SEW Peer to Peer Learning Programme
The SEW Peer to Peer Learning Programme provides a funded opportunity for younger CICs to spend a day of learning with more experienced CICs to discuss for example, business planning/organisational development; developing the ‘offer’ or enterprise; financial modelling; market development and marketing; social impact measurement etc.
Guest Blogger Iftikar Karim, All Saints Action Network (ASAN) visits Emma Shabtay-White, Business Box, Leicester,
All Saints Action Network (ASAN) is a long-established Wolverhampton based charity which works to make the All Saints neighbourhood a better place. We provide various services for local residents and these are supported by a number of successful community businesses. One of our community businesses is ‘The ASAN Workspace,’ opened in 2008 to provide business services and community facilities.
On a very wet November morning a group from All Saints made a peer to peer learning visit, funded by Social Enterprise Wolverhampton, to the Business Box Business in Leicester – where we received a warm welcome. This is a community business managed by Braunstone Foundation which is a neighbourhood-based charity with similar aims to ASAN, to improve their local area. The Business Box provides serviced offices of various sizes for rent, meeting rooms and a popular virtual office package which has one hundred plus users.
ASAN made the visit to Leicester to understand how to develop and market a suitable offer of virtual office products within the ASAN Workspace Business Centre in All Saints; all to grow small scale social and private sector enterprises in Wolverhampton through offering early stage business space and support services. The ASAN team hope to gain confidence in our ability to develop similar business products in Wolverhampton.
We met with Emma Shabtay-White (Business Box Manager) and her team and they were very open and willing to share their hard-won experience, recognising ASAN as a peer community development Trust. After a full tour of the large two storey building, viewing some of their 54 offices and 4 meeting rooms as well as the welcoming networking space, we sat down to a detailed presentation from Emma with lots of opportunities for questions and discussion.
The following points were emphasised by Emma and her team:
- Providing a friendly and supporting business incubation space requires adequate staffing resources, well trained in being customer facing.
- It is very important to create a community feeling within the business centre through regular networking events, installing high quality communal space (including comfortable soft furnishings!) around kitchen facilities and involving tenants in their wider community development agenda.
- Through achieving the above community focus, most of the virtual office referrals come via word of mouth.
- All staff understand the importance of maximising income from the business centre to enable the parent charity to invest money into community development – such as their food bank and sports / healthy lifestyle activities.
- Providing a flexible business incubation service is crucial. When done right, this has resulted in local entrepreneurs starting their businesses in the virtual offices, then moving into a shared office (Business Box provide a match making service) and then finally when the business is fully established locating into a larger space that meets the needs of the expanding enterprise.
- Managing a virtual office service requires well established procedures and dedicated staff time to enable smooth delivery of the service.
We achieved the following learning which will be reflected in how we improve the offer of the ASAN Workspace:
- The key learning outcome was understanding the nuts and bolts of how a virtual office package could be successfully established, administered and managed. We will now move forwards with establishing this service within the ASAN Workspace Business Centre in All Saints. We have gained insight into how such a package can provide a supporting starting point on the enterprise journey and importantly how this forms a step on the ladder leading to growth of the business via provision of business space suitable to each stage of the development journey.
- Overall we appreciated that there is a real value in forging a peer to peer relationship with a like-minded community business.
- We now fully understand the importance of creating high quality communal space within our business centre and will use the tips provided to create a stronger business community in the Workspace.
- ASAN looks forward to improving our offer to community and private sector enterprises in Wolverhampton through offering early stage business space and support services.
Thanks to Emma and her team from Business Box and to SEW for providing the peer to peer learning opportunity.
Iftikar Karim, All Saints Action Network, www.asan.org.uk
Emma Shabtay-White, Business Box, www.b-inspired.org.uk
Business Box part of B-Inspired / both part of Braunstone Community Foundation, a company limited by guarantee with charitable status.