What I have learnt from running Bricks and Bread.
Image by #BBhub member Claire Holgate sharing her graphic recording skill to capture the collaboration story behind Bricks and Bread
I had a vision of creating a social enterprise that would enable people to collaborate and share their knowledge, to make it easier for everyone to live, work and build sustainably.
I felt compelled to share the valuable practical skills I’ve learnt from years of running my own eco building firm and discovering how to reduce the waste I sent to landfill.
I found it is equally as useful and interesting to have this knowledge, it is also vital this knowledge is spread, to benefit the environment, economy and society.
When the credit crunch happened in 2008 I felt sure it was the right time to start a venture that pulled together a hub of experts and likeminded individuals who were prepared to share knowledge, skills and resources to encourage self-reliance and sustainable business.
To achieve this I have done the following;
I leased huge premises in my own name (not a business) to provide a commercial example of sustainable business in action.
I sourced vast amounts of reused waste to provide free resources for this venture to use and share.
I provided a free advice clinic every Saturday.
I’ve offered free or heavily discounted training courses.
I’ve also provided my venue for free for similar activities.
I’ve given hundreds of talks to share my knowledge.
I’ve given hundreds of people mentoring to grow their business and enabled them to fulfil their potential.
I’ve given work experience to hundreds of young people from all backgrounds and abilities to learn about real sustainable business.
I’ve shared my experience and helped others replicate their venture using my methods.
My news and views have been openly available via websites and social media. This has built an online hub of tens of thousands of people and businesses.
I have continued to do all of the above for the last three years.
My social enterprise Bricks and Bread may be a worthy business venture that many support or benefit from its collaborative, entrepreneurial, sustainable activities. But in reality it only exists and thrives because I’m strong enough to lead it, to cope with and remain determined to overcome the difficult challenges it creates.
It is surprisingly difficult to run a business that is less concerned with how much profit it can make from its customers and more focused on being fair and collaborating with others to make a positive difference with its actions.
Why is this so difficult? Because our modern society has encouraged us to value money more than other people or the planet! Often it is more important to most of us to make enough money to buy the things we want or need, as quickly and conveniently as we can, in order to maintain our position in society. Sadly this is increasing selfishness, damaging wellbeing and allowing us collectively to ignore how vulnerable the consequences of our actions are making us.
Creating a social enterprise to provide a realistic solution to these issues has not been easy, but it also hasn’t been impossible. By ‘walking the talk’ I have been able to steer a path through the obstacles by learning the art of meaningful collaboration. I have come to the following conclusions and offer this advice to anyone who wants to run a collaborative, socially beneficial venture;
“If you don’t have the courage to walk alone others will not have the courage to walk with you”
I’ve always had a network of people who shared my vision and wanted to get involved. Only a handful of people have actually done anything to help. I had to take all the risks and give my time and effort without any certainty of financial reward. Only then did people start to collaborate and contribute to support my venture.
Warning! In a collaborative businesses the following can happen with the people involved;
They may do nothing with the opportunity because they can’t be bothered or doubt it will work.
They may do nothing unless they will benefit financially.
They may proactively sabotage the venture.
They may take and give nothing in return.
They may use the good publicity they’ve gained from working with a social enterprise/sustainable business to mask their inability to do either in reality.
They may lie, steal or get angry to manipulate situations into being for their own benefit.
Or they may simply not doing what they promised to do.
However, there are huge benefits and opportunities from running a collaborative, sharing venture.
You can achieve more
Change can happen faster
Walking the talk spreads inspiring messages of hope and encouragement
It helps people become more resilient
It enables independent communities
You will gain more than money, often the greatest benefits of social enterprise that will restore your faith in others are both intangible and un-measurable.
Sometimes the people who originally behaved in negative ways towards your project (see list above) will change their minds when they see you won’t give up and your motives are genuine!
I would never go back to running a venture purely for profit.
I had a vision three years ago to achieve something other than making money and this is now happening in reality. It is gathering momentum every day and making a positive difference, even if sometimes the benefits appear to be intangible.
You only have to read the tweets I send at 9am from the @bricksandbread Twitter account to see what a wonderful bunch of people I am lucky enough to know. I send these messages to thank and promote the #BBhub member of the day, the genuinely collaborative, supportive people who use their knowledge, skills and resources to help others in the Bricks and Bread hub.
Finally, trust your instincts, look after your self esteem and wellbeing. If you believe in what you are doing then never, never give up. Even the most resistant to change will collaborate fairly in the end!!