In the late 1980s, following the closure of coal pits, a rail manufacturing depot and various other local industries, north Doncaster found itself in the unenviable position of being named as one of the most economically deprived communities in the UK. Unemployment became so endemic that it was common to find three generations of the same family without work. The poverty was crippling – a high percentage of young people leaving school with little hope of ever finding employment. Something had to be done. Wildwood, an imaginative initiative growing out of some of the local churches, including Bentley Parish Church, was one response to the problem.
Wildwood is dedicated to reclamation. On the face of it the project restores unused or broken furniture as well as manufacturing new pieces from discarded and damaged wood. But beyond that Wildwood exists to reclaim and restore people who have found themselves on the scrap heap of unemployment. So, by offering training courses in a range of skills such as woodwork, upholstery and French polishing, the project not only produces quality furniture but also develops highly qualified and employable staff. In fact, Wildwood turns out such skilled wood workers that a number of local timber merchants regularly approach them for their recruitment needs, rather than advertising vacant positions more widely.
Steven, for example, was a miner at Barnburgh colliery until 1989 when it was suddenly closed and he found himself redundant. Before he signed up with Wildwood in June 1998, he had been through various re-training courses, but had found to his cost that they repeatedly failed to result in any hope of long-term employment. However, at Wildwood he was able to complete an NVQ Level 2 in Wood Occupations, go on to gain a Certificate in Health & Safety and after a year find himself in paid employment for the first time in years.
Steven has subsequently gone on to pass a further NVQ in woodwork and is presently studying upholstery and furniture restoration. He has also been able to develop a specialism in French polishing, a skill he learned from one of Wildwood’s volunteers, Terry – a craftsman with over 40 years’ experience. Steven’s self-confidence has been given a huge boost – he is now a fully trained professional keeping alive the traditional skill.
But perhaps the best news about Wildwood is that it has both understood and begun to grapple with a key issue which faces the majority of charities – the question of how to build an enterprise culture. Though initially Wildwood, like most other charities in their early days, was almost completely dependent on grant funding from the government’s Single Regeneration Budget and various other sources, its directors have worked very hard to build its financial stability. Now a significant percentage of its revenue is generated annually from its training courses, the products it manufactures (such as a long-term contract for fencing a large local estate) and the much sought after, high quality, restored furniture that the trainees produce. Though not totally selffunding, Wildwood is well on the road to commercial viability and the security of the stability that brings.
Faithworks exists to resource and equip churches, Christian projects and individuals as they play their full part at the hub of their local communities as well as actively liaising with central, regional and local government. The Faithworks Movement is a partnership between a wide range of denominations Christian organisations and church networks including Christianity+Renewal.
Chalke and Change Jargon Buster
We live in a world addicted to jargon. Computer nerds, businessmen, the military, politicians, Christians – all have their own specialist language. P.D.As, C.P.As, R.P.Gs, L.S.Ps and L.E.Ps; pdf. files, low-hanging fruit, collateral damage, early day motions and ministry times – society is littered with abbreviations and ‘in crowd’ terminology.
The problem comes when one group or tribe wants to communicate with another. If the Church is going to talk to the government, other voluntary agencies, social services, the NHS etc. we are going to have to become bilingual. Each month Chalke and Change unpacks one key phrase of community development language and explores how it can be useful to churches. This month what is ‘enterprise’?
The dictionary definition of enterprise is: ‘industrious, systematic activity, especially when directed toward profit.’ An enterprise culture is, therefore, one where a project develops a product (be that goods, services or a combination of both) of clear market value, and through them creates a sustained and sufficient source of revenue to meet its future needs.
For any community or charitable project funding is always a big issue. Though it is relatively easy to gain initial funding to cover start-up costs, experience shows that it often becomes much more difficult to attract repeat financial backing to support the developing work. ‘Pump-priming’ funding carries with it the expectation, on the part of the funders, that the project will move towards being able to fend for itself financially within the funded period (typically one to three years).
From a funder’s point of view, it simply makes better business sense to give a project a hand up rather than repeatedly supplying it with handouts – which in the end isn’t sustainable anyway.
In truth, certain aspects of many charitable projects will never be selfsufficient. However, in a world where there are ever greater demands on every pound of charitable giving, funders are increasingly keen to work with enterprising charities which are able to think ‘outside the box’ and do all they can to make the bits of their project that can pay work for those that can’t pay. The journey from charity to enterprise may be a long road, but it’s a highway every wise charity will want to explore.
If you would like further information about Wildwood, ‘enterprise’ or to debate the issues it raises, visit the Faithworks website.