Today, as part of our continuing series of changing face of social enterprise stories we look at something very different — a very small, very young social enterprise with a brilliantly simple business idea that deserves to succeed.
The government estimates that the market for crafts goods is worth over £400m a year, and that this market has doubled in the past ten years. Making and selling craft items, then, is a substantial sector of the economy. And of course crafting is also immensely pleasurable, with well-documented benefits in terms of personal wellbeing, mood and self-satisfaction.
But I don’t believe we have yet seen a crafting business adopting the Community Interest Company structure and operating as a social enterprise. Until Crafting4Good CIC, that is.
Started by Adele Sweeney and incorporated only in March 2017, Crafting4Good, based in West Yorkshire, is a very small but growing social enterprise with a fascinating story — one that speaks volumes about what motivates people to start social enterprises. But this story is also a little bit different because it also illustrates the relief that some people experience when they eventually discover that trading in order to deliver social benefit is a path that many others have embarked on and that they are not alone.
“I worked for myself for ten years at home while a single parent battling depression, in the days before working from home on the internet was ‘a thing’,” Adele explains. “Creating a website and an online community paid the bills and got me through. A shop selling digital craft downloads grew out of it all and I was inspired by how our customers and members said we made a difference to them, with our convenient creative activities they could download, print and make when they wanted some creative me-time.”
But the decision to become a CIC came from a chance exchange with an accountant. “He said I needed to be more aggressive in getting more money out of our customers,” she says, “but this wasn’t how I worked and I told him it would need a ‘personality change’ if I was to do that. I was more interested in what the customer could get out of crafting than in maximising their ‘spend’.”
She went home feeling pretty fed up and disillusioned. “I thought I shouldn’t be in this game at all. And then I Googled charitable businesses — and discovered a thing called ‘social enterprise’ that I never knew existed, but was exactly where I felt I should be and what I’d essentially been doing. This was such a relief that I almost cried. I wrote about it here.”
I discovered a thing called ‘social enterprise’ that I never knew existed…it was such a relief that I almost cried — Adele Sweeney
But in many ways this was only the beginning. Adele was amongst the finalists applying for places on a School for Social Entrepreneurs programme but was unsuccessful. Eventually, after contacting local councillors she found her way to local support and information agencies and got some help in registering the CIC.
She describes Crafting4Good as follows: “Creativity is good for wellbeing, but sometimes those who could most do with a bit of creativity can’t afford to buy fancy craft supplies or are prevented due to their circumstances. What we’re trying to do is enable ‘Robin Hood creativity’ — getting those who can afford to craft to help those who can’t.” The company does this by supplying crafts resources to individuals, community groups and charities, by working with voluntary and community sector partners to take creative activities into places where they don’t usually happen, and — when resources allow — by providing free craft materials that have been donated to the company.
The CIC sells printable craft products and templates from its online store and uses its surpluses to enable those who are more disadvantaged to get involved in crafting — people in homeless hostels, for example. It is also keen to work with others in the charity, social enterprise and voluntary sectors to enable creative activities in local communities.
The enterprise has to make some difficult decisions, however. “Recently,” Adele explains, “we were funded by a local community centre to have some office space for six months, to ‘get us started’. That first month in our new office revealed a lot. It made me realise that we have to focus more on trading, but it also helped us understand how we could usefully change our plans for outreach and community work. We’re not a charity that’s here to give stuff away and provide help for free because we can’t sustain that. But we do want to enable those in more disadvantaged groups to try craft and creative activities for themselves. We now think that the way forward for us is as a supplier of resources to others in the third sector. After all, many organisations and groups offer craft classes so why reinvent the wheel? We’ll supply ‘the parts’ instead.”
Adele believes that working like this will create lots of opportunities not just to generate sales but also to work in partnership with those who share Crafting4Good’s aims of making crafting and creativity more accessible and more inclusive.
How you can help
If you are interested in what Crafting4Good CIC is trying to do, there are several ways you can help:
» Help Crafting4Good raise its profile: “We need online contributors and volunteers such as blog writers on arts/crafts, mental health, recycling/green issues and how they can all relate to wellbeing and creativity,” Adele says.
» Volunteer social media and SEO skills: “We need people who are able to volunteer their marketing, social media, SEO and eCommerce skills to help us online. It’s far too much for one person and the couple of volunteers we have. It could be so much more!”
» Donate supplies: “Anyone with surplus craft supplies that can be used in a community setting — we would love to receive your donations! We have one company who sends us their end of line stock — this clears their shelves and means they don’t have clearance lines hanging around. If we could get more companies doing this it would be great.”
» Sympathetic suppliers: “We’re also looking for sympathetic suppliers of eco-friendly crafts goods who will supply us on a small order/sale-or-return basis.”
» Corporate sponsors/donors/partners: “We’re also looking for more corporate donors and partners to work alongside — there are loads of opportunities for businesses and organisations to get involved and be seen to be delivering community benefit.”
» Funding: “And of course, funding, to help us get bigger premises to start our mini creative distribution centre would be awesome!” Adele says.
→ Read all our changing face of social enterprise stories