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Corporate-social partnerships + being the best you can be

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Corporate-social partnerships + being the best you can be

Simon Boyle

Going on Dragon’s Den in 2008 was a turning point for me – and I didn’t even get any funding from the dragons! It made me realise the value of partnerships and collaborating with the right people to push an idea forward, so a concept can be the very best it can be.

I’ve never really spoken about the partnership between BaxterStorey, PwC, Brigade and Beyond Food. But it’s this unique and perhaps unexpected collaboration that is continuing to make the venture successful eight years after Brigade launched.

A lightbulb moment for me was when I went on BBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2008. I was running a business on my own with my late wife and a loyal team, but we lacked experience. It’s a difficult predicament, because small socially-minded businesses can’t usually afford to pay for the expertise they really need. In my case, there was pressure to be a great chef, but also a marketeer, a sales person and to look after the payroll, plus a million other things. That’s just the way it is for small businesses and social enterprises. Yet you also want to turnover £2 million per year so you can run the business and meet your charitable aims too.

The dragons on Dragons’ Den gave me some invaluable advice, including the necessity of splitting the business into a charity and a social enterprise, each of which needed to be driven slightly differently. They also made me realise that I needed the right people on board – and if I couldn’t afford that via the current business model – something had to change. So I started to think about what would happen if I partnered, collaborated and got expertise in other ways. And that’s how I ended up working with PwC.

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At the time, no one would have put me and PwC together – we were living in totally different worlds. I found PwC by chance. After becoming involved with a social entrepreneur programme Spark Challenge, I was then introduced to The Fire Station building on Tooley Street, which I thought had immense potential for my concept.  PwC were building their new head office just behind it, and that’s how we connected our dots.

PwC wanted to be part of something that was going to grow and expand the world of social business – an area they wanted to nurture as an accountancy firm. It was also important to them to highlight the provenance of business doing good. This stuff is all great for their business, brand and attracting the right kind of people to work for them. My expertise is entrepreneurialism, creativity, food and hospitality, combined with a frustration that people become homeless. I’m trying to fix the world from an entrepreneur’s point of view and this isn’t something PwC really had experience of. So the potential for collaboration turned out to be immense and something both parties could genuinely get something out of. At the time of launch we also worked with De Vere Venues who helped run the hospitality operations at Brigade. We’ve done some amazing work together since – so far, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1,200 people.

After all these years in, the business recently started to feel like it was missing something. The missing piece of the puzzle has come along within the last year, when the board partnered with BaxterStorey, who have the contract for actually running Brigade. BaxterStorey is an amazing hospitality organisation with Chairman Alastair Storey at the helm – one of the shining lights in the hospitality world. BaxterStorey has a corporate side to its business as well as the WSH restaurants, which runs hugely successful hospitality brands such as Hix, Mere for Monica Galetti, Searcys, Benugo and others. New collaborations tend to emerge when you start working with new people too, and since we started working as one team, I’ve been invited to be a judge at the BaxterStorey Awards, our amazing Chef Trainer Leon Seraphin has gained more recognition through BaxterStorey Awards, and Beyond Food was also recently nominated as BaxterStorey’s Charity of the Year.

Working like this couldn’t have been more transformative. These partnerships ensure our concept is run effectively, efficiently, profitably and sustainably.

Tapping into the expertise of PwC and BaxterStorey also helps us protect the longevity of Brigade. Now we’re almost ten years in, we’re working hard to define and redefine what Brigade should be to keep us competitive for the next ten years. This is resulting in a reconceptualisation of Brigade over the summer which is very exciting for everyone involved, including our apprentices who will have a refreshed and vibrant environment where they can learn.

In social business, you can’t hide behind bad concepts. Our food, service and whole offering has to be as good as – or even better than – others around us. If customers don’t come back, we can’t help vulnerable people. There’s nothing more motivating than that.

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My tips on how to collaborate to bring corporate and social business together

  • Corporate businesses want to know what they can do to help, while social businesses wonder how to go about setting up partnerships. But most people don’t ask! There’s nothing wrong with talking to people and putting the feelers out – you never know what these tentative first conversations can lead to.
  • Network, go to events and meet people. The more you see, hear and experience, the better you’re able to find the right people to connect with.
  • Assume everyone wants to make a difference and be part of something that’s bigger than themselves. This resonates with most people. Share ideas – sooner or later people realise how their ideas connect and what areas of expertise meld together perfectly.
  • There are lots of organisations out there who help to facilitate partnerships. Some of my favourites are:
    • Social Enterprise UK – a national body of social enterprises which uses its incredible networks to get corporate businesses working with social enterprises.
    • Business in the Community – which runs Seeing is Believing tours, where big groups of corporates get together and visit social enterprises and charities. The idea is to get corporate businesses to see, touch, feel and immerse themselves in social enterprise and charity experiences, sparking ideas and connections for collaboration.
    • School for Social Entrepreneurs – where courses are run by corporates such as PwC to expose social entrepreneurs to big businesses, so they can learn and collaborate.

Talking about unique collaborations, the HBAA is the trade association for the hotel booking agency, apartment and venue community who first embraced our work at Beyond Food two years ago. They’ve supported Brigade, telling their members, clients and partners what we have to offer. Most importantly, they’ve really embraced the work we do with homeless people; it’s something that’s struck their hearts deeply. They understand that we’re a small organisation and also need help with fundraising so we can make a genuine difference to peoples’ lives.

Most recently they allowed me to speak at their annual forum on a topic that’s close to my heart: childhood trauma. It’s fast becoming recognised as a key reason why people become homeless. The homeless charity Crisis recently found that 88% of homeless people have experienced emotional or personal trauma during childhood. The trauma is often deep within a person, with years of it never being addressed, making it very hard for them when they have to start taking responsibility for themselves. The younger the person is who has experienced trauma, the more damage is caused, often leading to unemployment, physical and mental health issues, substance misuse and homelessness in later life.

Soon I’ll be launching a campaign with a vision to help young people who leave home with no or few skills to take care of themselves. I’m extremely grateful to the HBAA who have already raised more than £4,000 for me to get this off the ground. I’ll be sharing more information about this in my next blog.


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Executive Chef Gary Robinson of The Conduit – a soon-to-open club with a social purpose –  borrowed our kitchen recently to start some winter preparation prior to opening. He’s been spending time searching the country for the best and most sustainable ingredients for the Conduit menus. Keen on making all his own accompaniments for every dish, here’s Gary’s simple but very flavoursome pickling method.


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