So, you have an idea, you want to help people and you’d like to set up an organisation which is focussed on social good above profit, but how do you do that?

We are going to share some of our journey, some things we experienced that we did not expect.

Way back in 2012 Elizabeth had an idea!

One which was born out of frustration with the systems that surround children and young people with special educational needs. Having spent 20 years being a SENCO, supporting and working alongside thousands of families, the same issues kept continually coming up. Searching for a better solution to these issues was impossible, the solution just was not out there. Families asking questions about housing issues, about benefits, about refugee status, about personal budgets (if they knew what one was). The solution did not lie within education alone.

So, in 2014 Elizabeth set out with her little idea to try to change peoples lives for the better, to play a small part in easing their journey through systems.

There were a few people and organisations helping along the way, the key point here is to:

Find people who are starting on the same journey as you.

She found support through networks like School for Social Entrepreneurs, PWC, SME meet ups, and she challenged herself to step out of the world of charity and social enterprise and understand more about commerce and finance, through engaging with Chambers of Commerce, gradually building up a small but vital network of supporters who would challenge, guide and celebrate the successes and failures.

Find your red lines.

Very early on we made a couple of decisions which were our red lines, the things we absolutely would not do. We spent a long time researching and discussing what ‘formal’ status we wanted the organisation to become- one of the toughest decisions for any business start up, our business structure is related to our values and priorities. We decided early on that we DID NOT want to spend 50% of our limited time filling out paperwork and complying with requests from bodies such as the charity commission. We decided that we DID NOT want to spend 50% of our time bidding for grants/funding to probably not be successful, especially when bidding against larger organisations who often have bid writing teams.

We wanted a structure that was easy to maintain, that had the least amount of bureaucracy, but would be flexible enough to allow us to focus on what we truly wanted to do, which was to build relationships with families, parents, young people, to support them on their journey regardless of the issue, so we became a limited company with a soul!

We decided that we wanted to be affordable, to be accessible to the ‘average’ family – to qualify what we mean by the average family, we mean one where parents/carers are trying to hold everything together, who may be working, exhausted, busy, who don’t have time to seek out support and help, who are not on Facebook groups and if they are certainly don’t have the time to read all the posts.

We didn’t want our help to be siloed, so if you have an issue with health you go to service X, If you have an issues with education you go to service Y, if you have an issue with social care you go to service Z and so on, we wanted to be whole family, whole issue. We would simplify what is a complex landscape and make it accessible to the ‘average’ parent/family.

We decided that we would always be about people not process.

We would NEVER be commissioned by a single local authority was our next red line. After making the decision to be selective about applying for grants and funding we then decided that we would never alter our independence by being commissioned by a single Local Authority, we didn’t frankly have the time or willingness to be jumping through all the commissioning hoops in order to secure a small amount of funding, we’d leave that to the big boys!.

We decided that no matter what we would make our support affordable to the average family.

There are some fabulous charities who offer amazing support to families in the SEN world and we encourage all our families to go to them first, in fact many of the families who come to us often have. We advertise organisations such as IASS, IPSEA, CDC, Contact, on our email footer so that parents are aware of all the options and can make an informed choice. We also explain to families that there are solicitors who may be better placed than us to support with specific issues, but that they charge anywhere from £120 to £250 per hour and we also send families off to request legal aid. We believe that parents and families MUST be given information in order to make informed choices about the option which is best for them in their situation.

We had an initial meeting with a new family last week, whose son is currently out of education, parents were confused about the process, their rights, and just want the best for their son. Mum said that what we offered was not just a ‘service’ but a lifeline, we understood immediately what support they needed, what needed to happen next and how to make that happen, she said we gave her more help and support in the initial ‘free’ phone call than she had had from anyone in the last 2 years.

Stick to your ‘WHY?’

Though ‘Houston we now have a problem’.

One of the things we never expected when we set out on this journey was to be successful, which may sound a bit odd. We just wanted to help people, we never thought about what would happen if it actually worked! So here we are now in a situation where we have supported around 1500 families and are currently averaging 3 new family enquiries per week. We have a huge issue to grapple with – the number of enquiries is far outstripping out resources, should we put our prices up, bid for a grant, become a charity and accept donations? We got together and discussed all the options, we agreed that our social mission was to be, affordable, independent and accessible. Our reason for being was to support the ‘average’ family. We made the decision to keep our prices at £120 for 6 hours of support, to not waste time bidding for funding but to stop taking on new families until we have got the families we currently had over their hurdles.

When you are starting out with your little idea, with your revolution, it is an incredibly isolating time, you need to continually revisit your purpose, your reason for being and don’t be put off by others telling you that you can’t do it that way, if you’re a social enterprise you have to be a CIC or a charity, You do it your way, the way that suits your vision and your purpose, look for people going through a similar experiences as business leaders, find networks of support, know that your idea may one day change the world, after all that’s why social entrepreneurs do what they do.