By Kate Lee, Operations and Volunteering Manager, Blackburn with Darwen CVS

Blackburn with Darwen CVS Volunteer Centre has just been awarded a £50k grant that we will be using to develop an alternative model of business giving and volunteering. This Cabinet Office funding is from the Innovation in Giving Fund managed by Nesta. The idea came about because we wanted to think of ways to encourage small and medium businesses to give to the community. 98% of businesses in Blackburn are small and many are struggling to survive – this makes it difficult for them to be able to give financial donations to the community. So, our Community Hive’ aims to reverse the concept of business giving by asking skilled volunteers including local employees and students to offer short term practical help to support local people trying to establish businesses. This could include interior design for a café, setting up a Facebook page, help with market research, help with moving offices – any short term specific tasks that are needed to help kick start a business and make it a success. In return the business makes a pledge – that once established, the businesses that receive help from a volunteer will return the giving, with the offer of support for an unemployed volunteer, training, a donation, loaning equipment to a community group or agreeing to help another new business to start up. We hope that we will be planting the seeds for a culture of giving when it will have the strongest legacy – right at the earliest stage of business development.

Our first young enterprise was Chutney for Change, run by Rachel Gilkes. The idea behind Chutney for Change is that food that would be destined for landfill gets made into chutney – the proceeds of which go back into the social enterprise. With the help of student volunteers from Blackburn College and ASDA’s corporate social responsibility delegate, Rachel made a successful start to her business in Blackburn Market on 14 June. Bharat, the ASDA representative, had expertise in marketing and customer engagement which contributed to her launch success. His guidance to the volunteers and Rachel proved invaluable, as Rachel confirms:

“One of the students who came down was quite nervous and was kind of thrust into the limelight, going around a very busy market with samples and some crude instructions from me like “a big smile works every time” etc. She told me that she really enjoyed getting feedback from people on the chutney, particularly having been involved in making it. Bharat from ASDA took her under his wing as he tempted stallholders and customers alike with the samples, using his innate charm and well-honed patter from years in sales. She came back brimming with confidence, after watching him ‘work the crowd’ and using his tips; and I think she gained an enormous amount in that short time – skills that she will hopefully further develop with her time on placement with us.”

We’ve identified other skilled volunteers too. I was explaining the Community Hive concept to Helen, a volunteer manager in a local community group. Her background is in catering and has been involved in it for over 30 years. She offered her voluntary support and guidance to any young business wanting to enter into catering. Another skilled volunteer is Kenneth, a Nigerian film and documentary editor who was looking for opportunities to use his skills. He came into our office to register for volunteering within his skill set and through the Community Hive, we’re creating opportunities for him. He can do short YouTube advertisements or videos showcasing services of new and young businesses. He’ll be supporting the development of videos for an ‘upcycling’ business, and a poet, setting up a business to offer workshops in schools and with substance misuse services to help people in ‘recovery’.  

Monika is a Polish lady who has lived in Blackburn for over 8 years and wants to study social work at university so she came to us looking for a position that would support her application. She speaks four languages fluently and is a qualified translator. She too has kindly offered her support to new businesses when she is needed.

These are just some examples of things happening in the Community Hive. And what goes around comes around – the upcycling business owner is a graphic design artist by training, and she has offered to help out our poet with her logo and website!