Sheffield Flourish is a charity that works collaboratively on innovative digital and community projects, recognising the untapped strengths of people who’ve experienced mental health challenges. Within Sheffield they support a number of community social enterprises, and Oasis Gardening is one of them.
The journey so far
At the time of starting the programme, Oasis were generating some sales of their gardening services. However, it was felt there was much more potential for growth. Additionally, the organisation was reliant on grant income to subsidise the wellbeing activities offered. It was felt growth has stagnated due to capacity, with a lack of upfront capital available to develop the business. This meant the Project’s management spent most of their time delivering gardening services.
During the programme, the organisation has benefitted from a combination of grant, access to a peer networking group and learning workshops plus financial management expertise.
The organisation benefitted from a grant which predominantly supported additional staff capacity enabling ‘protected’ time for the Assistant Manager to undertake planning and development work, plus some business coaching support. The organisation was also offered a ‘match trading grant’ of £10k, to reward the organisation for sales from new customers it achieved during participation on the programme. The organisation surpassed this target and benefited from £10k towards things such as capital investment into new tools, equipment and a second van.
Luke, Assistant Manager reflected that the programme has enabled growth which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise: “The most useful part of the support was twofold: A) the use of a business coach to solidify some basic, but crucial, knowledge in running a business and B) The grant supporting additional capacity, buying Oasis a new van and set of tools. This is something we couldn't have otherwise afforded but was essential to our growth”.
On a very practical level, the support has supported the implementation of consistent process and systems for quoting for jobs planning the workforce schedules, and information sharing between colleagues – all of which has saved precious time of the enterprise’s managers. “The support of the business coach helped me to organise every aspect of the business into a manageable work stream. I learnt to delegate and to even drop tasks that weren’t vital to the growth of the business. I gained a lot of confidence in business in making decisions and managing staff through the encouragement of a coach who was an experienced business manager.”
Furthermore, Luke added “After building financial reporting systems, we are now keeping month by month measuring of our finances and other KPIs, meaning we are much more sensitive to how things affect our profit/loss, and can adapt much more quickly as a result.”
What would you do differently?
On reflection of the journey travelled to date Luke reflected: “Looking back, I would have managed my time differently with all the tools I have since learnt! Learning how to compartmentalise and plan my time through tools like a default diary, and daily frog sheets, as well as simply learning good habits around prioritising tasks. Three years ago, I didn’t think I could achieve so much in a day!
The advice I would give to someone starting out a social enterprise gardening service is to remember that it is a social enterprise, and to keep the wellbeing and social aspect of gardening present throughout your gardening jobs. This helps to build a team of happier staff and this culture builds trust and rapport with customers that goes beyond what a private business may be able to offer."
Before joining the programme, the organisation was generating c. £16k of sales annually. Now the organisation, on completion of the programme, have generated £47k of sales in their latest 12 months. This is not only a nearly 200% increase in sales, it importantly gives the financial resources for Oasis to continue to fund weekly "admin and development" time, following the end of the grant.
The next goal in sight is to reach £70k of annual sales income - it is forecasted that this would offer an £8k surplus to contribute towards the costs of the Gardening for Wellbeing activity. And with a second van now in operation a target of £100,000 is felt achievable, if the weekly schedule of two vans can be maximised. Importantly, from an impact perspective, this would fund two staff members to manage the Wellbeing activity, in turn increasing the number of people who can attend and benefit.
“Thanks to the programme, what we have to do is much clearer, and we now have the tools (not gardening tools!) to get them done. There’s a lot we still have to build around the business, and much more to learn, but two key focuses are staff wellbeing and marketing.
We are in the process of building a system for caring for the wellbeing of staff, this feels particularly important as the enterprise gets busier. We’re also very keen to build a marketing system that helps us to be less reactive in our business development. With more proactive campaigns, we feel we can bring in steady business throughout the year to fill our now much larger capacity for gardening jobs.”
You can see more of Oasis' work here: