Friday, 29 January 2010

The Right to Try

The Plunkett Foundation staged a brilliant conference earlier this week. The 'Right to Try' focused hard on the inevitable need to communities to take the initiative and improve themselves, rather than wait for our cash strapped Government to do it for them.

Particularly interesting was the way the incoming Conservative Government plan to give communities the 'right to buy' redundant community buildings. This will go a long way towards keeping and building community space. (You can't be an active community if everyone stays at home!)

The conference also explored one of the most challenging community conundrums. How is it, that when good stuff happens in one place, others don't follow and do the same. Instead we constantly see missed opportunities and struggling pioneers, reinventing wheels which, are already spinning perfectly a few miles down the road.

I have an idea brewing here, that would highlight opportunities in a dynamic and alluring way. More on this later.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Sunny delight

The Times recently reported an alarming rise in the incidence of rickets amongst British children. The condition is the result of vitamin D deficiency and is caused by staying out of the sun and not eating a balanced diet.

It seems strange that after more than 100 years of medical research and social reform people should now opt out of good health. In the Victorian slums bow legged children, deformed by rickets were all too common. Parents were poor, housing was poor and good food hard to find and harder to pay for. Now rickets is back by choice.

 It's no longer considered safe to let children play outside; the fear of skin cancer, paedophiles and traffic is too great. Equally, fast food is so much faster and tastier than anything involving vegetables.

We seem to have reached the point where a happy healthy life is deemed too risky for young people. Deformity, obesity and social isolation is considered a far less risky option. Now it's only mad dogs that go out in the midday sun

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Retail is detail

I wonder what it costs to convert a city centre pub into a pizza/pasta restaurant? Certainly a lot more than it costs to clean a few windows. So why invest in one and not the other?

We almost went to a new Norwich pizza restaurant last night. It's been reviewed in the local paper and is not part of a chain, so worth supporting.

The menu outside seemed OK but the view of the restaurant was not. The glass in the door had been half heartedly cleaned and was all smeary. So was the mirror on the wall just inside. It makes you wonder if the glasses and plates get the same treatment? We turned round and went to Pizza Express - the 'devil we know' instead.

Dirty windows suggests a lack of attention to detail. Windows are detail you can see. In a restaurant, there are plenty of places where you can't see people taking short cuts. 

As with anything new, people will only try it if it's clearly as good as what they're used to. The restaurateur saved five minutes - but it cost him a customer.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Mean and green!

We recently had a comprehensive energy use survey of our business premises here. Carried out by Brian Holder from University College Suffolk the work was funded with an EEDA grant.

The results were interesting and we're already saving money. Later this year we'll be applying for planning consent for a wind turbine and we've been exploring solar hot water heating.

But insulation was the area I found most startling. I specialist contractor took a look and suggested cavity wall insulation between the Edwardian brick skin and 17th century inner structure of our farmhouse. I'd forgotten we have a cavity to fill, That work will be done later this month.

A large sold brick wall separates our living space (a barn) and a former grain store. Here they suggested an external insulation material that costs an eye watering £4,300. I'm going to go for a greener and meaner alternative. A wall of wheat straw bales that we'll buy off the field at harvest and bring the bales home with my tractor and trailer. Estimated saving £4,000. Cool eh!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

CICs to become a better investment proposition

It's great to read today that as a result of the recent review of the CIC structure, the rules are to be changed. I'm always thought that CIC limited by share offers the greatest potential. It allows for genuine, meaningful community involvement (through share holding) and means you can attract external investors too.

From 6 April a CIC will be able to give investors up to 20% return. This is a very, very positive move. I only hope it encourages more people to see and value the merits of the CIC limited by share option. At last social enterprises can attract investment in a way that rewards the investor. We all want to do good; now we can invest in social enterprises without losing out.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Dying to meet you


We're contract publishing a magazine read by retired people and offered a couple of worthwhile charities a special ad rate as we had two pages to fill at deadline. Both chose to run legacy ads which got me thinking

Both have professional marketing teams and both clearly know their marketplace, but why seek to start your donor relationship by promoting legacies? Would they not have done better to find ways to get to know our readers and make them feel valued, before asking the legacy question?

I'm the lead Trustee on marketing with Norfolk Community Foundation. Here our policy is to introduce donors to the organisation and the work that it does long before they consider their own death. I'm pretty sure that when the Foundation gets legacies, they will be from people who have become familiar with our work and comfortable with our ways.

I'd say that the more personal the product you're selling, the more important it is to really get close to your prospect before popping the question. Dead simple really . . . . .

Saturday, 9 January 2010

2010's going to be a bouncy year

One of my current projects is to explore the opportunity for a GP Practice to set up a nursing home. The vision is for the nursing home to be community owned. By this I don't mean in a token sense, with regular open days and consultation. I mean set up as a community interest company with local people able to become shareholders.

This set me looking into how care homes are managed and that led me to Eden Alternative.  As much a philosophy as anything else, the Eden Alternative is a fresh and exciting way to care for the old and vulnerable. People are encouraged to stay active, involved and to care for others. It's simple yet clearly highly effective.

I'll be using this image in my presentation to the doctors next week. We only get new things if we challenge our perceptions and recognise that things don't always have to stay the same.