Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

06 December 2021

Introducing Fiona Wedderburn-Graham and Jennifer McLean, the co-directors of Amaze Associates

Amaze Associates, founded by Fiona Wedderburn-Graham and Jennifer McLean, is a transformational coaching company that empowers individuals and  businesses to achieve their goals and to navigate work and life challenges. We spoke to Fiona and Jennifer to find out more about their business and experience with the Start-ups in London Libraries programme.

Amaze Associates

'Our coaching provides clients with a safe and confidential space in which to explore the issue at hand; discover potential solutions and to develop a growth mindset so they are confident to take action and move forward. We are their cheerleaders, however we also challenge as well as support our clients to understand that they have the power to make the choices that will lead them to achieve the results they want; whether that is for their business, career or life. 

Our business idea had been marinating for a long time. Both of us were really fortunate to have received the most dynamic personal and professional development from amazing mentors and coaches throughout our careers.  This really influenced our leadership styles and led us to coaching staff and leaders inside and external to our organisations.  We always said we would go into business together, but never knew when; given that we were both busy     working in very demanding jobs.  When Covid hit we could see that a coaching service would be of real benefit to others;  because of the emerging impact on job security, well-being and the just the sheer force of unrelenting change. So the spark was lit and it was time to make a start.   

Why did you want to start up a business? 

To be honest it has always been a dream of ours and that sounds very cliche. We had both spent years contributing to someone else’s business, vision or mission and whilst we learnt a lot we wanted to be the CEO’s of our own, articulating our vision, deciding on how we wanted to work and to provide a coaching service where people would feel listened to and inspired to take action.  We are driven by our deep belief in the power of coaching and   mentoring to transform and help someone's performance at work, success in a new role, develop resilience, manage change, become a better leader and shed imposter syndrome.  Another element that drives us is working with people, particularly women some of whom have reported that they did not feel seen or heard in the workplace and often-times in wider society; leaving them feeling invisible. Lockdown was a bit like the quiet before the storm. We could see that the pandemic was having a negative impact on the confidence levels of individuals and business. We’re not valiant doctors, nurses or carers but we were not going to just sit there and not help in the best way we knew how.

How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?

Although we are seasoned professionals we wanted to refresh our business skills, so that we took the right steps that would help us to position ourselves for success. The SiLL project helped us do just that through the fantastic workshops it offers.

The workshops SiLL provides were great, particularly the get ready for business, marketing and finance workshops. SiLL also provided excellent networking opportunities.

However the most helpful were the 121’s with our SME Champion (Mark Berbeck). Our 121’s helped us to consolidate the learning and gave us more business insight. Our champion connected us with other businesses, funding sources and helped us to think about how to scale the business. What came across quite strongly was our Champion's belief in our business and our capacity to do well.

Can you tell us a bit about business community that is developing as a part of SiLL

As a business we have connected with the library's Instagram and the SiLL group on Facebook. This has produced opportunities for networking and potential collaboration.

What was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your business/plans to start up a business?

We started our business in during the COVID-19 pandemic; but we weren’t hugely impacted like other businesses. However, we did slow our wider plans until lockdown lifted. This gave us a chance to continue to shape the business and create a website. We also reviewed the needs of our clients, so we could align this with our coaching offer, plus we moved our coaching sessions online, temporarily halting all face to face coaching. Because we saw this as an opportunity to help we also delivered several webinars; our first was on the subject of the impact of Covid; which was well attended and provided an opportunity for people to share what they were experiencing and to feel supported.

What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?

Our advice would be to firstly work out what you want to do and the problem you’re going to be solving with your business idea. Plan, do your research, get skilled up on how to run and market your business to give yourself the best chance of success. Understand your service or product. Find your niche; you can always add new elements later. Know your worth by pricing appropriately. Finally, you need staying power and a dash of passion for what you do. Remember even if you fail, that doesn’t signal the end, you can learn from the experience and begin again, so throw your hat in the ring; because you’ll never know if you don’t try. If you’re struggling and require some coaching Amaze Associates are here to help.

What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?

We have learnt the importance of visibility; scary as it seems we understood that if people were going to find out about your business and become clients; we had to put ourselves out there. In addition, feedback is healthy. We may not like hearing it, but if you take the emotion out of any negative feedback and use it to improve your  business; the results will surprise you. Doing your due diligence pays off.  Don’t waste time comparing your business to another as this can disable you, its important to stay focused and have confidence in what you do. Know when is a deal is not a deal. We are always willing to review what we have done and celebrate our achievements no matter how small. Getting paid on time can be a challenge but it pays to have clear payment terms and a process for chasing unpaid invoices.    

What would you say to anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop/talk to their local SME Champion?

There is something incredibly rewarding about creating a business from scratch and being central to its growth. So just sign up. We realise that if you haven’t fully formulated your business idea or you’ve just started up, you may feel a bit fearful. But you’ll be in good hands with the SiLL team and in the same room as people who are in a similar position. The workshops provide a solid learning platform on which to build your business. Plus you can have one-to-one sessions with one of the brilliant SME champions. Your SME champion will be your cheerleader and critical friend.

The SiLL Project acts as an anchor and stops you feeling buffeted around, pointing you in the right direction with great workshops that are delivered in a motivational and fun way.'

 

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.

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08 November 2021

Meet the sustainable speakers of Start-up Day 2021

With Start-up Day 2021 just around the corner, we wanted to introduce you to some of the eco-conscious entrepreneurs taking part! 

This year, we’re focusing on the importance of sustainability in business. We believe sustainable businesses play a significant role in encouraging more sustainable behaviour. Through collaboration with consumers and government businesses and their owners will help accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis and make a positive impact in society. 

Natasha Steele, founder of Urban cordial

Natasha Steele

Bored of working in the city, Natasha started to forage for ingredients in her allotment and turn them into cordials. To let the fruits’ true flavour shine, she used very little sugar and soon perfected her recipes. It wasn’t long until she found herself selling them at her local farmers market and demand grew. Over a third of global food does not reach our plates, often because of the appearance of the item, even though it is perfectly safe to eat. Natasha, being aware of this issue, contacted local farms to source their surplus food produce and to date, Urban Cordial has helped to save over 100 tonnes of fruit from landfill. Urban Cordial’s production process is also zero waste with all fruit pulp going to the local farms to become animal feed.

Jane Riddiford, co-founder of Global Generation

Jane Riddiford

Jane co-founded Global Generation in 2004. She has more than 30 years of experience in delivering environmental, arts and vocational training projects in New Zealand and the UK.

She managed a City Farm for Framework Trust and developed an Inner City Forest in Auckland New Zealand as a learning resource for the Dept of Education, set up and ran an NVQ Horticulture programme for Camden Job Train and co-ordinated Camden's Environmental Education Network. She also managed Rise Phoenix, a community arts organisation that worked with children and young people in the war torn areas of the Balkans, in Tanzania and in London. Her interest in young people and projects that bring different parts of the community together has been a consistent thread throughout her working life. Her love of the outdoors began as a child growing up on a farm in New Zealand.

In 2016 she was awarded a Dprof in Organisational Change from Middlesex University and Ashridge Business School. Through an action research approach her inquiry drew on experiences within Global Generation and focussed on how the living story of ecology and the wider cosmos can support collaborative approaches to leadership within an organisation. Jane invites engagement with the rhythms and patterns of nature through a combination of storytelling, hands on and reflective experiences.

Sheila Akinlabi, founder of CocoBean Giftbox

Sheila Akinlabi

Sheila Akinlabi is the founder of CocoBean Giftbox, a themed subscription box aimed at multi-faceted, diverse and consumer conscious women who enjoy discovering new brands and products. CocoBean giftbox combines well-established lines with exciting and emerging black owned brands. Catering mainly to a female audience, the brand supports women-led initiatives and products, particularly ones founded from women of black and ethnic minority heritage.

CocoBean has worked with corporations such as Spotify and Warner Music to supply luxury gift boxes for their workforce. The company continues to be committed to championing Black owned businesses whilst working with established brands and curating high end gift boxes which are truly diverse.

Khalia Ismain, co-founder of Jamii

Khalia Ismain

Khalia Ismain is the co-founder of Jamii, an online marketplace and discovery platform for black creators and makers in the UK. Launched in 2016, Jamii is home to more than 250 makers and has organically grown a community of more than 38,000 people keen to align their purchase with purpose. Named as one of HSBC's Top 25 Black Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2021, she is on a mission to make shopping with community-owned businesses as easy as possible. Khalia is also a member of the Lloyd's Bank Black Business Advisory Committee and a mentor on the Virgin Start Up programme.

Tonisha Tagoe, founder and CEO at Apples and Pears Holdings

Tonisha Tagoe

Tonisha Tagoe is a certified business development strategist, enterprise educator and the CEO of Apples & Pears. She leads a team of talented individuals tasked with helping people of all nations to expand, scale and make their businesses sustainable. Having achieved a global reach, Tonisha has helped to transform the lives and careers of entrepreneurs from all walks of life. Carrying almost fifteen years of industry experience, she is bursting with knowledge and techniques for building a successful company from the ground up, and is now bringing her expertise to you.

BIPC Glasgow

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Supporting entrepreneurs and innovators from that first spark of inspiration to successfully launching and growing a business. Whether you’re looking to start, grow or run a business, Business & IP Centre Glasgow, based in The Mitchell Library can help.

They have trained staff to assist with one-to-one sessions and workshops on a range of topics including business planning, marketing and intellectual property. They also host regular talks and events delivered by our partners.

Business & IP Centre Glasgow is being developed in collaboration with the National Library of Scotland.

 

To explore more about our speakers and enjoy a day of free talks and practical advice sessions designed to get your business idea off to a flying start, register your place here. It’s free to join and open to everyone. And for over a year, it has been fully available online.

04 November 2021

Sustainability in business

With 61% of Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer respondents saying they were meal planning to prevent food waste and 58% are buying fewer clothes, sustainability and going green are at the top of people’s agendas. Inventors and entrepreneurs around the world are finding new, innovative, environmentally friendly ways to do things and help nurture our planet. This year’s Start-up Day will feature more than 45 speakers who have sustainability at the heart of what they do, all available to watch online, wherever you are and for free. Until then, let’s hear from some of our other BIPs, that’s bright and inspiring people to you and me, who have led the eco revolution.

From initial purchases, processes, marketing and right down to their uniform, Becca and Charlotte are making sure that running a business doesn’t have to cost the earth. The two co-founded North Sky Yurts, based in Yorkshire, which offers a unique venue for weddings, parties, or corporate events, surrounded by nature.

For Becca, having a sustainable business has always been important, ‘for years I’d dreamed of owning my own business. I knew I wanted it to be in glamping, be outdoors, and be something that also contributed something good to the world.’ They do this by planting a tree for every booking and the tent furnishings used are sourced responsibly or second hand where possible. 

Attending events and one-to-ones at the Business & IP Centre Leeds helped Becca and Charlotte with their marketing, writing a business plan and access funding. ‘The free advice was so valuable, and it was so great to meet other people wanting to start businesses. It also gave me the confidence that I had a credible idea and could do something with it. Having like-minded people and cheerleaders around your business is vital and working with other small businesses to recommend each other will really help your business along. Make sure you talk about your business in every conversation you have, you never know who that person might know that could help grow your business.’

Becca and Charlotte, Co-founders of North Sky Yurts. Photo by Elly Ball
Becca and Charlotte, Co-founders of North Sky Yurts. Photo by Elly Ball

Another business, who took part in our Innovating for Growth: Scale-up programme earlier in the year, wanted to change an industry from the inside. Amarachi who founded Lucocoa in 2015, after teaching herself how to make chocolate in her home, learned that the bean-to-bar quality chocolate could be much better than that available in the mass market, even than perceived luxury brands.

‘I started Lucocoa Chocolate to change how unsustainable the chocolate industry is. Chocolate is one of those things that we eat so much of and know little about – dark chocolate isn’t supposed to be bitter, milk chocolate isn’t supposed to be that sweet and white chocolate is actually chocolate.
Amarachi Clarke, Founder of Lucocoa Chocolate

Large chocolate companies exploit cocoa farmers, resulting in serious consequences. Farmers are unable to invest in technology or equipment to help them grow the best beans or meet the corporation's demands. This can lead to them to exploiting their workers and using child or slave labour. It is important that farmers are paid a fair price to help stop these harmful practices and it is our commitment to do that.’

Since 2015, Amarachi has rapidly driven the business to production capacity, having secured keystone customers and thriving online sales. ‘Innovating for Growth has been so useful to me, I have spent a long time trying to work out answers to certain questions alone and this course gave me access to experts that could answer the questions I had and give ideas on how to scale the business.’

Lucocoa Chocolate

If you live locally to Southwark, you may recognise our next business, Bottle Farm, who took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme. With everyone spending more time inside their houses over the last two years, Bottle Farm is now more relevant than ever. Co-founders Charlie Francis, Daniel Taylor and Emil Schneider, really put sustainability at the heart of their business, they manufacture in the UK and offset 100% of their carbon footprint by funding forestry and decarbonisation projects. In addition to this, the Bottle Farm kit is made from over 95% recycled material. The Bottle Stands and Grow Baskets are made using waste material from the factory floor.

'We are the kit that turns any used plastic bottle into a beautiful indoor farm. Grow delicious vegetables, fresh herbs and even houseplants on your window. Good for you, good for the planet.

The Start-ups in London Libraries programme has been really useful for us. Dean's specialised crowdfunding expertise was invaluable when we were developing a plan for our Kickstarter campaign. Some of the strategies he suggested were hugely effective. The marketing workshops were also great.'

With help from Dean, the SiLL Business Champion for Southwark, Bottle Farm were able to raise £30,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, so keep an eye out for big things coming from them.

Bottle Farm

If you want to find out more about how you can be eco-concious in your business decisions from the start, join us for our biggest free event of the year, Start-up Day. You can also access Mintel reports and over £5m worth of other online resources for free at BIPCs around the UK. Turn your brilliant idea into a business.

Start-up Day is in partnership with Santander

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15 October 2021

How Do We Sell Sustainability to Consumers?

In 1969, John Lennon said, “we’re trying to sell peace, like a product…like people sell soap or soft drinks”. That same approach is needed today to sell sustainable goods and services and we need data to help us figure out how to get them to resonate with people.

Some of the most popular sustainable behaviours according to Mintel’s research are driven by frugality, led by meal planning to avoid wasting food (61%) and buying fewer new clothes (58%). The sustainable consumer groups we have identified are more likely to agree with the statement ‘I have a budget that I try to stick to as much as possible’. It is this ‘return on investment’ mentality we need to appeal to when pushing solar panels and EVs, not just environmentalism.

Sustainable products and services should also appeal to people’s sense of well being and self-preservation. A sharp indication of just how seriously UK consumers are taking climate change and pollution is shown by the proportions interested in buying air conditioning (30%) or air purifiers (32%) to make their homes cleaner and safer. Health also informs the growth in greener transport behaviours seen this past year and those who have walked (45%) or cycled (17%) more often. 

Sustainably-minded consumers have stronger peacock tendencies, being more likely to agree with the statement ‘I like to stand out from the crowd’. Refurbished tech reseller Back Market appeals strongly to these values, addressing the growing problem of e-waste by selling products 70% below their new price, all delivered in a Freedom campaign that celebrates being ‘different’ from the sheep who line up en masse to pay more for the latest phone.

iPhone advert by Back Market, with the campaign tagline "Buy Different."

There’s still time to make a personal difference

The good news is that a small majority (54%) still believe we have time for redemption, and slightly more (56%) believe that their personal actions can make the difference. For brands, the opportunity here is to become the chosen partners of those consumers looking to make a difference. The challenge thereafter is for brands to maintain that relationship by proving what difference they’ve made and reporting back on that impact. So how can they do this?

Bar chart showing consumers' sense of optimism and impact in the UK - 54% believe we still have time to save the planet and 56% believe their personal behaviour can make an impact

1. Don’t cross consumers’ ‘red lines’

When asked to choose their top five considerations when purchasing coffee, socks or soap, consumers typically select two or more sustainable features, but they won’t sacrifice product quality, efficacy or brand familiarity for sustainability. We should never forget that a sustainable coffee must first and foremost deliver pleasure, taste and quality before anything else. These rules apply to packaging too: its primary role is to protect the product within to ensure that the energy and other resources that went into its production are not wasted. Their footprint will be much higher than that of the packaging itself. Patagonia is one of the very few brands to have had the courage to explain its reasons for using plastic in these terms.   

Mintel barometer showing most important factors when choosing one at home coffee product over another.

2. Educate on and disclose impacts

Consumers are fixated on ocean plastic (62% say it’s a top three environmental concern) yet even accounting for its production using fossil fuels, its incineration and disposal it generates less than 4% of annual GHG emissions. More consumers prioritise ocean plastic than a loss of biodiversity in the oceans as a concern, but Sea Shepherd’s revelation that 46% of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually fishing nets, confirms that fishing and food have a far greater impact than packaging when it comes to damaging the ocean and the role of its biomass in storing carbon. It’s the duty of brands to be transparent on their business’s biggest areas of impact when it comes to releasing carbon or methane. 

3. Offer tangible, local solutions

When it comes to accepting the reality of climate change, it’s a case of ‘seeing is believing’, with national levels of concern around climate change grounded in what people experience in their own countries. The visibility of ocean plastic is one of the reasons why it resonates so highly and this element of tangibility will also be key in whether people engage on issues. This may hardly seem an earth-shattering insight, but it signifies the importance of tangibility and localism when it comes to delivering sustainable solutions, confirmed in characterisation studies showing ‘sustainably-minded consumers’ to be distinguished by the high emphasis they place on values like ‘community’ and ‘localism’. This means that corporate initiatives – wherever possible – must deliver local visible benefits like cleaner local air from brands using EVs or investing in urban tree planting schemes.

Mintel Sustainability Barometer showing consumers' attitudes towards climate change. 51% in the UK are concerned about climate change and 42% believe that the UK is suffering from climate change

4. Sell in the science

Just 45% of UK consumers agree that “science can provide solutions to the climate crisis”, which is pretty disappointing when we consider how intrinsic available technologies (solar panels, batteries, fuel cells, hydroponics) and those still in development (carbon capture, climate engineering, zero-carbon manufacturing materials, chemical recycling and lab-grown foods) are to us achieving emissions reductions. The pandemic has afforded us a zeitgeist moment to seize upon the speedy and spectacular successes in RNA vaccine development and trust in science needs to be built up by brands to help us achieve progress to net zero. Brands need to be brave enough to explain the benefits of science and synthetics instead of taking the easy option of celebrating ‘natural’ for all of its’ supposed purity. Palm oil, beef and coal are all “natural” resources, but they are finite and threatened and release GHGs in their production.

Mintel Sustainability Barometer showing percentage of consumers agreeing that science can provide solutions to the climate crisis. Only 45% of people in the UK believe this compared to the lowest 25% in Japan and highest 58% in Canada and China.

5. Use clear metrics and language

What will convince consumers to purchase products that claim to have environmental or social benefits? 

To build belief in science and to convert potential into actual purchases, companies need to offer a new sustainability lexicon and use simple data and metrics that consumers can understand. Some 44% of UK consumers want labelling that shows a product’s environmental impact and 40% want this communicated in terms they can understand (eg litres of water used or km travelled). Mondra has developed colour-coded on pack “eco scores” that will go on trial in the UK this autumn and go some way to meeting that need.

Naked Bacon packaging with colour coded packaging on "eco-score"

Richard Cope is a Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel and author of the Sustainability Barometer. Join Richard at our Start Up Day 2021 event on 11th November. He'll be hosting a session on understanding sustainability trends in the UK right now - an unmissable and informative event for all small businesses wanting to start up sustainably. 

13 October 2021

Turn your brilliant idea into a business

Our annual flagship event, Start-up Day is back again. Our free day of online panel discussions, talks and training is back on Thursday 11 November and will feature more than 50 speakers all helping aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to not only start-up, but start-up sustainably.

Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people attend our events both online and in person around the UK. We’re catching up with some to hear what they’ve done since joining us.

Sara-Jayne Slocombe attended BIPC Manchester’s Start-up Day in 2019 and was self-employed supporting other businesses with their annual reports and admin. This then developed into project work and Amethyst Raccoon was born. Hearing from other people who had been in her shoes, who were now the ones giving the talks was one element of the day Sara-Jayne connected with.

‘The biggest takeaway from Start-up Day was appreciating how much and what is involved in starting up a service-based business, and learning that it is completely do-able and can be dealt with in bite-sized chunks.’

Since October 2019, Sara-Jayne’s business has gone from strength to strength, despite the pandemic. ‘If anything, I’ve had more business. For me, the main effect was being flexible with payments to support clients who had been impacted by Covid. Looking ahead, I hope to pick up more clients, finish my booking keeping qualification and connect with industry leaders.’

Speaking to those who are thinking about starting their own business, Sara-Jayne says, "Get really clear on what you want to do, why you want to do it, and who you want to do it for."

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Norwich-based magician, David Fung, started his business with the help of BIPC Norfolk in 2018. ‘I first attended Start-up Day and gained many tools and much knowledge near the beginning of my journey. I later signed up for an accounting one-to-one session, which answered many of my questions and put my mind at rest.’

Start-up Day helped David get more knowledge and understanding of the ‘business fundamentals – there’s so much to learn if you’ve never done this before. In addition, the BIPC has given support in local networking and increasing publicity, and are really accessible if I have questions or need other support.’

David’s advice for others looking to start their own business, “Plan first, then just do it. You can learn by doing. I remember attending Start-up Day and asking a business mentor “What’s the next step after this workshop? Is there a part two?” and she replied “The next step is to do it. Start your business.” Take small steps; before you know it, you’ll be running a business.’

Start-up Day can also provide networking opportunities and allow people to share their skills to support other entrepreneurs. Northamptonshire-based business, Clock and Compass Coaching, founder by Daniel O’Connor, made many connections during BIPC Northamptonshire’s Start-up Day in 2019. ‘One of the people I met went on to design my logo and website, I met the person who runs local networking events and from a workshop on copywriting, I then used that copywriter for my website. There was one other person there I met through networking on the day who became my mentor for a year. Lots of great workshops and lots of great connections which have led on to helping me really boost my business.’

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Jessica Runyard, founder of Runyard Editorial Services, studied English Literature at university as she knew she wanted to go into the editorial world. However, living in Devon meant the opportunities were few and far between.  She set up freelance and is helping self-publishing authors. Jessica also worked with businesses, helping with their websites. She offers a wide range of services around editing for the local area as well as being a freelancer where she has also worked with people overseas.

Jessica attended BIPC Devon's Start-up Day and found the discussions about networking very helpful, the importance of networking but not over networking. Jessica feels like if she could’ve networked more this year than she could’ve been making a bigger profit by now.

"The most memorable thing about Start-up Day 2019 was the talk on accountancy and business banking – things that I knew very little about but were very interesting. After the talk I knew where to look and who to contact, which was very helpful."

She also took away from the Start-up Day some key things for starting a business that she never knew, for example, when she needed someone to do her accountancy. She learnt how long she could stay a sole trader, when to be registering for VAT – all very important things for when starting a business which she didn’t know about before attending Start-up Day.

Jessica’s advice for others starting a business; “Be confident. Imposter syndrome isn’t a thing, you may feel like an imposter but, everyone feels like an imposter, just do it. The more you sit there and say you can’t do it, you will never start if you come up with an excuse."

Book onto our Start-up Day 2021 event, here.

Start-up Day is in partnership with Santander

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29 September 2021

The Pandemic Business Boom

As businesses across the country closed their doors in March of 2020, it was unclear just how long these doors would remain closed. Small businesses found themselves facing a frightening and confusing time, having to pivot and adjust to the continually changing landscape. In many cases, however, this pause in time allowed some to reflect on their career goals and even prompted them to launch their own businesses. We spoke to four such businesses, who either pivoted or started up during the pandemic and explored how they were able to grow despite unpredictable circumstances.

Carolyn founder of Afori Books
Carolynn Bain, founder of Afrori Books

For Carolynn Bain, the pandemic and the civil rights uprising that started to unfold in the summer of 2020 highlighted the importance and need for her to start up her Brighton based business, Afrori Books. Afrori Books is an online bookshop that specialises in books by black authors, their mission statement is simple; to support black authors, create diverse bookshelves and be a voice for justice.

As a National Network business, we were able to assist Carolynn by providing local information and resources to help her grow during this time, specifically ways to source funding to expand the business into a physical shop via our Business & IP Centre Brighton & Hove.

"Starting a business during the pandemic is an unusual thing to do. However, I think what had a bigger impact on us was starting a business during a pandemic and during a civil rights uprising in terms of Black Lives Matter – they can’t be separated for us. Many people were at home, reading books and for the first time ever really the world was sitting still, watching these things unfold before them. That had a massive impact on us and, in a positive sense, bought customers to us who previously maybe would not have considered looking at books by black authors. As we go forward, we are in the middle of crowd funding as we are looking to open a physical shop – working in partnership with a charity in Brighton who have given us a shop space. That has also come off the back of the civil rights movement, as they want to see Brighton change and become a safe space for black authors and black people living in the city. It’s all interconnected."

Hazel Russell co-founder of the Woodlife Project
Hazel Russell, founder of the Woodlife Project

Another National Network business, who recently took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, that has seen growth during the pandemic is The Woodlife Project. The Norfolk based business, founded by Hazel Russell manufactures beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly wooden products for the family home with a focus on meal times. The Woodlife Project, who got support from BIPC Norfolk, mostly sell online on their own website and wholesale through a variety of different retailers, most notably during the pandemic they are now available on John Lewis and, like Afrori Books, will be looking to have in store product space soon too. "Our proudest moment in business so far has been getting into John Lewis, as they were one of our ideal retailers from the offset. We are online at the moment - in the nursery section with our bear, fox and rabbit plates. If all goes well we will be in store soon."

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Jen Lam, co-founder of Stitch and Story

Jennifer Lam also took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, she is the co-founder and CEO of Stitch and Story based in London, which is an online crafting company on a mission to make crafting simple and easy to learn. During the numerous lock-downs, confined to their homes, people were getting back in touch with their creative side which bode well for this crafting business and allowed them to grow despite the uncertain circumstances.

"We’re here to inspire a new generation of crafters with our DIY kits, yarns and materials. During the pandemic Stitch and Story grew enormously. I think we were one of the lucky companies who were able to grow because everybody was in lockdown, looking for a new skill or hobby to pick up at home. Stitch and Story provided many customers with a new skill in knitting and crocheting and so we expanded very quickly online predominantly, albeit it was very stressful!"

One of the biggest changes to Stitch and Story was the team; they more than doubled the team during the pandemic from seven to 22. "We had to recruit everyone virtually at the time and it was stressful as we had no experience in doing that before - the BIPC really helped in providing us resources for this."

Judy founder of Delmora in her studio space
Judy Chicangana-Matthews, founder of Delmora

Start-ups in London Libraries business, Delmora, founded by Judy Chicangana-Matthews, offers a variety of beautiful jewellery items and accessories for women. Judy launched her first product at the end of February, weeks before Covid hit. "The impact was huge. In the beginning, people were buying the essentials such as food and toilet paper, so jewellery was considered a luxury. Nowadays, many people are concerned about their jobs and how that is going to impact their finances.

Covid also affects my KPIs in terms of delivery. I use the service Royal Mail 24, and I have had severe delays on the delivery of the parcels. To compensate my customers, sometimes I offer discounts as a part of the customer service. This practice has seriously affected my margins, so surviving has been very difficult."

Thus, the need to pivot and test out new business models to grow her business came about. By adding a loyalty program to her business, she was able to ensure repeat purchases and a loyal customer base. "My response has been offering discounts to my customers and creating programs to increase the brand’s recognition. For example, I offer the Delmora Club discount to all my customers in which the members have exclusive access to special discounts and pre-launch of our collections. We also recently created the program named Delmora Brand Champion that aims to get more positive reviews around our online presence."

Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, we are pleased to see small businesses surviving, thriving and growing through it - it has highlighted the importance of small businesses, which are innovative, provide jobs and support local communities. In turn, there has been an increase in public support for local small businesses, to help ensure they remained profitable - a trend we hope continues long after the pandemic has ended.

Revisiting our Reset. Restarters

Although restrictions have been lifted across the UK and many of us are returning to normal life, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt around the world. Our Reset. Restart programme launched to help businesses pivot and adapt to the changing climate throughout the pandemic and will continue to support many beyond that. We have caught up with businesses who attended these free webinars to see how the programme influenced their business operations and what changes they have made since.

One start up that benefitted from the programme is INTARIS founded by Oliver Hickmet; a full-service video marketing agency combining the power of digital film with analytics led strategy. Starting a business can be very lonely, and even more so during a global pandemic. For many, our webinars provide an opportunity to build and connect with a network of entrepreneurs from various backgrounds and expertise. “Reset. Restart was an invaluable way to stay connected during lockdown and learn from others sharing experiences and the dynamic conversations that always arose in the sessions. The presentations always had something interesting you did not know before and it was a perfect way to start the day with a hot cuppa.”

For some business owners, as well as networking opportunities, the support and advice offered by Reset. Restart gave them the confidence and push to grow their business. This was the case for Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant. She provides PA and administration support to small businesses, helping them to save time so they can focus on their core business operations. It was through one of the small businesses that she was assisting at the time, that she discovered the BIPC. “My client wanted me to research the BIPC and to find out what support and services they could offer to help with the set-up of her Community Interest Company (CIC). This is why I love what I do, I get an insight to so many networks, and I get to experience the fabulous support and services that they offer.”

Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant at Jubilee Library
Keira Simpson, owner and founder of Daisy Days Virtual Assistant

 

Keira began by attending BIPC Sussex’s free Reset. Restart webinar – Tools for the Job. This gave her an insight into what digital platforms and software was available to grow her business. Like Oliver, it also provided an opportunity for her to connect with other start-ups and share her knowledge and tips, building her confidence in her business. “I gained an insight to other platforms and gained confidence in how I can support my business. The people that I have had the pleasure in talking to from the BIPC, whether that be from the webinars they offer or via email with a question that has arisen, have been so helpful and supportive. They also offer ideas and information - like speaking to a representative from the centre for advice on your business, to other topics which will steer you in the right direction.”

Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson founded documentary production company, Happenstance Films in February 2020, weeks before the world went into lockdown. Although this was a difficult time for the creative industries, it was also a time for Julia and Dan to rethink their goals and strategies.

Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson, founders of Happenstance Films
Julia Alcamo and Dan Hodgson, founders of Happenstance Films

“The last year has been tough because of the pandemic. Many of the initial plans we made fell through and our hopes of starting out strong were quickly squashed. But, it gave us crucial time to doubly rethink our approach to this new way of making branded content: how would we convince the marketing departments? How could we position ourselves to be ready? What did we really want to do differently?”

While their business idea has remained the same, Julia and Dan were able to tap into the wide range of databases and expert advice from our delivery partners that guided them to the clients their business should aim to target. “To hear others care about how we would get out there and find the right clients was amazing! Since, we have used the databases to create a potential client ‘hit list’, a roster of local small and medium-sized businesses who work in specific sectors who we then prepare pitches for. The services have helped us directly with our growth in so far as they identify potential clients and allow us to gain clarity. It’s been crucial in feeling like we have the necessary inside knowledge to be a player in the local economy. Just having that sense is very empowering for a small business. It's also been really great to feel the support from the team and a have a place to go should we have further questions on business development, local resources or tapping into the community most efficiently.”

Although Reset. Restart began as a way to support businesses, like Happenstance, through the pandemic; many entrepreneurs who have used the service started their business as conditions highlighted by the pandemic pushed them to.

This is the case for Roxy van der Post, a Dutch-born documentary filmmaker and lifestyle photographer who began Myosotis Film & Photography in the summer of 2020. For her, the ongoing pandemic emphasised the many social, racial, and climate injustices that were difficult to ignore. The corporate world was no longer a world in which Roxy felt her values and ambitions were shared, so she forged a new path and now works with purpose-led people, social enterprises and charities to amplify their voices through the collaborative practice of visual storytelling.

Roxy van der Post, founder of Myosotis Film & Photography at Jubilee Library
Roxy van der Post, founder of Myosotis Film & Photography

After settling in Brighton in February 2021 and having no prior knowledge of Brighton or its business community, the Reset. Restart sessions run by BIPC Sussex were a fantastic introduction to the city and its ambitious entrepreneurs. The informal nature of the Reset. Restart workshops meant Roxy could easily engage with likeminded business-owners and quickly grow her network. “All sessions included interviews with entrepreneurs whose fascinating stories of business growth provided much inspiration and motivation, an informative presentation on topics ranging from finding your ideal customer to pricing models and how to establish valuable connections, and room for open, but facilitated discussions, all expertly woven together by Lucy Paine of alwayspossible.” It was through these events that Roxy was introduced to Business Model Canvas, which “was an absolute game-changer that provided more clarity and confidence than any other business plan.”

Following on from the Reset. Restart sessions, Roxy booked an online one-to-one information clinic with BIPC Information Specialist, Gemma Miller. “There is a wealth of information out there and it can be rather intimidating to explore these extensive databases and conduct benchmark research, but Gemma was very helpful and reassuring, she showed me some of the best options as a filmmaker and photographer. As a sole business owner, I valued the opportunity to talk this through with someone outside of my network. The next step is becoming a member of the library and visiting in person, which - as a bookworm and meticulous researcher – I am very much looking forward to!”

Another business that was born during the lockdown period of the pandemic is Nicola Austin’s Life of Libra. Life of Libra is a Professional Organising and Decluttering business, which began in January 2021.

Nicola Austin, founder of Life of Libra at Jubilee Library
Nicola Austin, founder of Life of Libra

 

“Before the pandemic, I was juggling school runs, a long work commute, after school clubs and the everyday pressures of life. I knew how full, cluttered and unbalanced our homes and lives can sometimes feel. The pandemic allowed me valuable time and space to think, read and reflect on my strengths, on what I enjoyed doing and what I wanted to do going forward. After attending a training course run by APDO, (the Associated of Professional Declutterers and Organisers), I decided this was the industry I wanted to work in and joined the organisation. I founded Life of Libra soon after.’

It was through a fellow Professional Organiser at APDO that Nicola became aware of the Reset. Restart programme and she signed up for several of our free webinars. “The sessions were practical, insightful and current. They really impacted my thoughts and actions, especially the sessions on Mindset, Digital Productivity Tools, Business Model, and Products and Services. I reviewed my business case using the Business Model Canvas, re-evaluated my customer segments using the Empathy Map Canvas and considered how best to validate my market research. I learnt about net profit, cash flow and operating costs. I was introduced to Brightbooks, Process Street and Airtable, all free software products that I am now using in the day-to-day running of my business.”

Like Roxy, Nicola then arranged a one-to-one information clinic at the BIPC Brighton & Hove, BIPC Sussex’s regional Centre, where she was given recommendations of networks and people to talk to, suggestions about information resources she could access and websites she could refer to through the library. “I had no idea what to expect, but again found myself impressed. I spent an hour talking to two excellent Information Specialists about my business, my ideas for growth and the challenges I was facing.”

One Dareham-based business, Crescent Research, used BIPC Norfolk and MENTA’s Reset. Restart programme to help generate new business ideas, look at digital marketing tools and strategies, as well as building customer relationships and re-adjusting and re-assessing their cost base.

Tracey, founder of the business, which helps locate missing heirs and reunites individuals with unclaimed assets, also attended networking sessions, which has allowed her to meet other entrepreneurs and hear about their business journeys. “Getting to know others who have also started the new business journey has been beneficial and it’s great to see how everyone is progressing at different stages of their journey, sharing tips, ideas and resources.”

The programme also allowed Tracey to look at the different areas of her business using the Business Model Canvas and focus on the areas which needed more time, resource and thought.

Another Norfolk-based business, bear, founded by Bryony Fayers, which sells sustainable and responsibly sourced products for the family used Reset. Restart for one-to-one sessions with MENTA just as she was starting her business. “The team has been ever so accommodating and understanding about how different people are approaching setting up a new business and for me, it’s been chaotic. The one-to-one sessions have been incredible. The session was warm and relaxed, and so, so useful.”

bear, founded by Bryony Fayers
bear, founded by Bryony Fayers

Lottie Katie Russell, founder of L K Designs, a graphic design and illustration studio, also used BIPC Norfolk’s Reset. Restart networking sessions, “They were so informative and filled with a diverse group of like-minded people in very different fields. They were monthly meetings with a guest speaker at each to discuss different topics that we hadn’t necessarily thought about before. This helped me to drive forward with my small business and put into practice a lot of the skills I had learnt to create my website, social media pages and Etsy shop.”

Another business which benefitted from discussing their ideas with like-minded people was BIPC Worcestershire’s Wise Owl Tuition Kidderminster founder, Danielle Hickey. “The small groups that we worked in enabled us to have more specific discussion that was relevant to our individual business. Feedback on our ideas from the trainers and other participants proved equally valuable. It was most beneficial to be taken seriously as small business owners, but to be supported and be amongst others who were at a similar stage in their young businesses too.”

“The support has enabled me to focus on the next steps for growth of my business, and how to achieve them. It also encouraged me to consider my valuable difference as a business, and what I specifically contribute to the market. I made a timeline business plan in pictorial format to hang on my office wall and have achieved the first three steps of it six months ahead of schedule. The opening of another office suite downstairs and taking on two associate tutors to cope with demand - before I have even started to advertise! I was afraid to look to expand, due to my lack of experience in business. Rob and Phil helped me during my one-to-one to develop the confidence to commit to my ideas.”

27 September 2021

Meet Chloe Bailey-Williams, Founder of The Breakhouse Café

If you're looking for somewhere new to have a coffee and enjoy some tasty food, why not visit The Breakhouse Café?  Founded by Chloe Bailey-Williams, with her passion for coffee and amazing food, she has created a space that the local community love. Chloe aims for the business to be sustainable and ethical wherever possible, and to be inclusive of a variety of tastes, reflecting the diversity of her customers. Now, let's hear more from Chloe...

Chloe Bailey-Williams, Founder of The Breakhouse Café

What was the spark that made you want to run your own business?

I’ve always worked in hospitality, always loved taking care of people. I used to be a duty manager for Block nightclub in Hackney Wick, when they were closing down, the owner asked if I wanted to oversee the other studio spaces. I have always wanted my own space, so I spoke to my business partner and looked at the options for taking on a café. As it turns out, my previous employer had a café and they didn’t want to renew the lease with the current business, so although I wanted to set up more of a coffee shop, I took the opportunity to take on the café. It was a big step as I wanted to set up a coffee/ wine bar type of business, more drink focused. I had never tried starting a business before, but I had experience running venues for clubs. But this was very different to selling food, it makes sense because of allergies, health and safety…etc.  for a kitchen you need more certificates, more training, a chef… etc. Although I never intended to go down the food path, I really enjoy it even with the challenges, I was very lucky in finding a great chef and there were some ups and downs but once you get through the challenges and how busy it is, it’s fun.

Did you feel that you knew what you needed to know when taking the business on?

 I was a bit surprised because I was originally looking to serve coffee and other drinks, but there was lots to learn. When I added the café where you are selling food and you throw in PAYE, VAT , insurance , pensions, contracts , it was a lot to get your head around.

Have you sought help from other places as well as the Library/SiLL or has it just been us?

I looked at other places for workshops and advice, fortunately I had a few months to catch-up and I found a bookkeeper and accountant. I also did several courses to increase my knowledge, lots of people claim to tell you stuff and take your money even when it’s not useful, but what was good is that they were all saying similar things. For me the best support was with the SiLL programme, lots of useful and practical information and free of charge.

I found SiLL through Eventbrite while I was searching for business support, I saw what SiLL offered was good and it was free which was a good change, as I didn’t feel I was getting value for money for the courses I had already paid for. With the workshops being in the libraries and in partnership with BIPC, I felt like that’s where you go for information, they are the people I want to know. The support was also delivered in partnership with the local council and those are the people you want on your side when setting up a business.

Have you felt that the SiLL programme has still been there for you, even though everything has been run online throughout the pandemic?

Yes, it’s been good to catch-up with Abraham in our 1-2-1's and through emails, some other programmes that I have tried just don’t keep in touch. It’s quite challenging setting up a business in a pandemic so I appreciate that Abraham would visit me at the Café to go over different strategies. He would also inform and support me in taking up opportunities like the mentoring, which I successfully applied for. It really helps to speak with him about my business and I continue to benefit from his experience and advice. His ideas on how to use the space ( like setting up a film club) and some Café tips I can’t mention (it’s a trade secret) have been great, we are currently planning our first film night!

What do you like about the area local to the café and its community?

I love the area, Victoria park is a short walk away and the local community is very friendly. I like to have a chat with the regulars and the locals, it’s a very creative area and is part of the CEZ (creative enterprise zone) in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. There is a strong and growing business community, and this includes community groups. We’ve definitely noticed local businesses working together, it's great to be a part of it and to see the community the Café is building around itself. We now do catering for The Shellworks 3 days a week, so they all get to eat together at the same time. We also joined up with one of my friends that makes sole food to sell Jamaican Rotis, and we’re doing catering for The Outrunners, a local runners club that do workshops and mentoring.

Do you employ any other people at the café?

Yes, all the staff are great. its challenging managing teams when running your own business, but finding a balance of being nice while making sure standards are kept is key. I encourage a healthy work environment that’s focused on respect and wellbeing and I’m grateful that I have found the right mix of people. The staff work really well together, it’s taken a year to get to this stage, but I haven’t had to let anyone go that was an asset to the business.

What are you most proud of achieving?

Opening and staying open through the pandemic, getting the level 5 hygiene rating, doing external food catering for the first time, showing the football ( England in the Euro finals) and being able to do it in a safe environment where everyone was happy.

What’s your next goal for the business?

My Next goal is to increase the number of customers per day, build on our social media and work on evening events. We have a creative team including our Head Chef who wants to add Sunday roast and daily specials to the menu. We also want to increase our opening times, adding more options for builders and other tradesmen that have an early start. 

What do you think will be the business support you may need going forward?

As a new business, increasing our revenue is a top priority, so definitely support in generating more awareness to build our customer base. Also support in accessing grants that can help the business grow and help us engage with the local community.

 

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.

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30 August 2021

Introducing Rose Arouca-Claro, Rosy Clean Spaces

We spoke to Rose Arouca-Claro, founder of Rosy Clean Spaces, an after builders cleaning business. Rose took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries programme to help get her business started. Let’s hear more from Rose about her business journey…

Rose

“Rosy Clean Spaces started focusing on after builders cleaning for residential developments. I worked in the construction business for 15 years. I began as a document controller and ended up as an assistant site manager.

After completing my master’s degree in construction project management, I decided to start my own business. 

For many years, there has been a joint consensus that women are underrepresented in the construction sector, due to various reasons, the work environment, the hours, etc, I noticed that in most sites that I worked even the post-building cleaning team was predominantly male, which is ok, however, I believe that as women we can work on a construction site without necessarily building but offering cleaning services.

I believe that with the major regeneration happening in London boroughs of new builds there are opportunities for local women who want to get back to work but struggle to find flexible working hours to accommodate their childcare needs. We wanted to bridge this gap by allowing flexible working hours.  We also provide end of tenancy deep clean, commercial cleaning, but the main motivation to start the business was to address the underrepresentation of women on building sites, not as builders but providing after builders cleaning service.

I also have a passion for clean spaces, I have had the opportunity to supervise various apartments being cleaned and ready to be handed over to clients, knowing that I am part of that process of handing over a property that is spotless brings great satisfaction to me.

SiLL has been awesome, from the first meeting with an advisor in Lewisham library my business journey was transformed from a mere dream to what it is today.

I attended various workshops and have had one on one meetings. During the pandemic in 2020, SiLL was there for me every time I had a question or needed guidance, from cash flow and elevator pitch, to how to set up a business account and being visible on various platforms. I was advised on grants available to business.

The pandemic did hinder the start of the business, however, we sought opportunities in the middle of the pandemic, we started thinking outside the box, where we offered to pack, especially for tenants who found themselves stuck abroad unable to travel back to London due to Covid. We packed, stored and handed the properties to the estate agents. We started using specific steam cleaners that eliminate 99% of viruses. During the pandemic, I also took the opportunity to complete an online course for cleaning businesses on how to dispose of waste in different environments.

BIPC Quote Tiles London Aug 6

If anyone would like to start a business, I would encourage them to get in touch with their local library, do as much research as possible, speak to people, face your fears and do it because you learn every single step of the way.

One of the key things I have learned is the importance of communication. Get help from people such as the SiLL Champions, who will help you set out your ideas in order to make it easy to focus on your objectives. Also, attend as many SiLL workshops as possible because you get to meet other people who are on the same journey as you. It was encouraging for me to be part of the SiLL programme."

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.

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23 August 2021

Meet Sally Paull, Owner and Managing Director of Positive Signs

We spoke to Sally Paull, about her business, Positive Signs, a Deaf-led service provider, supporting and raising awareness of the Deaf community.

Positive Signs is a one-stop-shop for services for Deaf and hearing customers, including the provision of British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters and other Language Service Professionals (LSPs), BSL and deaf awareness training, employment and education support.

Sally Paull

A graduate of the 2013 Innovating for Growth: Start-ups programme, Sally has grown her business by expanding its offering and increasing the client base. Here, she reflects on her journey and plans for the next phase of growth, including how Covid has catapulted them into developing full online service provision.

'I started Positive Signs in 2004, following a successful and diverse career in social work, leading on the delivery of the first BSL NVQ and Interpreter Training for a national deaf charity, and as one of the first qualified Sign Language Interpreters in the UK. I wanted to combine my skills, broad professional knowledge and strong network, to create a unique offering centred around the provision of BSL training and interpreters. The seeds of Positive Signs were planted!

Since then, we have grown into an established provider of services to support the Deaf community in the workplace and higher education. Our expansion has enabled us to become a family run business and I really value their involvement and support.  Six incredible people make Positive Signs what it is today. 

We are driven by our passion for ensuring Deaf people achieve and succeed. Many people are not aware of fabulous schemes like Access to Work and Disabled Students Allowance, which support Deaf and disabled people to get into work or education, stay there and achieve. For Deaf people this could be providing BSL Interpreters for interviews, then regular on-site support so they can engage with colleagues and customers, take part in meetings, and attend events such as induction, training and conferences.  We work with clients to apply for these awards and then manage their ongoing support provision.

I am proud of the many things we achieve every day at Positive Signs. From the small things that make a big difference, such as seeing the results of matching the right interpreter to a Deaf person; to the big things which show the world that Deaf people don’t have limitations, only those put on them by others, such as securing 24 Deaf apprenticeships at blue chip organisations without any funding or partnerships, just sheer determination to support young Deaf people onto the employment ladder.

In 2013, I was fortunate to secure a place on Innovating for Growth: Start-ups. The programme and one-on-one support enabled me to develop a formal business plan, identify obstacles and opportunities to broaden and improve our business. It gave me the confidence to grow to where we are now.

We’ve built our reputation around quality, honesty and importantly, taking the time to really understand what clients want. We then carefully match our provision to meet that need. This makes for great customer satisfaction and has enabled us to develop our brand.

I’m delighted to have been accepted onto Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups, to coach myself and Positive Signs to the next level. In preparing the application, it’s been satisfying to stop and look back on the last seventeen years – what we’ve achieved, the amazing people we’ve met, how we’ve grown – and beneficial to help crystalise future plans. We don’t often take the time to reflect as we’re always striving for what’s next!  That’s one blessing of Covid, it’s given us the time to stop and reflect.

Covid has massively disrupted the lives of Deaf people in work and education: the tech requirements of working or learning from home; the impact of mask wearing on communication; the reduced availability of LSPs; the overnight switch to remote interpreting online; last minute logistical changes to whether lectures are onsite or online.

It’s a lot to deal with at the same time as trying to keep up-to-date with government guidance on Covid safety, which unfortunately, in England, has not been made available in BSL. BSL is not the same as English, it’s a language in its own right with its own grammar and structure, so it’s not as simple as saying, ‘read the subtitles’ or ‘look at the website’. Vital information such as this needs to be provided simultaneously in BSL. But it’s only due to the dedicated efforts of charities, who took it upon themselves to act, that some provision has been made after the event.'

Covid has also disrupted much of our service offering: with training courses cancelled; prohibitive costs of delivering Covid-safe training; less LSPs available to work due to shielding, home schooling, or unwillingness to travel; many LSPs can’t work online as video remote interpreters as it’s expensive to kit yourself out, or they simply don’t want to work this way. It’s been really tough. However, I take my hat off to our handful of regular LSPs who were determined to continue supporting Deaf clients on site throughout the pandemic, so that they could maintain employment, despite the fact that BSL Interpreters weren’t immediately granted Key Worker status.

In taking time to reflect, we are re-framing our experiences as a way to create opportunity. We have fast-tracked plans to take existing services online in new and innovative ways, for example our online interpreting service and BSL training. These will become part of our standard offering recognising the shift in people’s attitudes and purchasing patterns, as well as ensuring business continuity during any future crisis.

We are introducing new services, starting with an essential Employment Service to support Deaf people back into work as lockdown eases and later, a Translation Service to open up important information to Deaf BSL users. Plus, we wish to reach new audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily work with a Deaf-lead company, either because they are not aware of us or don’t realise they have the perfect potential to take on Deaf people with our support. 

Through expansion we aim to create more jobs for Deaf people who can find it harder to gain and remain in employment, making us a role model for our services.

Positive Signs

We are not short on ideas! We’ve recruited new, full-time staff during lockdown, and we are investing in major systems to increase automation, save time and to improve our ability to create and convert opportunities as a data driven entity.

It’s going to be very different for me. I have managed Positive Signs as a one-woman band for many years, doing everything from Access to Work applications, client management, coordinating bookings, delivering training, marketing and finance. I’ve worn a lot of hats and thrived on every minute! Transitioning from a hands-on manager to a leader who coaches others to deliver isn’t always easy, but I’m working on developing the skills to ‘let go’!

People often say that I’m ‘lucky’ to have my own business. But Positive Signs didn’t happen by luck, it happened by design and hard work. However, I am lucky that I have been well supported, both to set up Positive Signs and to keep it growing, including by my family and Innovation for Growth, which I am really grateful for. And I am lucky to work with amazing people doing things we love every day. I can’t ask for more than that and I’m excited to see how the future shapes up.'