Congratulations to Bradford LEGI Team…

…for organising a morning of learning and development based on the experiences of the three community based enterprise projects commissioned by the council as part of their 3 year LEGI programme.

It was the second time they had attempted something like this and I thought it was a big improvement on the first effort! It was possible to get a real insight into the work of BizzFizz and Camberwell GRID in the LEGI programme and I did my best to talk about the work of Inspired Futures working under the guidance and support of the Sirolli Institute. I found the time allotted (45 minutes) was way too short to cover the lessons learned so far – but hopefully I gave some insights into the work and progress made by Inspired Futures.

I think we probably played it quite safe and skirted some major issues – probably for fear that we could not really get into them in a safe and effective way with the time constraints available. Alan Wallace from Camberwell really tried to get some meaty discussion going – but without more time to really develop the arguments and without a much stronger sense of mutual support it felt almost irresponsible to lift the lid on Pandora’s Box!

For me the issues requiring substantial development included:

  • Getting beyond the low hanging fruit (the enterprise ready) to really make a difference to the enterprise culture – providing radically different types of support to those that don’t see themselves as enterprising;
  • Establishing links and coherence across projects – making things simple and straight forward for the clients rather than the service provider
  • Ensuring that projects are fully client focussed – rather than looking at strategic goals, outputs or sustainability targets. There is a danger that project sustainability will become a more important driver than responding to community and client needs. This is perhaps especially a challenge for the GRID projects that have buildings to fill. It must be very easy to see every potential entrepreneur as a prospective tenant.
  • Enterprise and entrepreneurship as a double edged sword.  We all want to see more enterprises, start-ups and business growth in the City. However this has to be enterprises/entrepreneurs with a real chance of long term viability and sustainability. Encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship and enterprise as ‘inherently good’ may well spawn a large number of start-ups that later fail. This could set back attitudes towards enterprise by a generation. Small business is a hard and risky endeavour. Even with the most robust planning the truth is ‘we just don’t know’ what will happen. So instead of encouraging people into enterprise it should be developed as an option – and they should be helped to explore it as just that – an option. Not to be encouraged – or sold – regardless of the pressures to achieve numbers. Starting businesses is easy. Keeping them open and making them successful is another thing entirely!
  • ‘Accessing’ the community/Prospecting – finding people to work with. If people do not want to be helped – they should be left alone. The challenge is not to push our services onto people – but to develop a track record and service that is a positive part of the community (rather than a service from the outside to be ‘sold’ into the community). When we have achieved this, gradually, over time more and more people will be attracted to the service and benefit from it. Word of mouth marketing will enable the service to take off.

LEGI funding in Bradford has 18 more months to run – although hopefully projects will be supported beyond then. 5 years from now will the LEGI legacy in the city be seen as like rainfall in the Sahara that caused a thousand seeds to flourish briefly and die? Or will it succeed in transforming parts of the Sahara into enterprise fertile communities?

  • What did you make of the event?
  • What issues did it raise for you?
  • What do you think we, as a community enterprise support providers, should be doing to ensure the longer term success of the current activity in Bradford?

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