Our Start-Up Social Enterprise Adventure by Anthony Pitt

Wow. We’re finally here!

We have been on what has been an incredibly fun and rewarding journey in the past eight-or-so months. The lovely folks at the City Bridge Trust, part of the City of London awarded us Stepping Stones funding in September 2015 to ensure that Providence Row could build a robust, sustainable, and thriving social enterprise.

Providence Row's Enterprise & Training Team

Providence Row's Enterprise & Training Team

We at the Enterprise & Training team took responsibility for Providence Row Bakery, a wholesale operation that had been running for the past two years, at this point. We thought that it was a great setup; selling cakes wholesale to local cafes. There have been some amazing results with the trainees we involved too; we worked with 30 clients, supporting many of these into work and training.

This programme provided us with great foundations on which to build. We knew that the concept of a social enterprise bakery was sound, and had a few brilliant weeks of thinking of all the directions which we could take it.

Our team has had incredible results in the past few years. As well as coming second in the London Homelessness Awards (and collecting it from the Houses of Parliament in the process), we have won a Social Justice Award from the Centre for Social Justice and a Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award for the support and training we offer people who have experienced homelessness. Last year alone we worked with 121 clients, working with them to achieve 29 job starts and training outcomes.

Collecting Our Award from the Houses of Parliament

Collecting Our Award from the Houses of Parliament

Another really important part of our work is to make sure that our people get their confidence back. We have a 10 week programme of motivational employability workshops, Working On It, designed to give people the soft skills they need to succeed in the workplace. We have worked with some amazing companies here, including Freshfields LLP, Kuoni, and more, getting office tours, staff meet and greets, and excellent training.

But anyway, back to business!

During planning there were three key themes. We wanted to make sure that our products were client-friendly – something that we could teach, but also something that developed rounded baking skills. We also wanted something amazingly tasty, as well as that we could feature produce from our amazing roof garden in later on.

A Trainee At One Of Our Workshops

A Trainee At One Of Our Workshops

We were leaning towards focusing on one key product, while still offering a broad wholesale range. What really sealed it was said during one of our early meetings with Unreal UK, an amazing company that supported us to develop our branding and concept on a pro bono basis. They were grumbling about the poor standard of sweet treats available in the stores near them and the logistical difficulties of ordering from a supplier.

We had already noticed that there were really limited options for getting great cakes delivered quickly which could also be easily ordered but this meeting helped spur things on. We set about building this amazing website, as well as developing a product that could easily fit through a letterbox, or that could be sent via courier without getting damaged.

We chose brownies, because they tick every single box. And also because our Head Baker Simon developed the MOST amazing brownie recipe going. We’ve still kept our wholesale presence though – we love our customers, and we can offer them a broader range, which means that our trainees get to learn to make a wide variety of produce – cakes, quiches, mini fruit loaves… you can see the full list here.

Our White Chocolate & Raspberry Brownie

Our White Chocolate & Raspberry Brownie

Alongside this, we have really overhauled the client training we offer. Trainees can now access a 12 week programme, a curriculum of baking workshops interspersed with accredited learning (Level 2 Awards in Food Hygiene and more). They also undergo an induction process where a personalised support plan is developed with a dedicated advisor, who supports them to address any mental health, substance misuse, or employment barriers that they face.

I think it’s fair to say that at Rise we’re about two things. Excellent support. And Excellent brownies. And we’re lucky that we work with excellent people to ensure that they have an excellent future. Here’s to us continuing to Rise…

Providence Row Catering Trainee Scheme: A blueprint for success, by Dom Gates

The last year has been a big year for Providence Row. A few weeks ago our Catering Trainee Scheme scooped second place at the prestigious London Homelessness Awards, in memory of Andy Ludlow

We’re over the moon to be receiving recognition for our innovative approach; an approach that we realised early on garnered strong, positive outcomes for our clients. Although the scheme focuses on food, I believe the heart of the success of the scheme is our investment in, and commitment to, positive risk-taking in a supportive environment. It was this risk taking that impressed the LHA judges. 

We offer a personalised service which takes into account the challenges of rough sleeping and/or living with substance misuse or mental health issues. For people affected by these issues to be truly motivated , they need the opportunity to train, to be part of a team and to feel like they are moving forwards from day one.

For example, some schemes require participants to get clean first. We don’t. We just ask that trainees engage with support staff to tackle these issues, whilst training. We find that, while on the scheme, clients reduce their drinking and drug-taking.

So with this in mind, and with £15,000 from the Awards in our back pocket,  we are branching out. Replicating some of the key components of the catering scheme, we believe we can have the same success training people in horticulture, baking and building too.

Our brand new gardening trainee scheme is now available so those that our more green-fingered clients can pursue their training; growing and maintaining a working kitchen garden on our roof while also getting the support they need from our support workers onsite. The food we produce is used in our kitchen, and this binds all the trainees together as a community; growing, reaping and cooking food for the 30-50 rough sleepers who join us for breakfast and lunch each day.

With all our training schemes, our trainees are also working towards a qualification. With the gardening trainee scheme, they are working towards a Level 1 certificate in horticulture.  We’ve thought carefully about what trainees do after the course, and help pave the way in advance for ‘move on’ with advice on job search, CVs and interviews.

For those with a real interest and flair for baking, we have now developed a bakery training course, as part of Providence Row Bakery (our social enterprise and a real business, selling cakes and baked goods to local cafes and shops). This accredited scheme gives trainees real, authentic experience being part of a growing small business. There’s a tangible end-product, and customer service expectation, which is great experience for our bakers, who take a great pride in their work, and our products.

Our next idea will be building. But regardless of the subject the approach is the same: Giving as many people as possible to opportunity to train and develop, whilst receiving the support they are entitled to, and need, to succeed. The LHA has helped us do this.