Our social enterprise journey
Updated: Jun 22
Last week was Page & Bloom’s fifth birthday! Our founder, Rosie, takes a moment to reflect on how it all started, how far we've come, and some of things we've learned along the way.
In June 2018, Page & Bloom was officially registered with Companies House, marking the formal start of our existence as a social enterprise. The name we registered, Hartland and Dean, comes from my two grandmothers who, in different ways, were strong, pioneering and compassionate women. Although we now trade as Page & Bloom, Hartland and Dean Limited is still our official company name – I like to think of my grandmothers continuing to watch over us.
We started with a vision to help women survivors of domestic abuse get into work, build financial independence and rebuild their lives in positive ways. I wanted Page & Bloom to be a place where women could earn money, take the first step into work, and develop work skills. But also a place to heal, to rebuild confidence that had been eroded by abuse, and to develop new social networks of women who would understand and support each other. It was important to me that Page & Bloom was a business with a social purpose, rather than a charity. I wanted to offer women the dignity of having a paid job at a brand they could be proud of, rather than being recipients of a charitable service.
Our journey so far
So where are we after five years? We have created jobs for 16 women, 70% of whom are survivors of domestic abuse. We have welcomed 19 women on to our training and work skills programme, and created paid work experience placements for 11. And we celebrated our five year anniversary by launching our new training programme, welcoming some new guests to the first in our series of drop in craft sessions.
We have made a lot of flowers – almost 15,000 at the last count- and saved a lot of paper and resources from going to waste. We’re proud of bringing a lot of joy to our customers for hundreds of weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, thank yous, or just random expressions of love.
The time has flown by, and it certainly doesn’t feel as if half a decade has passed. In some ways, the biggest achievement is that we’re still here. 20% of small businesses in the UK fail in their first year, and 60% within the first three. As a social enterprise trying to create social good as well as staying in business, I’m proud that we have sustained, and grown, through those first years which included the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know what was coming when I started the business in 2018. We’ve learned to adapt through these roller-coaster years, at times hunkering down and hanging on, and at other times starting new product lines, trying new approaches and taking gambles to grow. It’s been tough, and in all honesty there have been times – mostly late at night poring over the accounts or faced with a mountain of flowers to make over a weekend– when I’ve thought we wouldn’t make it.
It takes a village
We’ve been supported by a loyal customer base, who have continued to buy our products when times were tough, tell their friends about us and generally cheer us on. They’ve even donated generously to our crowd funder to fund our training programme. We’ve also been helped by different social enterprise support programmes – shout out to the School for Social Entrepreneurs, Unltd and Social Enterprise UK – who have provided us with training, funding, mentoring and networks to help us grow, expand our social impact and get our products to market. As well as these formal support networks who do so much to nurture the social enterprise ecosystem in the UK, we’ve had an informal army of beautiful people who have helped in many practical ways – from our accountant who does our account for free each year, to family and friends who step in to make flowers late into the night when we have a crunch order, to the mentors and advisors who have encouraged and kept us sane.
Most importantly, the women who have worked with us as employees over the last five years have given their all to help the business grow- not only making flowers, but bringing their creativity to design new products and suggest new ideas, supporting one another and stepping up at difficult times to fill the gaps. Last summer my father passed away, and the wonderful team, led by Sarah our Production Manager, took over running the business so that I could spend his last few weeks with him and grieve after his death. I will be forever grateful to them for making it possible to have those weeks. If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes a village to turn a social enterprise into a reality and keep the wheels turning.
What we've learned
So what have I learned from the last five years? There is so much we do today that I never thought I’d be able to. But there are some things I wish I’d known, or rather believed, from the start. So if anyone is thinking of starting a social enterprise, this would be my advice (but see # 3):
Change when things change. It’s not going to turn out how you plan, and that’s probably ok.
Make mistakes, and allow others to make them. It’s not about whether you get things wrong, it’s about whether you learn from them
Accept help – you can’t do it all yourself, and even if you could it wouldn’t be as good as if others get involved. Get as much advice as you can – but feel free to ignore some of it. People have great ideas, but that doesn’t mean they are all necessarily right for your business at that time.
Assume the best. People want to support value led businesses. Your customers want you to succeed.
You don’t have to be able to solve all the problems in society- it’s ok to do a bit of good, and then a bit more, and gradually do it better
Record things from the start, keep track of your impact. It’s why a social enterprise exists, and it’s so much easier to have simple systems in place from the start. They can always grow and get more complex as you go on.
It gets easier – the longer you can hang in there, the more you’ll know, the more often you’ll be doing something you’ve done before, and the more people there will be to help out.
You’re doing fine. There will always be another organisation looking amazing on Instagram, seeming to do better, win more awards, have more supporters. Other people are probably looking at you thinking the same thing. What you don’t see is the flailing around behind the scenes that is everyone’s actual reality. In the wise words of a fellow social entrepreneur “You will always feel sweatier than you look”.
Don’t make major decisions when you’re tired and hungry. Have a biscuit, sleep on it.
You never have enough of the following: white board markers, tea bags, spare keys. Buy double the number you think you need.
No doubt my grandmothers would have had much more wisdom to share, but I hope they’d be proud of where we’ve got to so far. Here’s to the next five years of Page & Bloom!