Emma Smith, ‘old mother social enterprise’ and Grace Dyke, Northern Power Women ‘One to Watch,’ in conversation with Jon Monk from The Business Group about all things Salford; social enterprise; private, public and third sectors.
Jon Monk: Where do you work?
Emma Smith: I split my time between Age UK Salford and Six Degrees. With Age UK I do stuff around dementia awareness in Salford which can be anything from the boat races that we’ve done on the Quays, with all the dementia support services, through to the work we’ve been doing in schools with Mr Alzheimers, so it’s really varied.
Mr Alzheimers is a really bubbly character but he also has a sad side and the nice thing about it is that we have coproduced the campaign with the schools; it’s been incredible fun and that’s probably the giddier side of my work. I’m also the project manager for Empowered Conversations, for Six Degrees, which I’ve been involved in since I was still at the Angel, that’s across Greater Manchester to take the communication course out to as many family carers as we can along with all the additional stuff that involves.
Grace Dyke: I run a Community Interest Company (CIC) called Yellow Jigsaw and we deliver PR and marketing campaigns for the not-for-profit sector. I’ve been doing that for about four years now. We also do something else which is distracting us quite a bit which is Mediacubs.
We operate as a PR agency like any other but we just happen to be a community interest company. We do probono sessions for young people, volunteers and stuff but it’s limited social impact really; we just spend our time writing about other people’s social impact.
The new project (Mediacubs) is an after school club and we’ve got grant funding to test and develop this club in two schools in Trafford and the idea is to transform the classroom into the newsroom and to engage kids who don’t think they like English who perhaps really like gaming, or really like sport, to use their English skills to write about those things. They all become Mediacubs reporters. We want to test that to see if it’s a licensable, franchisable model.
JM: Why a social enterprise then?
GD: For two reasons. One, because we didn’t think that a private limited company would fit our ideology of having a business that would serve the community, or is taking into account the community that it works in, and we wanted to put a stake in the ground and show we were committed and by making it our company model we were doing that. Also for marketing reasons as well, in that we wanted to work with not-for-profits so we thought we should be a not-for-profit ourselves and that’s why a social enterprise. I started off networking a lot in just normal business networking meetings and though people want to help each other and it’s very positive, when they don’t share that ideology or they don’t even get what you mean by not-for-profit, you feel like you’re out on a limb and what is really powerful about a social enterprise network is there is a lot more collaboration and that shared vision that this is a new and better way of doing business. When I found this world it reinforced that it was definitely the right model to take. They get it straight away.
ES: It’s a bit Goldilocks for me; I tried local authority, that was not for me – I lasted about six months and then had to go to India for a year to get it out of my system, I dabbled with private sector for a while but not much and as soon as I was in social enterprise it just felt like the right place. Where people are passionate about what they do and what they do makes a difference; either at a local, national or international level that was what resonated with me. I need to get up every morning and be excited about where we’re going and make a difference to peoples’ lives otherwise what’s the point?
I initially set up an environmental social enterprise in Manchester. After working there for seven years I wanted to get back into Salford – I lived in Salford but all my effort, energy and enthusiasm was being invested into Manchester and that felt a bit hypocritical so that’s when I started at The Angel, I somehow went from doing yoga there to being a director there, did six years with them and setup the wellbeing garden centre.
JM: Why Salford?
ES: I came to Salford to work for a guy in a wheelchair so I did about a year and a half, 24/7 caring for Stuart and I thought I might stay in Salford and I knew I shouldn’t go home (Cleethorpes) so got a flat on Chapel Street, liked the vibe and it just felt right and then I got an allotment and that was when it felt like I was welcomed into Salford. I like the people, they’re dead hard to work for and work with; they don’t trust you, they do welcome you and when they do trust you they will do anything for you and they are just real.
GD: I’m from Shropshire, I live in Wigan but that’s one of the places we work the least. Professionally the leader of the council was really welcoming and personally I think they’re amazing so it feels like home but Salford has always been a place that’s close to both mine and Kirsty’s hearts because we both worked together for the Alzheimer’s Society across the North West. As far north as Lancashire and as south as Cheshire it was always Salford that was great at partnership working. People just do things here rather than talk about it. I’m a trustee of Salford CVS, so I’m on the board, I have been for a year and that came about because they were in need of a board member with some communication and marketing skills.
JM: How do you explain social enterprise to people who don’t know what it is?
ES: An alternative way to do business. An alternative to the private sector or mainstream, so yes we need to make a surplus. I try not to use not-for-profit because people get confused by that – they think you don’t need to make any money. It was so exciting when the phrase ‘social enterprise’ came along because that was a much better way of describing what we’re doing rather than not-for-profit because greedy people out there would be like ‘well if you’re not-for-profit then come and do this for me for free’. When the CIC came along that was even more exciting because we then had company structures that just said exactly what we were doing.
We think of ourselves as the third sector and I do think we should be proud of that and proud that there is this alternative way to do business. The private sector are great at making it look like they have got massive environmental and social benefit. I bet whenever you see a McDonalds advert you go ‘oh this is a brilliant advert’ and then at the end you’re like ‘aargh it’s McDonald’s, they’ve done it again.’ You know that feeling. So I don’t think we should say we’re in the private sector. It’s an organisation set-up for social and/or environmental good that has to make some profit.
JM: What I like most about the work we do in Salford is it sits somewhere between third sector and private sector and encompasses bits of both…
ES: Yeh, chameleons. But if charities are honest they need to make money.
GD: Sometimes that just isn’t possible when you’re fulfilling a societal need… I wouldn’t say not-for-profit to someone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about and that’s most people who aren’t in our little world. I would say it’s a business that is socially minded and that wants to have a positive impact on people and place.
Whereas you see it as third sector, probably because of where I have come from in terms of wanting to run a business but wanting it to do good, I would see it as a spectrum with business and charity on either side. I see it as closer towards business and it should just be a way that is embraced by more businesses. I think the third sector can hold it back sometimes because I think people lose sight of the fact that they need to trade and to grow. To be successful you need to be commercially minded and that’s what should set social enterprise apart from other third sector organisations. I’m not sure how many organisations think like that.
I don’t think everyone should grow for the sake of it, I’m definitely not in that camp, and have shown that with Yellow Jigsaw but I think that people get lost in the social element which doesn’t help our cause and reputation in the wider economy where people just see us as a charity. We shouldn’t continue to just talk about the good rather than the fact that this is just a lean, efficient, effective way of doing business because it just doesn’t operate in a vacuum from the community in which it works.
JM: What are biggest challenges facing Yellow Jigsaw?
GD: We’re quite fortunate in that the challenges we have are about time management. We have a team of freelancers that support us with our work so the challenge is to maintain Yellow Jigsaw as it is and starting new contracts but trying to focus our efforts on Mediacubs and a franchicsable/licensable model that actually does have growth potential.
That’s a nice challenge to have and it feels quite exciting again, like the innovation and the freedom that grant funding gives you to test ideas is amazing and social enterprises are really lucky that type of funding is available. But it is a challenge; I don’t believe grant funding is something that SEs should rely on. We want to do it to test it to make it a tradable thing, not something that then goes for more grants. I do worry that there is going to be a greater challenge in terms of competition for grants because we are telling people this is the model you should have; go down the social enterprise route.
There are loads of teeny-weeny social enterprises setting-up that are quite similar to each other, so are we just going to be like a massive pool of teeny-weeny orgs that can’t make the next step and have just guzzled up the limited resources that were out there when we could’ve just worked together and made ourselves much bigger? Do you know what I mean? We’re all celebrating people starting social enterprises but let’s work together. I think some people can be so focussed on the issue that they are trying to solve because a lot of people have personal experience of it, so there is a real passion that drives it, that it doesn’t matter who else exists because there is a deep rooted personal motivation to setting this up. Same with charities.
ES: It feels like social finance has been waved over our heads for such a long time now like ‘oh look this is great were going to do social finance’ or ‘you can get this finance’ but I haven’t come across many people that have got it and had it successfully.
JM: I agree. There are very few organisations who deliver social finance well. But it is relatively new…
ES: I got some social finance in 2005 – that was exciting. We bought a composting unit with it and then paid the loan back. That was with Adventure Capital [now Social Investment Business] and it felt like that was the start and then everyone was going to do that but now it feels like a bit… (shrugs).
As a SE in the health & social care sector one of our biggest challenges is that the stuff we do is so longitudinal. No one will back you to say ‘if you do this now then the longitudinal benefit of that will be seen in five years, 10 years because this won’t happen.’ There isn’t that spare cash because the hospitals don’t… it’s not longterm thinking, their business case is actually ‘it’s pretty good for us to have bed blockers because we get more money’, they get paid per bed so what’s the benefit for them to stop people going into hospital?
GD: Which goes back to your point about the role of the public sector; for us there is no point! As a citizen I get the role but as a business, because we don’t directly work with them… if I was more towards the charity side I would see how we could play more of a role with the public sector but because we just trade like a normal business, if you ask any small business they’d probably just talk about rates and stuff but wouldn’t see them as a collaborator.
ES: Well we’re more tied in with the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) and local authority, though that’s getting less so. The local authority just annoys me because if you look historically at what they’ve done in health and social care I’ve just been incredibly frustrated with it, so when they’ve kept a service and developed it and then you have to look at other people offering that service with ten times less resource.
JM: Where do you see yourselves in ten or twenty years’ time?
ES: Still working as I won’t ever be able to retire! Ain’t got no pension. Still in this sector, probably doing something new. I think five/six years is probably enough time – you can’t carry on jumping out of bed excited to go to work.
GD: Agreed. I think that’s an entrepreneurial thing, though maybe I’m wrong. Me and Kirsty are sure that we’ll still be in social enterprise but won’t be doing this because you need a new challenge. We’ll have sold Mediacubs internationally by then!
ES: I would like that we have brought about some massive changes in care for older people in the next 10 years that looks radically different to what we have now.
GD: Are you optimistic about that?
ES: I am. I think there are models out there and I think there are people interested in looking at alternative ways that aren’t just, ‘give up all your life and go and live over here with another 99 people and you’ve got your own room with the name on the door.’ That doesn’t work.
GD: It doesn’t. That’s where I started, in 2010 I did a social care management scheme with a care home company and even back then they were talking about personalisation, they wanted to pool budgets so there could be real change.
JM: There’s a growing movement now around social enterprise, is that a good thing?
GD: I think it’s a good thing if in 10 to 15 years’ time it becomes mainstream. I would love the person walking down the street as a consumer to understand what it means to buy from a social enterprise and a person running a business to understand what it means to run a SE and for everyone just to have a bit more responsibility in the decisions that they make, whether that’s purchasing or selling. I don’t think there’ll be any real impact if we just keep talking to each other. Because that’s what gets a little bit boring; you’re with like-minded people and that’s great but you’re preaching to the converted and you feel like we’re making headway but are we? If I told my partner what we do would he get it?
JM: Are we moving as slow as those who are trying to integrate health and social care?
ES: I think we’re faster because we can test things at a smaller scale.
GD: Agreed. You can go out tomorrow and start a social enterprise, the conversations that are happening in health and social care are beyond people’s control. In terms of setting stuff up. Whether there’s mainstream acceptance of what we’re doing is different.
GD: It’s what you’ve said about staying true to your mission – if growth is enabling you to stay true to your mission then fine, but whether you’re a private business or a social enterprise (possibly even more so if you’re a SE) if you’re getting distracted and moving further away from your mission it’s not going to work.
ES: Cos it’s not in your heart anymore.
GD: No and in theory there isn’t a gap to be met if you’ve setup with a mission to meet some need and you’ve just went off on one for a pot of funding – that’s not sustainable. Unless you’ve solved the need and moved onto the next one.
ES: That’s what we talk about with Ben Andrews, so he’s like ‘if I do my job right I put myself out of business cos I train all these people in the leisure centres to be more aware of other people’s needs and once they’ve all done that then I don’t need to deliver my service anymore.’ But I’m thinking about the point that unless the social enterprises are able to infiltrate and work with the private sector then we never actually change anything cos all we do is just go on about how great we are.
Whenever I speak to Jeremy Nicholls about this, his thing is that we should be going into big multinationals who are doing what we call ‘greenwash’. Because unless we go to them and speak to them about their social value and environmental impact, we won’t succeed. We need to infiltrate them.
GD: We need more than Michael Sheen to do a video to reach the mainstream, though that’s a good start.
ES: I’ve gone off on a tangent in my head around SE and our arrogance because I think there’s loads of what we’d see as private businesses and we just sort of think we’re doing it all but there are businesses out there with a social and environmental conscience but they’re just not a social enterprise. We’re all on the same page with them it’s just that they call themselves private business, we call ourselves a social enterprise, and we probably go ‘well aren’t we great’ so maybe what we should be doing is finding the allies within the private sector.
GD: Those who believe that the community in which they work is important to the success and sustainability of their business. They do exist. So my partner’s business, before it was taken over, was setup by a Wiganer and now it’s massive but has the values of a family run business, like a community business, you can see it by the way it’s run.
ES: So maybe we need to give ourselves a challenge which is to find those allies and work with them. We’ve got to go out and locate those.
GD: And find out what our shared vision is with them because we know what our shared vision is – like social impact and all those words – but with the example of that energy company I was using its actually doing stuff for the people in your area.
ES: There are just so many businesses that need to make that money to exist, but to make that money what they’re actually doing is creating that feeling of community, they’re proud of where they are. If they got a call and Mrs Brown is locked out and she hasn’t got any money they will go and change her locks and I think that’s our challenge which is to work with those businesses in the private sector who are already doing that stuff.