Crewe YMCA has been serving the needs of young people in the South Cheshire community since 1984. They offer high quality, affordable housing, where young people can build the skills they need to live independently.
In 2010, a new residential facility was completed at the rear of the site (Foyer @189); and the front building was refurbished to provide a space for engaging residents and members of the local community in positive lifestyle activities. The refurbishment, supported by the Government "Places of Change" Programme, created a gym, a café, an IT suite and meeting space which will be developed as social enterprises to help sustain the engagement programmes available to young people.
The first to get off the ground earlier this year was Chad's Gym@189, which is fully equipped and open to residents. The gym space is rented out to external fitness instructors for classes and local schools working with disabled children. It is hoped to cover the costs of the Gym Instructor's post through the development of the social enterprise. Initially they are aiming for the Gym manager to spend around 50 per cent of his time on supporting the commercial use of the gym and the other 50 working with residents. The hope is that by around year three the full salary will be covered.
Chief Executive, Peter Speed, says that the timing of the development is aimed at achieving gradual progress that is sustainable, rather than taking on too much too soon. "The setting up of a social enterprise is dictated in many ways by the size and capacity of the organisation. We are not a large organisation with spare resources and the recent redevelopment was a very challenging time for staff. We are focused on building a long-term vision and planning the progress step-by-step."
Lessons from setting up a social enterprise
Peter says it is important to have honest conversations within the organisation at the very beginning, "When different priorities and timescales emerge within the management team and Board, having a clear shared vision of the long term is essential, to manage expectations and keep the discussions objective"
Part of the discussion centred on realising what skills were needed within the organisation and identifying gaps. Peter says they were fortunate to find an experienced and committed gym instructor, which has made setting up the social enterprise considerably easier. Finding the right skills and resources to develop the remainder of the space is still ongoing, but opportunities and partnerships are emerging.
They have had to adapt their approach to the social enterprise in some ways. For example, they initially hoped that by year three the social enterprises would make the positive engagement activities self funding. However, they now expect to still require some element of grant funding for a longer period.
Over the next three years Crewe YMCA aims to develop sustainable social enterprises run by people who are great at engaging with young people. Not setting major financial targets, but aiming to establish a model that will sustain engagement activities for young people and see them achieve in learning, jobs and personal development.