I sit on the Hot Group of the Herefordshire Rural Hub. The Hub is a Community Interest Company led by farm and rural businesses across Herefordshire and its aim is to give members access to business development opportunities and keep them up to date with information on events, funding opportunities and rules and regulations. It is also represented with all the main agencies and funding bodies, giving the farming and rural community in Herefordshire a strong and coherent voice at national level. It has over 1,500 members (membership is free) and is a trusted and respected body in the county.
Like many CICs and charities, the Herefordshire Rural Hub has seen significant changes to its funding in recent years. It was fully funded by government from its inception in 2004 until 2012, but since then has received no regular government funding support. It has managed to continue operating with no significant loss of output, but in doing so it has relied on the goodwill of volunteers and paid staff working considerably more than their allotted hours, resulting in a great deal of stress and uncertainty. The situation had become unsustainable and to secure the future of the Hub, action needed to be taken.
The Hot Group therefore met for a Visioning Session, led by award-winning Growth Accelerator coach Rachel Carr of Business Checkmate, who had kindly donated her time as part of her corporate social responsibility remit. The aim of the session was to look at where the Hub was now, where we wanted to get to in the next few years and how we were going to get there.
Like many not-for-profit or social enterprises, when we started the session, we struggled to think about the Hub as if it were a business that could (and perhaps should) generate income rather than seeking grant funding or simply ‘cutting its cloth’. But once we had overcome our initial doubts about what we were ‘allowed’ to do and how important it was to take control in order to be able to continue to deliver our mission, the ideas really started to flow. The most important outcome of the session was that we need to seek input from our members to find out what they want from the Hub and what they think is acceptable in terms of seeking sources of income. But once we have the mandate from them, the sky is the limit!
The reluctance to make the transition from being an organisation that relies on grant funding and volunteer support to one that innovates in terms of its income streams is one I see fairly frequently. The Hot Group Visioning Session was extremely interesting in revealing where this reluctance comes from. But the Hub’s determination to take its destiny into its own hands is not only inspiring, it’s also essential in the world we live in.
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