City Drive — New Start Stories event: great ideas, determination and an extraordinary personal story

When we trailed last night’s New Start Stories event at Evolve @ The Adam & Eve we said “expect open, frank conversation and stimulating insights”. We were not disappointed. Indeed, one of the stories we heard caused an audible collective gasp from the audience.

Here’s news from City Drive — almost as it happens…

Birmingham Impact Football Club CIC

Zehir Kadra (Photo: courtesy iSE)

Our first speaker was Zehir Kadra, the founder of Birmingham Impact Football Club CIC. Zehir set up this new Community Interest Company after completing iSE’s FUSE programme. His mission was to raise the standard of coaching available to grassroots football — and also to start club activities that would truly reflect the diversity of Birmingham. We previously covered Zehir’s story as part of our changing face of social enterprise series. 

Zehir explained that the early stages of his new CIC presented the greatest challenges — none more so than initially covering his operating costs. Sheer determination — and a huge amount of energy, it must be said — have seen him through and Birmingham Impact FC is growing. There are now 40 to 50 kids a week being coached with up to three sessions a day taking place at two locations, one in Moseley and one in Washwood Heath.

Word of mouth, networking and partnerships and a new marketing push have all been critical in helping the enterprise grow.

As well as raising the standards of grassroots coaching, Zehir also sees sport as a key means of building stronger and more cohesive communities. “As an ex-football scout,” he explained, “I was shocked at the poor quality of some coaching. But I also saw that many clubs were simply not diverse — they don’t reflect the true diversity of the communities they operate in. And so I began to see sport as one of the biggest contributions we could make to helping young people mix and integrate.” This, he feels, is a task that has only grown more important and more urgent in today’s polarised climate.

One of the things that Zehir showed the audience had several people saying, “I am definitely going to copy that!” This was a diversity map of the places and cultures now represented amongst the young people involved in Birmingham Impact FC — you can view it here.

Birmingham Impact FC — news, booking, contact details

Moseley Road Baths CIO

The historic Edwardian Moseley Rd Baths

Then we heard from Karen Leach, the chair of a very different enterprise indeed — the historic Edwardian swimming pool, Moseley Road Baths, in Balsall Heath. We have written at some length about this fascinating case study here.

There are only three Grade II* listed swimming baths in the country still in use for public swimming and Moseley Road Baths, which first opened its doors to the public in 1907, is the oldest. It has been saved as a result of a determined community action campaign and is now operated under license by a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).

The coalition of organisations working together to save the baths includes Friends of Moseley Road Baths, Moseley Road Baths Action Group, Historic England (which has made grant of almost £660,000 for urgent repairs to the roof of the Gala Pool), the National Trust and the World Monuments Fund. Karen talked about the complexities of working with trustees, staff, volunteers and a wide range of stakeholders and heritage interests.

The plan is that in the longer term Moseley Road Baths should be sustainable from the revenues generated from swimming — it is, in Karen’s eyes, first and foremost “a community pool, truly diverse, open to everyone”. Since April 2018, over 4,200 school children have learnt to swim at the baths, almost 10,000 swimmers have used the pool and 40 volunteers have been recruited and trained.

But the great historical significance of the building also presents some important opportunities for the enterprise and it is currently being supported both financially and with business planning and fundraising expertise by key heritage organisations. “The support of these heritage organisations has proven absolutely vital,” Karen says, “because it has freed us up to concentrate on doing the very best job we can of running the pool.”

But as well as being a great asset, the age of the building also presents its own challenges, as Karen explained. “We have learnt from community-run pools elsewhere,” she said, “including Manchester and of course the Castle Pool Community Partnership that took over running Castle Vale baths in 2015.” However, if one compares the more modern Castle Vale pool with Moseley Road Baths some of the problems of operating a unique heritage building are immediately evident. For example, Moseley Road Baths still costs the local authority around £100,000 a year in maintenance, whereas Castle Vale pool has maintenance costs of around £7,000 a year and is already able to meet these costs from revenues.

Karen says that getting the right people around you is essential, as is ensuring that there is an appropriate culture throughout the enterprise that will ensure that all who are able to make a contribution are welcomed and used in the best way. “We’ve worked so hard on this,” she says, “and yet even now every day brings some fresh problem. But being able to take a swim in this fantastic, historic pool, knowing that this is possible because of the efforts we have made is a brilliant feeling.”

Moseley Road Baths — timetables, prices, how to volunteer.

Moseley Road Baths CIO — Annual Report 2018/2019 (just published 20/05/19)

HUB  109, Erdington

HUB 109, Erdington High Street

Sean Alimajstorovic’s new Community Interest Company, HUB 109, has brought a new co-working space to Erdington High Street. We have previously written about HUB 109 here. Incorporated as recently as December 2018, HUB 109’s newly refurbished premises offer cost-effective solutions for local businesses — whether they are seeking shared hot desking space, incubation and start-up support, networking opportunities or permanent tenancies.

Sean knew from personal experience that one of the greatest barriers to new business start-ups is access to affordable premises. “Finding the space to work from, identifying help and advice, accessing professional networks and meeting the right people all present big barriers for new businesses,” he says. “But the single biggest obstacle for start ups is the cost and inflexibility of workspace accommodation — and that’s where HUB 109 comes in.”

It’s still very early days for HUB 109, as Sean acknowledges, but tenancies and subscribers for hot-desking and other services are coming in a little faster than originally anticipated and he is optimistic. When he began HUB 109 Sean knew nothing about social enterprise other than what he had read. “But I felt we should be a CIC,” he says, “because from the outset I saw us having a social purpose. I think we have a role to play in helping to remove the obstacles to business start-up in a deprived part of Birmingham, and I also like to think that we can be part of MEGA — Making Erdington Great Again! Yes, I know — it may not be original, but there is a great little high street here to be saved, regenerated, and I want HUB 109 to be part of that.”

Sean is now busy networking, establishing new partnerships — he has recently confirmed a new partnership with NatWest Bank — and getting the name of HUB 109 in front of as many businesses and local people as possible. “Having the opportunity to be part of events like this is also really important,” he says. “I want us to have a much stronger presence and be more recognised as part of Birmingham’s social enterprise community.”

Find out more: HUB 109 website, send mail or ring 0121 405 4405.

Diamond You and Diamond You Projects

Samantha Browne, Diamond You

And then we heard from Samantha Browne, the founder of Diamond You and Diamond You Projects. Samantha’s story was the most extraordinary — and the most courageous — of the evening and there was no one in the audience who wasn’t moved by what they heard.

Sammy is a qualified success coach, NLP practitioner, public speaker and mental health activist. She left an extremely well-paid job with Amnesty International, where she was a human rights educator, to start her personal business, Diamond You, and has already established a substantial track record in speaking at corporate events and coaching top executives. More recently she has developed Diamond You Projects to take her personal development workshops into schools, prisons, local authorities and other public authorities.

But it is the story that lies behind this enterprise — and Samantha’s frankness in recounting it — that is truly extraordinary. Everything she says and does is founded on the hardest personal experience. 

Samantha explained that she had a troubled childhood and came from a broken home. When she was sixteen a woman she considered her best friend groomed her and recruited her to sex work and the adult industry. When she was 21 the same woman introduced her to a man who for three years trafficked her for sex across England, Ireland and Wales.  You can watch an October 2018 interview with Samantha on BBC news here.

“But my biggest burden,” Samantha says, “became my biggest blessing,” and she is now busy carving out a new career — and a new social enterprise. “My mission,” she says, “is to make a contribution to tackling what I see as two of the biggest epidemics of our time — mental ill health, especially amongst younger people, and the rising tide of human trafficking.”

Samantha is currently developing more services and initiatives that can be taken into schools. “I’m not where I’d like to be in terms of earning a decent living from this work,” she says, “but I know it can be done, and I know it is the most important thing I can do, so I’ll live with any temporary hardship.” She currently continues to work part-time while developing Diamond You and Diamond You Projects.

She told the audience her four tips for success. Take advantage of free events like this — use all the help you can and all the help that’s offered. Network, network, network — she was interviewed by BBC news following a chance meeting with a BBC journalist at an event. Use your circles of influence — her experience of delivering Amnesty International human rights workshops made her used to approaching schools and negotiating access; new workshops for delivery in prisons are being delivered as a result of her direct personal experience of the criminal justice system. Make sure your vision is shared — especially as you expand and take on staff or work with other partners.

It has just been announced that Diamond You won the Digbeth Porridge micro-funding pitch event this morning (Tuesday 9th April 2019). Attendees gave their pitch for a pot of at least £500 given jointly by ART Business Loans and iSE — with the audience deciding the winner. Having heard Samantha speak last night I would frankly have been astonished if she hadn’t won this.

You can contact Samantha Browne through the Diamond You website.

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We would like to thank iSE for organising our New Start Stories event — especially Sarah Crawley for her skilful facilitation, Elizabeth Forrester for publicity and marketing, and Simon Veasey for help on the night. We would also like to thank everyone who came and in particular our four speakers, Zehir Kadra, Karen Leach, Sean Alimajstorovic and Samantha Browne. They are all part of the changing face of social enterprise and you can read more stories like theirs here.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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