In the first instalment of our new Profile Series, we sat down with Paula McCormack, experienced facilitator, HR professional, coach, and currently director at Meadow Well Connected, a multifaceted community hub and social enterprise in North Tyneside. The purpose of this series is to showcase the people behind the dynamic social enterprise landscape in the North East and inspire other social entrepreneurs to make a similar mark and drive social change.
Please tell us how did you get started?
I started life as a graduate in management and chose a career in human resources. For my first five years in human resources, particularly in the North East, my job really was closures, restructures and reengineering. I saw the devastating impact that had on the NE, and how vulnerable the NE was to external investment. I did 10,000 redundancies in a five-year period. Then I went outside the NE and focused on professional services, returning to the NE in 2003, at which point I set up my own consultancy to support the 20% of the population who were self employed, focusing on considering organic growth. In 2012 I was approached to take over at Meadow Well following the departure of its founder. I guess I was chosen because of my understanding of community and community-led intervention combined with a clear business background.
What does social enterprise mean to you?
On a really simple level it’s delivering services that support the growth of communities and economies that have the capacity to be reinvested into those communities and economies.
How do you see its role in the North East?
I suppose with the demise of local authority services and an incredibly challenging economic environment, social enterprise for me is the only way forward that marries the need for services with the need for economic development. Social enterprise is relevant in North Tyneside because the values that underpin social enterprise enable a different perspective in developing solutions to fit community concerns rather than solutions that fit a government or business agenda. To achieve this, we have to walk our talk. So over the past two and a half years, we’ve made it our business to move away from grant dependency, and into self sustaining enterprise all the while developing business streams and solutions that meet both the Meadow Well community’s needs and the wider North Tyneside residents’ needs.
How does your social enterprise work? Please tell us a bit more about the business model.
In its simplest form we have a two-core function business model.
The first is generating income through our charitable and community activity supporting people with learning difficulties through their Personal Budget to access quality services that develops their independence – working in our extensive gardens developing horticultural and beekeeping skills and our joinery workshop developing products that support the garden, birdcages and chicken coups. We also deliver alternative education provision serving the wider NE, serving 14-16 year olds with vocational education in joinery, horticulture and sustainable renewable energies.
The second function is using our extensive facilities to support many other local enterprises through room hire and delivering training to meet the needs of the care and hospitality sectors. While room hire can be for multiple purposes, profit can be reinvested in core programs.
Both functions generate income, the first very much focused on community activity, the other on generating income, but both serve wider communities.
What are your barriers to success?
On a personal level there aren’t enough hours in the day. I would have said initially it’s finding like-minded people who would support me as a peer in the journey, but having now developed that network, I’m ok. What the organisation faces is just a daily profitability and cash flow management challenge in the transitions. If I were to be really pedantic, we’d like getting acknowledgement through the local authority in what we can deliver. We’re not one of the big boys, and so sometimes we are discounted. Political challenges in bidding for contracts are also a source of frustration. You always have to hold more belief in others than they have in themselves.
What are the main things you’ve learned about yourself by being involved with a social enterprise?
I’m stronger than I thought I was and definitely more passionate than I could have imagined. Having a good peer group around me is essential for my sanity. As long as you’re bringing enough enthusiasm, passion, and belief, it’s easy to have people follow you and then take their own lead. Inspiration from the drive and commitment of others, particularly volunteers, gives me immense strength.
What advice would you give to a budding social entrepreneur?
Get a great peer group around you, invest in yourself, and believe in yourself and then you’ll carry enough belief for everyone else.