South Yorkshire Police Officer Turned Social Enterprise Start-Up Founder
03 December 2015
Being a police officer in South Yorkshire, to forming a start-up ‘upcycling’ social enterprise is not considered a natural career path. In any city there are inequalities but Sheffield’s strength is its communities, and after living, studying and working in Sheffield I wanted to help create change. Setting up a business in the heart of the community seemed the ideal way of doing this.
Here at Strip the Willow, we currently employ five people including a joiner, an apprentice, school work experiences as well as many volunteers. Our skilled workers salvage materials and discarded furniture from building and landfill sites, transforming them into bespoke products that can be sold in our shop. We make all sorts of things out of stuff people throw away as well as rescuing bits of historic buildings. For example, we have made benches from the rafters of a 19th Century Church and taken old vinyls and turned them into clocks!
Not only are we a furniture business, but we also run a café and an art gallery. I wanted to create a space for people who wouldn’t have the same opportunities elsewhere to learn new skills, gain confidence and experience. We also hold events, gigs, special concerts and fairs so it is a really fun and engaging place to be.
Sheffield is a great place to live; I moved here 30 years ago as a student and decided to stay! Firstly there’s a lot going on here, there is a great music scene and the access to the Peak District means there are loads of outdoor activities. The two big universities bring lots of students who like our low prices and quirky products. I also love the Antiques Quarter, where we are based, as it is a really vibrant part of the city with lots of independent businesses.
I have absolutely no background in furniture but I’m passionate about recycling as well as changing business practise. The enterprise acts as a good spring board for our employees and volunteers; we provide them with experience, new skills as well as their food hygiene certificates and good references. The project is completely self-funded, with all our profits going to training volunteers and job opportunities to local people. While the enterprise has been a great success, I have faced many challenges, given that I had no track record in retail; didn’t know anything about tax, accounts, HM Revenue or even what support for small businesses there was out there. But, with the help of Business Sheffield, our generous volunteers, Sheffield Social Enterprise and the School for Social Entrepreneurs we have just celebrated our 2nd birthday and were nominated again for the Social Enterprise Yorkshire and the Humber Start-up of the year which was really exciting for us. Also we have been working closely with Business Sheffield to promote Small Business Saturday, a national event on 5th of December that encourages people to shop locally, brings small businesses together and promotes them, which was a great success!
It’s certainly not been a quiet retirement but I have enjoyed every moment of it. We are building towards a bigger enterprise, looking for new manufacturing processes inside and outside of Sheffield.
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