This morning, the very wonderful, Simon on the Streets had bit of a shindig with its supporters in the Fourth Floor Cafe of Harvey Nichols in Leeds.
Now Simon on the Streets is a magical organisation for many reasons. Not only does it do great work with homeless people in Leeds (with bold plans to expand) but it does it with a philosophy of person centredness and respect for service users that is quite beautiful to see.
But this post is not about Simon on The Streets.
It is about Harvey Nichols. And me!
I am firmly in the camp that says the economic and social development of Leeds has been far too heavily dependent on the retail and financial sectors. So when Harvey Nicks came to town I was not one of the first through the door. I saw it as yet another step in the grand brand invasion of the city I call home.
In fact as I queued to get in I commented to a friend that I had NEVER set foot in Harvey Nicks before, and that I wasgobsmacked that it was my relationship with Simon on the Streets that had finally lured me in. I was certainly a ‘fish out of water’. A one man boycott.
The event itself was wonderfully managed. Simon on the Streets message as ever gave me goosebumps and bought a tear to my eye. But I noticed something else. The quality of the service in the cafe bar was also a thing of beauty. They must have served 60 or so hot breakfasts while speeches were being made with barely any intrusion. No dropped cutlery. No clanking of china. Skilled and efficient waiting staff who knew their work. Not always the case!
After the event the General Manager of Harvey Nichols, Brian Handley introduced himself to me. He had heard me mention that I had never been in before and asked me why. So I told him about my one man, informal boycott of ‘up market cathedrals of consumption’!
I then listened to Brian tell me about many pieces of work that Harvey Nicks do to raise money for social enterprise in the city, but perhaps more importantly how they use their purchasing power to support Yorkshire based business, their venues to provide showcases for Leeds based charities and artists and their partnership work with 11 mills still making cloth in Yorkshire to help keep them in business. He told me about the local sourcing of produce in the Cafe Bar. And he told me about the pride and effort that they put into training retail as almost a craft occupation. He also told me that Prada are a real supporter of Yorkshire textiles. Some of my prejudices were well and truly put to the test, and exposed for what they were – prejudices.
Now I doubt that everything is the Harvey Nicks garden is rosy. I expect there are chinks, perhaps vast gaping holes, in their CSR agenda. There must be issues around carbon footprints and food miles. I am sure there will be people thatwill tell me about their bad practices. But here was a man who clearly was proud that he and his employer were doing what they could to make sure that not only does Harvey Nicks provide a great return to shareholders and a wonderful retail experience to customers, but doing it in away that creates as much good as possible and does as little harm as practicable.
I have written before about my cynicism about the self congratulatory nature of some of the social enterprise sector and their demonisation of ‘for profits’, about how there are simply good businesses, bad businesses and a whole lot that fit somewhere in the middle. ‘For profit’ does not mean ‘bad’. And being a social enterprise is by no means a guarantee of ‘goodness’.
Here was a partnership working for both Simon on the Street and Harvey Nichols. And here was a ‘for profit’ ‘cathedral of consumption’ doing great work to keep local businesses going and support the third sector.
It was a useful reminder of my own message that there are just good businesses and bad businesses and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.
And to beware my own prejudices!