In the midst of a complicated schools project, recruiting 100 new volunteers and multiple commissions in new areas with new customers, 2021 hit us at full speed. When Jess, our Operational Manager, kept speaking of things we’d get done in ‘quieter times’ I didn’t have the heart to say that there probably wouldn’t be any.
As a start-up there are no rules – just vast uncertainty, ranges of emotions and assumptions that if you’d only done something different then wouldn’t things be better. Self-doubt is part and parcel. I honestly don’t think ceasing and furloughing crossed my mind last year and quick decisions were undoubtedly made. That they appear in hindsight to have been the right ones doesn’t necessarily mean they were – rather our skill for making the best of the situation we find ourselves in. I’ve always thought this a brilliant self-preservation characteristic.
Your Own Place is in its eighth year. As a Community Interest Company that is still here after eight years, survived Covid19 and is in fact growing its paid team with increased traded income, makes it something of an outlier.
Many businesses have talked about years worth of transformation during Covid. We are no different. Faced with temporary closure, a return to a charitable model and ploughing on to do the work we do, there was simply no choice. Being mission driven to deliver complicated and sophisticated interventions meant that it would have been hard to simply start selling something else. This combined with the very early warning signs that the need for our service and the difference we make was only likely to go in one direction. That need equates to demand is not an assumption we make – it is my job to ensure our offer meets the evolving need sufficiently to receive the elusive investment required.
2020 was always going to be a pivotal year for Your Own Place, with social investment resulting in our first Operational Manager. I for one am thankful for the light that the horrors of the last year have shone on the need for our service. Pairing back, distilling the core parts of our service, taking it online and starting new conversations have all led to our current growth and new contracts.
Our need to grow, to recover, to deliver quality has meant a relentless focus for 2021. Finally, I know what it is we do best, what it is that is needed, what difference we make, what we need, what is commercially viable and how to talk about it. These moments are years (and pandemics) in the making. Sometimes conversations go on for years before a penny drops, demand is unlocked and trust created. We have no right to exist and no charitable donations that we get regardless of whether we’re any good.
So when people say to price yourself properly because you’re a life-time in the making, it is the same with a social business and the contracts we’re starting with new customers. One such contract we’re thrilled to have got off the ground is with Saffron Housing. During the pandemic, their charitable foundation very kindly donated money to Your Own Place and they’ve been lovely, supportive and encouraging ever since. I recall being genuinely touched as I’d had little contact with Saffron and didn’t know we were on their radar. And so the conversations, alignment of values and need for our service emerged too. We can’t wait to train their tenants, learn from their experiences and provide the catalyst for people who just want to call a house their safe and secure home.