Sunderland Home Care Associates: “Sunderland Home Care is a great example of how freeing people from top down control can produce much better services and better value for money for tax payers. I want to see more organisations like this springing up across the country.”

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To join the Guardian Social Enterprise Network, click here.


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Posted by admin -  at 07:54

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Come fire or high water: how businesses make it back from the brink

What gives small business owners the determination to carry on when disaster strikes? Mark Williams finds out

At 5.30am on a cold February morning earlier this year, Laura Morrow received a phone call telling her of a fire close to her shop, Casa Bebe. The business, which sells Spanish-style baby furniture, accessories and homeware, had only been trading since September 2012.

“My sister’s a midwife and she’d been on duty when she heard about the fire, so she rang me,” Morrow recounts. “I panicked – you know it’s not going to be good news at that hour.”

It wasn’t good news. A huge blaze, requiring the attendance of seven fire crews, had engulfed a pub next to the shop in Paisley, Renfrewshire. It would destroy the pub and adjacent flats, leaving 24 people homeless.

Emergency response

Morrow headed straight to the scene. “Fire crews had cordoned off the area, so I couldn’t get near my shop. Mine was the nearest business to the pub, which was still on fire, but I didn’t know the extent of the damage.

“Some hours later, I was allowed to enter my premises. I was devastated. Water and smoke damage had ruined my stock and shop. The ceiling in the back had completely fallen through and the place was a mess – it was so upsetting.”

Morrow says it was only the thickness of her premises’ gable end wall that prevented the shop from being burned to the ground.

Morrow had to close the shop for a month, while her husband and others carried out repair work. However, she continued to trade online and, crucially, she says, to pay her employee. “Maureen, who works in the shop, is amazing, I couldn’t run my business without her. So, laying her off was the last thing I wanted to do.”

Fighting spirit

Did Morrow ever consider throwing in the towel? “No, although I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh no, what am I going to do?’. Starting the business was a long-held dream and sales had been good. I worked so hard to set it up; I wasn’t going to give in that easily.”

Morrow says the support of local people and business owners was extremely helpful. She also received a loan from her local council, which provided vital working capital to buy stock while the insurance claims went through. “The main delay was waiting for new stock to arrive from Spain, but I’m really proud of the fact the business was back on its feet so quickly. The fire made me realise just how lucky I am to have my business and it’s made me even more determined to succeed. In business you have to be able to deal with setbacks. If you’re not prepared to fight – don’t bother.”

Flood report

When flooding devastated the Cumbrian market town of Cockermouth in November 2009, damage totalled £276.5m. Almost 700 homes and more than 220 business premises were hit, including The Toy Shop in the town centre, which was set up in 1995 and is owned and managed by Jonty Chippendale and his wife Fiona.

“We’d had very heavy rain all morning and flooding seemed likely, but that had happened previously and we’d been OK,” he explains. “I went out for a walk and got soaked, so I nipped home to change. When I returned to the shop, in that short time, the water level had risen significantly. I was amazed at how quick it was happening.”

The Chippendales moved stock to higher shelves within their shop. “We put sandbags in front of the door, and had to keep going because the water just kept rising. At about 2pm we realised if we didn’t get out, we weren’t going to get out. We waded through the water, drove home and then watched events unfolding live on TV, which was surreal.”

Survival instinct

With the floodwater having risen to five feet inside their premises, the Chippendales lost all of their stock, worth some £40,000, and there was extensive damage to the shop’s interior.

“Even when the water level dropped, the police were keeping everyone away from the centre of town,” Chippendale adds. “When we did manage to gain access, we were shocked when we saw the extent of the damage. But, it’s funny, you then become more positive and I thought, ‘we’ll be back’.

“In truth, everything takes longer to sort out than you hope, but in some ways we were more fortunate. Some business owners had been living above their premises, so they’d lost their business and their home.”

Chippendale says he never considered closing down his business. “I rang my insurance company early the day after the flood and they told me I was covered and they’d help me as much as they could. The recovery really did start then.

“Our customers are extremely loyal, and their support also helped us to build the business back up. The flood did make me appreciate my business much more. It also made me realise that you can really be pulled out of your comfort zone when you run your own business. Overcoming such huge obstacles helps you to realise that you’re capable of more than you imagined, which makes you feel even more confident about facing up to future challenges.”

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Posted by admin - May 30, 2013 at 08:21

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Welfare reform: council safeguards against negative health impacts

To improve health and wellbeing amid changes to benefits, Kingston council is holding workshops to give residents advice

The economic downturn and changes to the benefit system will leave some families under a great deal of stress, and affect people’s general wellbeing and health in a number of ways. Local government must ask how it can help mitigate any negative impacts – particularly for those most at risk – and encourage healthier lifestyle choices.

In spite of its relative affluence, Kingston has pockets of deprivation and the more disadvantaged groups tend to suffer poorer health. Kingston’s food bank has reported a sharp rise in the number of people it is helping with emergency food aid, now distributing up to 1.7 tonnes of food a month to clients.

Kingston council has been working with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to deal with the issues around poverty and ill-health. The work has been highlighted by the Institute of Health Equity as one of the first examples of a programme to intervene and help people struggling with financial hardship.

The council and the CAB are running a series of free money management workshops across the borough. We want to help residents take control of their finances and help those in financial difficulties gain the knowledge and confidence to make the most of their limited income.

The sessions are for between 5 and 12 participants, with a targeted audience because we are trying to ensure that those in financial hardship attend the sessions.

The two-hour workshops let people talk about their attitudes to money and identify their financial strengths and weaknesses. We provide information about sources of more affordable credit such as local credit unions, the consequences of not paying bills, and ways to make money go further.

An important part of the sessions is “signposting” so that attendees know who to go to for individual and specific advice regarding their personal financial issues.

We have had people referred to our workshops by a range of different service providers including adult social care, children’s centres, the council’s benefits section and voluntary organisations that support vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

We have liaised with partners who have regular face-to-face contact with the community and in particular our target audience. We also made sure that we published what we were doing widely in doctor’s surgeries, libraries, and community centres. We used the council website and Twitter to get the message out, as well as publications such as housing newsletters.

Those who are taking part in our workshops will develop their personal skills, and if they then take action to improve their financial circumstances then their risk of developing mental health problems will be reduced.

Evidence from a survey by CABs in 2012 found positive results among tenants who attended similar advice clinics, including:

• 78% changed how they managed their money and were on average £10 a week better off as a result;

• 20% changed their saving behaviour in some way, on average saving an extra £11 per week;

• 13% either opened or switched bank account or opened a credit union account.

Most importantly, our initiative has meant that more people know when and where to ask for financial advice to help address problems before they become serious, and that’s a healthy approach.

Jonathan Hildebrand is director of public health at Kingston upon Thames

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Posted by admin - May 29, 2013 at 08:12

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An entrepreneur’s story of setting up a food business from home

Running a business from home has its challenges, but it’s convenient, cheap and a good option for a fledgling company

Where you base yourself is a vital decision for all small business owners. Whether you go straight into office or shop premises, or decide to work from home, there are pros and cons for each option.

I established The Little Smoked Food Company Ltd in 2012, bringing Moorish Smoked Hummus to market in Waitrose and other retailers. I work from home in the Midlands.

With a fledgling company, I wouldn’t deny that a key reason to work from home is financial necessity; but there are other great advantages, like flexibility.

The most obvious plus point is lack of overheads, such as rent. We don’t need to hold stock, as we work with a manufacturer, so technically I only need to find space for my laptop, plus a little extra cooking equipment for new product development purposes. But this does mean there is little separation between my work and home environment. With young children and the accompanying constant noise in the house, that can create its own problems.

It’s possible to offset some domestic costs against the business, such as a proportion of the mortgage and utility bills. I also avoid supplementary costs that come with ‘normal’ work – I have no commuting expenses, avoid daily visits to the coffee shop and pre-packaged lunches. It’s cheaper to raid the fridge – but the ability to do so, all day long, can be a disadvantage!

Aside from cost, gaining extra spare time is the other major plus. I don’t waste it commuting and I can use office dead time, such as being on hold, to multitask and get chores done or put the dinner on. Flexibility is part of this too: I can get things done in the middle of the night if I have to, and my working day is less disrupted by the school run or having to get home for things like deliveries.

My business partner is also a mum and working as we do gives us some control to fit things around family life. We often have complicated discussions in the evening. You have to be disciplined about this though, as it can run the other way. It’s hard to switch off if the notebook beside the bed seeps work thoughts into your mind, just as you’re trying to sleep. And callers might not understand why you can’t talk right now, in a critical child-tantrum moment.

I don’t spend my whole week at home though, since I’m frequently on the road visiting retailers, suppliers and distributors. But I can see how in a different business it could be boring or even lonely. That makes it easy to find distractions, or sometimes they find you: my kids find it very tempting to come and see me (constantly) when they come home from school, if they know I’m in the house.

If you’re worried about giving the right impression, sometimes doing business at home can feel too personal. It’s not always appropriate to invite business contacts into a home office and you wouldn’t want to give out your address in the public domain. We also try to demonstrate that although we’re a young, small, artisan producer, it’s not a ‘cottage industry': retailers need to know we are a serious business that is reliable, consistent and scalable.

And finally, when taking on staff, it can be unappealing not to be able to offer work space, except for a home study. Thinking about my team though, if everyone had to all be in the same office or even the same town, I simply wouldn’t be able to work with the great bunch that I do.

Here are my tips for setting up a small business from home:

• If at all possible, set aside dedicated working space, whether it’s in shed, office or spare bedroom, where important papers won’t get lost. Ideally where you can physically shut the door on work after the day’s hard slog

• Consider a second phone line. Noise-cancelling telephone headsets can also be a great help.

• There are many providers of meeting rooms by the hour; scout around so you have it in mind before you’re asked for an appointment.

• You may also need to set up an internet-based virtual conferencing account. Although you can do this for free, you might choose to pay for better functionality, reliability and something that looks more professional.

• Make clear to other members of the household what your hours are and when work really has to mean work.

• Add daily tasks to your diary in set blocks of time with specific deadlines, with breaks built in – remember, nobody is there to remind you to take a lunch hour.

• My colleague swears by always “dressing for work”, as it helps focus. But pyjama working might be your big working from home plus point!

Julie Waddell is the founder of the Little Smoked Food Company

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Posted by admin - May 27, 2013 at 09:07

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Using the Star technique to shine at job interviews: a how-to guide

Here’s our guide to using the Star technique when answering questions in competency-based job interviews

There are many types of interviews, from the free flowing to the formal, but one that you are likely to come up against at some point is the competency-based interview.

They’re designed to make the job application process as objective as possible, removing any conscious or subconscious bias by the interviewer by asking each candidate the same questions. Some people feel this type of interview is more stilted – there can be less opportunity to build rapport. However, they are very common, especially in large organisations and the public sector, so it’s worth refining your technique.

The questions will be driven by a competency framework that’s required for the job. For example, a marketing executive may require problem-solving skills, or a job in customer services may require conflict management skills.

The interview questions tend to start with a variation of, “Tell me about a time when…” This may sound simple but, in the heat of the interview, it’s easy to give an unstructured answer, miss out key details, or let the story peter to a halt.

One way of avoiding this is by using the Star acronym to structure your response. Here are two examples of how to implement the technique:

A candidate for a marketing executive role might be asked: “Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight timescale.” Here’s how you could structure your response:

Situation – set the context for your story. For example, “We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 30 interested industry players on our new product and Stuart, the guy due to deliver it, got stuck on a train from Birmingham.”

Task – what was required of you. For example, “It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn’t reflect badly on the company and we didn’t waste the opportunity.”

Activity – what you actually did. For example, “I spoke to the event organisers to find out if they could change the running order. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted Susan, another member of the team, who at a push could step in. She agreed to drop what she was doing and head to the event.”

Result – how well the situation played out. For example, “Stuart didn’t make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and Susan’s presentation went well – a bit rough around the edges but it was warmly received. Stuart managed to get there for the last 15 minutes to answer questions. As a result we gained some good contacts, at least two of which we converted into paying clients.”

There are a few things to note with this response: it’s important to speak in specific rather than general terms and quantify your success. In this example, we mentioned 30 delegates, the names of the people involved and quantified two contacts converted to clients. From a listener’s perspective, this makes the story more interesting and they are more able to gauge your success. Nameless figures and undefined successes can make the answer less feel less convincing. Secondly, as there are likely to be many questions and interviewers have short attention spans, it’s important to keep your answers concise: convey the maximum achievement in the minimum time. Finally, it’s important to finish on a positive note so the overall impression is strong.

In a second example, a candidate for a customer services role is asked: “Describe a situation when you had to deliver excellent customer service following a complaint”

Situation: “A customer rang up complaining that they’d waited more than two weeks for a reply from our sales team regarding a product query.”

Task: “I needed to address the client’s immediate query and find out what went wrong in the normal process.”

Activity: “I apologised, got the details and passed them to our head salesperson, who contacted the client within the hour. I investigated why the query hadn’t been answered. I discovered that it was a combination of a wrong mobile number and a generic email address that wasn’t being checked. I let the client know and we offered a goodwill discount on her next order.”

Result: “The client not only continued to order from us but posted a positive customer service tweet.”

Used at its best, the Star structure is invisible to the listener and it simply comes across as a well-articulated example. Create a bank of answers in this format in advance, so don’t struggle to do it on the day and can make it appear as seamless as possible.

Michael Higgins is a career coach at This is My Path and is author of Pit Stop: A Career Workbook for Busy People.

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Posted by admin -  at 09:05

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Why Jelly is good for small businesses

Working from home can be great, but it’s good to interact with other business owners sometimes. That’s where Jelly comes in

Working from home has many advantages but also a number of challenges, among which is the danger of becoming isolated. Working alone in your spare room may make you not only feel lonely and cut-off, but has longer term threats for your own and your business’s potential.

It can lead to “small fish” syndrome, where you feel very insignificant compared to the corporates and larger SMEs you read about on social media, and this can make you go for less exciting work than you are really capable of – at lower rates. And it might mean you stay within your comfort zone and don’t develop your expertise and experience to its real potential.

It’s essential to get out of the home office regularly and mix with other people, for social as well as work reasons. So when I stumbled upon the concept of Jelly on Twitter a few years ago, I was keen to give it a try.

Jelly began in New York in 2006 when two IT freelances were chatting one day about the drawbacks of working from home, and in particular getting sick of the same old four walls and missing the company of other people. They decided to invite some fellow freelances around to their apartment to work together for the day, and Jelly was born. Apparently it’s called Jelly because they were eating jelly beans at the time, in case you were wondering.

Jelly has no organisation, no structure, no hierarchy, no rules. It is simply a good idea, open to anyone who wants to put it into practice. I personally feel that the two main principles of Jelly are that it’s free to attend – although depending on venue there may be a charge for refreshments – and it’s not a place to sell, pitch or talk up your business in any way.

It’s about co-working, which simply means getting together with other home-workers, freelances and small business owners for a day of working alongside each other, chatting and helping each other out. People often bring along homemade cake to share. Jelly has a completely different atmosphere to any other business event I’ve ever been to.

There’s no need to dress up, and nobody has to stand up and speak, so everyone is relaxed right from the start. I’ve been amazed by how open people are about their problems and by the amount of help and support they’ve received from those who attend.

It’s a great place to meet people you’d never otherwise bump into. Jelly attracts people who never go to networking or other business events, either because they don’t feel it suits them or because they do something very specialised and don’t need the contacts.

It’s a brilliant place to get those irritating little IT questions answered – folks in this industry are used to picking up their laptop and working anywhere. Frustrated by Twitter? Not sure how to get that new logo on your website? Someone at Jelly will tell you in a flash.

The events are a place to catch up on local news and find out what’s going on with businesses, council decisions and good old-fashioned gossip. In a nutshell, all those important and juicy details you tend to miss out on when you’re working alone in your home office. So turning up could lead to more opportunities and better decision-making. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of making new friends or of meeting a new supplier, project partner or client.

Sounds interesting? Check out www.uk-jelly.org.uk/find-a-jelly to find your nearest Jelly, or ask on Twitter. If nothing already exists, it’s straightforward to start your own group, and my How to Set Up Your Own Jelly guide has been used by groups all over the world.

No matter how happy you are with your own company – and many of us choose to work from home because that’s how we function best – home-workers still need regular input from the outside world to stay motivated, enthusiastic and on top mental form. Jelly is an easy, relaxed and cost-effective way to get topped up.

Judy Heminsley is the founder of workfromhomewisdom.com, a blog that provides advice and inspiration for home workers, and author of Work from Home. She was a pioneer of Jelly co-working in the UK.

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Posted by admin - May 25, 2013 at 08:30

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Untapped markets are the key to unlocking social enterprise investment

The defence industry is just one example of a valuable market that is national in scale, but local in its reach and impact

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about social investment, and providing the right and appropriate finance for social enterprise is clearly a major issue. But I am always struck by how little talk there is about building the markets for social enterprise. After all, if you’re going to pay your investor back, someone needs to be buying your goods or services. And this isn’t always the public sector: the main source of income for the majority of social enterprises is actually the general public, and an increasing number sell directly to the private sector too. We need to think much more broadly and creatively about who might buy from social enterprises.

For example, when you think of markets for social enterprise and social value, the defence industry isn’t the first place you tend to think of. Beyond the odd article about “green” bullets and the occasional April Fool, it’s always been viewed as off-limits for fairly obvious reasons – if our mission is to change the world, then why should we even engage? Actually though, the UK defence industry plays a crucial role in employment, environmental management, rural communities, and as a buyer of other businesses. And while it is national in scale, it is often very local in its reach and impact.

It was this mix of factors, along with the combination of their appreciation of the social value act and a desire to build social value into their business, which led us to work with Landmarc. The company’s job is to manage the defence training estate for the Ministry of Defence. It’s a significant public sector contract, which involves managing pieces of land as large as Salisbury Plain or Dartmoor, and ensuring they are fit for purpose for use by the armed forces. Managing such large pieces of land also means they are responsible for hundreds of sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), the third biggest amount of woodland after the National Trust and the Forestry Commission, and that they engage daily with a huge number of local communities and other organisations.

These parts of the training estate are often close to some of the most deprived rural areas in the UK, making Landmarc a hugely important local employer and buyer of products and services. And that’s where the market building comes in.

Alongside new initiatives on employing ex-servicemen and rural planning, the business is committing to a couple of interesting initiatives: the first is creating a procurement process which prioritises the local and social wherever possible – opening up market opportunities for local (rural) social enterprises. The second is something they launched this week with the Prince of Wales, called Landmarc 100 – this will provide seed funding to entrepreneurs in the communities they work with to develop and start up new businesses and enterprises themselves.

This is just one example of the untapped markets out there for social enterprise, and we need to work together to identify and access them – whether it is raising awareness further with the general public, training up private sector procurement teams, or informing commissioners about the Social Value Act. All of which comes under the heading of “Buy Social” – that’s what we need to encourage across the board to open up markets. As we are finding even in defence, there are partnerships and opportunities for social enterprises to do more of what they do, and create more social value.

Nick Temple is director of business and enterprise at Social Enterprise UK

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Posted by admin - May 24, 2013 at 08:12

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Live discussion: social enterprise and housing, Wednesday 5 June, 12-1.30pm

Join our experts on 5 June to discuss how social enterprises and housing associations can work together for mutual benefit

In a recent article SEUK‘s director of business, Nick Temple, referred to housing associations as ‘a sleeping giant’ of social enterprise growth. In his piece, Temple said that while housing associations are a ‘powerful lobby, an economic force and a major influence on all kinds of social policy’, other social enterprises were yet to harness their sending powers.

Figures show that 1700 registered housing associations spend £13bn annually – but 69% of housing associations spend less that £50,000 with social enterprises and 60% don’t have a single social enterprise on their preferred suppliers list.

This is despite a report from the National Housing Federation showing that the main aims of housing associations are to create employment for their tenants, deliver wider community benefit and improve service delivery for their tenants. Housing Associations, it should be noted, are themselves a form of social enterprise.

So, why – when housing associations hold these social values – have other social enterprises struggled fight their way into supply chains and seize the opportunities arising in the housing sector?

Join us on Wednesday 5 June to discuss:

• how social enterprises can create stronger relationships with housing associations

• the mutual benefits a partnership can bring

• the reasons why partnerships have been few and far between

Do get in touch if you’d like to be a panellist – email Joe Jervis for more details.

Also, if you’d like to leave a question, please do so in the comments section below, or come back to ask it live – and follow the debate – on Wednesday 5 June, 12 – 1.30pm GMT.

Remember, to be on the panel and participate you need to register as a member of the Guardian Social Enterprise Network, and log in. Click here to register.

Panel to come

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Posted by admin - May 23, 2013 at 08:13

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Co-operative myths: all co-operatives rotate jobs

We start our new series by debunking the idea that all co-op staff have to be able and ready to do all types of work

Whilst working in the co-operative sector, my colleagues and I at Co-operantics have come across a number of common myths about co-opeartives. These myths can lead to misunderstanding and can prevent people from recognising the very real value of the co-operative business model.

One such myth is job rotation – all co-ops rotate jobs, don’t they?

Well, no, some do and some don’t – it’s not a necessary condition for a co-operative. Co-ops organise in many different ways, ranging from full multi-skilling (mostly found in worker coops, owned and controlled by employees) to those which have specific roles and job titles.

However, co-operatives that do organise around multi-skilling enjoy a variety of benefits – as long as it is implemented thoughtfully and as long as the costs are recognised, anticipated and accounted for.

Job rotation as practised in worker co-ops can be more usefully described as multi-skilling, meaning that all co-operative members must be ready to perform a range of tasks, so as when extra hands are required (at certain times of the week for example, or seasonally, or if someone is off sick or on holiday) they are readily available.

Advantages

Apart from the obvious advantage of having those extra hands available, co-operatives that have successfully implemented multi-skilling report improved communications between departments, leading to fewer demands on the personnel department and more variety in the working environment. It also enables the co-operative to cope more effectively with high workloads, so members are fresher and enthusiastic for longer; it allows recuperation from stress and enables the co-operative to use labour and skills more efficiently to cope with the troughs and peaks of business.

Pitfalls

If you are learning a new job, you will not be up to speed for some time, and nor will the person teaching you. This is a cost which needs to be built into budgets and projections. If it is not, the lower productivity implied by people learning on the job can quickly become a drain on the co-operative’s resources.

Another disadvantage is the resentment that can be caused when a trained and qualified worker is recruited for a specific task only to find that he or she is expected to perform tasks they are not experienced in while people who do not have their skills and experience step into their shoes in the job they were recruited for.

I am remembering a new-start co-op veggie restaurant that rotated all their members around all jobs including the kitchen, with the unfortunate result that they lost the two qualified chefs they’d recruited. A major pitfall is to assume that all jobs can be rotated and to undervalue the specialist skills that qualified and trained staff bring to the co-operative.

Suma Wholefoods, based at Elland, near Halifax, have been practising multi-skilling for over 30 years and their 150 employees perform more than one role in the co-operative. They say that this broadens their skills base and gives every member an invaluable insight into the bigger picture. It also helps to play to each member’s different strengths. Suma workers multi-skill, usually between desk and manual work, and contribute to collective management. Drivers often drive for part of the week and work in the warehouse or offices for the remainder. Desk workers are encouraged to do manual work for at least one day per week.

At Unicorn Grocery, in south Manchester, members learn a range of core tasks – working the till, packing, cleaning – and then two, or sometimes three, people are trained up in specialist roles, so there is back-up when needed.

Suma says: “to avoid the chimps tea party approach of everyone trying to grab the best job, it must be agreed democratically and organised co-operatively. You can use regular HR practice such as job analysis to identify what needs to be done, then share the jobs according to skills and desires. That way you won’t be held to ransom by people with rare skills.”

Kate Whittle is an experienced co-operative development worker and a consultant at Co-operantics, a co-operative development body

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Posted by admin - May 22, 2013 at 07:43

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