6th March, 2017

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. Here is Jonathan's second blog post on his experiences with the programme to date.

For the second part of the programme we met at the Burton Street Foundation in Sheffield. The charity is a remarkable place where trustees have turned a failing community business, yoked to a £1million debt, into a widely-celebrated enterprise that now benefits from a multi-million pound revenue stream.

Dr Vasilios Theoharakis, Director of MBA Programmes at Sheffield University Management School (one of the top 1% business schools in the world) gave an incredible presentation about drafting high-quality business plans. He has previously worked in Silicon Valley and has a wealth of knowledge about the financial difficulties faced by leaders of social enterprise. We looked at Sir James Dyson in particular, and how it took him over 5,000 attempts to build the first bag-less vacuum cleaner. We also looked at the steps he took when retailers did not want to sell his invention because vacuum bags made them hundreds of millions of dollars each year and the Dyson 1 posed a threat to that income.

Dr Vasilios’ words were a big encouragement and resonated deeply with my own experience of trying to fund and scale new work. He explained that constrained ideas are far more resilient than well-funded projects, as those often grow complacent. He also helped us to articulate critical risks and assumptions to improve the credibility of our strategies.

On the final afternoon we were shown around the charity's many buildings, which have recently benefited from a massive investment made by Power to Change. I also met the manager of the £10million pound Community Business Fund.

I have taken twenty pages of notes back to St Catherine's and am really looking forward to our next two days in Newcastle.

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