The Feed - a recipe for resilience
Latest in the new 'More Expert by Experience' series by Chris Lee
The Feed - a SEEE member - is a trading arm of Community Interest Company LEAP (www.norwichleap.co.uk) providing fine food, catering services and more, in and around Norwich. They're passionate about food and people - well, that's what it says on their website - and nothing The Feed's founder Barry Allard, a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, tells me makes me think otherwise.
I'm re-interviewing Barry 18 months on from our first chat about what starting a social enterprise demands and how he and his growing team have overcome the challenges.
The 'social' part of the enterprise is about providing work experience and training in hospitality and catering for those who, for a variety of reasons, are furthest from the job market.
The academy that Barry talked about in September 2014 has now supported three cohorts of learners through a 12-week course. The Flourish Employment Academy involves formal training working in the business and day workshops at local food producers.
When I ask about the intention 18 months ago to source ingredients locally, Barry is upfront about current considerations.
"We aim to use local producers wherever possible, and the Norfolk Food & Drink Festival community have helped us with this, but increasingly we also have to be aware about the cost of buying local."
Balancing the 'social' and the 'enterprise' - principle and profit - is nothing new amongst businesses like The Feed that set out to bring business solutions to social problems. Barry is honest but positive about how they've been getting their house in order in recent months.
"I was realising that the hours I was putting into setting up The Feed[and LEAP - also founded by Barry]were not sustainable, and I required people with the necessary experience in the catering and hospitality industry."
The solution was to take the big step of employing an experienced chef and adding to the staff team another recruit with relevant catering and retailing skills. Barry believes that they are now getting on top of the figures with better costings and the ability to make more informed decisions about which events to attend to make money and/or raise their profile. This has also enabled The Feed to make more contacts in the industry.
Another major development is the relocation of The Feed to Open - a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue in central Norwich working with and for young people. Access to bigger kitchens, and opportunities to cater for conferences and other events on-site, has demonstrated the benefits of The Feed's willingness to work in partnership with others.
18 months ago Barry Allard was aware that the catering and hospitality industry was not easy sector to work in. It seems his opinion hasn't changed,
"It's a difficult business; there's the upfront expenditure with no guaranteed return and the potential for waste. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into putting food on the plate with associated costs, and success is often weather-dependent."
Barry hasn't yet worked out how to control the weather, but I'm left with the impression that he and his team are getting a firm grip on the financials and also seeing reward in preparing learners well for the world of work wherever their careers take them.
Fast Food, Lifelong Learning https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/fast-food-lifelong-learning (September 2014)
Follow The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk, Twitter: @TheFeedCIC Facebook: thefeedCIC