In my last blog, I wrote about some of the exciting social enterprises I encountered while working with Santander. The videos from my Newcastle trip are now up on the Santander website so I have a good excuse to share more of my excitement at ‘discovering’ (in that unmistakeable Columbus style) real live social enterprises thriving outside London.
Following an unexpectedly sunny introduction to Newcastle and its surroundings at the Rising Sun Farm, I headed to Lynemouth, Northumberland. While a stunning beach pit-stop provided a welcome distraction, the road to town took us past the desolate power station and smelter, providing a timely reminder of the large portion of the town’s residents that have recently suffered the same fate as the miners and shipbuilders in previous decades. Boarded up shops and a sense of desertion palpable in the town attest to the difficulties this has brought. Public transport is sporadic and people are moving away in search of employment opportunities.
It was this that motivated Andrew Gooding of the Lynemouth Community Trust to search for ways to create employment and bring a sense of achievement and pride to the area. Following research to identify gaps in the market Andrew and his erstwhile café helper, now expert chocolatier, Dawn, set off to get themselves educated about chocolate and fudge. And so an unexpected passion was ignited though which Kenspeckle was born. Dawn told me she dreams of chocolate and often wakes up with chocolate recipes buzzing around in her head. The kitchen prides itself on both high quality and experimentation. Dawn’s enthusiasm has infected Jade and Stephen, two employees that I met who were getting ready for a chili festival when I visited so all their products contained chili. Honeycomb with chipotle oil and chili sounded a little out there to me but I have to say was unexpectedly delicious.
My final visit in the area was to the pretty town of Hexham, set on the green hills of Northumberland looking over the Tyne. There I met Chris Milner, an ex-BA IT guru whose personal experience of mental disability through his son inspired him to create job opportunities for people with learning difficulties. The Hextol Foundation has four businesses: a catering business that makes baked goods for local cafes and sandwiches, a gardening business, a decorating business and a pack & post business. He charges competitive rates and the businesses have been growing steadily for five years. The catering business is propped up by the others but Chris keeps it going because it provides variety for the volunteers and it’s an important life skill. I visited both the gardeners and the painters on site and was hugely impressed by their enthusiasm and the quality of their work. A big shout out also to the team leaders: Cherie, Paul and Ali who were very tolerant of me and the production team, showing up, asking lots of questions and generally being disruptive. I think some of the volunteers enjoyed it though!
Check out the videos here
Birmingham is next. Don’t wait for the blog! You can see the videos already.