Jonathan Williams, Project Manager at St Catherine's Church Centre has recently been selected to take part in the Royal Society of Arts Community Business Leaders Programme. Jonathan will be documenting his experiences in our blog, and here he tells us about what's happened so far...
The Community Business Leaders programme is an intensive 6 month programme through which Power to Change aims to empower a whole new generation of social entrepreneurs.
I run the largest food bank in Wakefield and the Five Towns and have acquired significant funding for the creation of new initiatives, such as our recovery cafe – the first in West Yorkshire specifically for sufferers of mental illness - and our new micro-business, Nourishment.
I applied to the Royal Society of Arts Community Business Leaders Programme in December because I wanted to gain a greater understanding of social enterprise. I read that Sheffield University Management School would be leading classes on subjects like innovation and that was of particular interest to me as I look to expand my work. The Real Ideas Organisation is co-delivering the programme and I was excited by the prospect of sharing my ideas with its directors, as they have done some incredible work in Devonport.
I was really surprised to be chosen as part of the 24-person cohort. The Royal Society of Arts said they had at least 48 applicants who could easily have been selected to join and so I was honoured to be chosen to represent St Catherine’s and Wakefield as a whole. Being a member of the Nova-led Community Anchor Network has provided me with a lot of opportunities to network with other Third Sector managers and so having the chance to share with 23 outstanding leaders posed a really good opportunity for adding value to my work.
On the first day in Leeds I was given the opportunity to meet Fergus Arkley, Programmes Manager of Power to Change. He has been given £150 million by the National Lottery to distribute over the next ten years. I was asked to give him a four minute pitch about what my charity does and how I would like it to grow. I explained to him that our extensive food aid provision – currently 80,000 meals a year - only alleviates suffering for a few hours or days at a time. So many people want to tackle the root causes of their ill health and poverty but feel powerless to do anything. Therefore, unlike most food banks, we work to provide long-term solutions to people who lack the power to change.
I was able to meet some amazing social entrepreneurs from across the north of England; people who have revolutionised social housing, musical education, summer schools, food redistribution and so much more. We have already begun to collaborate and share our knowledge. I am especially keen to work with charity leaders in Leeds who are alleviating food poverty using some extraordinarily clever methods.
In February, we reassemble in Sheffield and are focusing on Strategy. I am currently drafting three change plans for St Catherine’s around fundraising, food bank operations and communications, so these next two sessions will be incredibly valuable to my charity in the weeks ahead.