After tying up my PhD studies at the beginning of the year, I am increasingly asked what I plan to do next, answering with a very vague, non-committal, “I am doing bits and pieces/tying up the final parts of my research/looking for potential opportunities” type of response. However, what I have in fact been spending an increasing proportion of my time doing is investigating the feasibility of launching a modern coffeehouse in my local town of Worthing, West Sussex, based upon the social enterprise model of business (i.e. one where there is a defined social and/or environmental mission, think, at the national level, Divine chocolate, The Big Issue and FoodCycle).
When considering what to do post-research, a number of factors entered my decision-making process. First was a desire to draw together the skills and knowledge I had gained in my research career with my love of baking and my personal ethos to make a positive social and environmental impact. Second, was that I decided early on that I wanted to do something day in day out that I could honestly say I loved and that would continually challenge me. Third, I wanted to stay close to Worthing, particularly with the impending arrival of my niece (in August). With a great support network of family and friends, it seemed nonsensical to look elsewhere to make a positive impact. And finally, at a time where I am (lucky enough?) to have few personal responsibilities or commitments, doing something that pushed the envelope a little seemed very appealing.
Transforming A Baked Thesis from baking blog to coffeehouse in Worthing, with a commitment to creating a positive social and environmental impact, seemed like an exciting, and timely, opportunity.
Why a social enterprise?
There is increasing recognition that the dominant way of doing business is unsustainable and that business as usual needs to change to respond to the challenges faced in society today. The social enterprise model of business has the capacity to do this, putting community, society and the environment at the core of activities. Just like any business, the aim is to generate profit, but the key difference is what is done with this profit.
A social mission?
At this stage (i.e. the early stage) there are four aspects to the social mission of A Baked Thesis, all of which are dependent on the provision and sale of, high quality food and drink in order to generate as much profit as possible to plough back into 1 through 4 (no pressure right?!).
1. Supporting local businesses
I am eager to source as much produce as possible from the local area, to use in the food and drink I sell as well as in a small deli-style produce counter (to help promote local businesses). Additionally, I aim to draw on the expertise of local businesses for other aspects of the business operation (for example, marketing, accountancy and legal support).
2. Providing employment opportunities and work experience
In collaboration with local educational establishments, I am hoping to provide apprenticeships and work experience placements for students, as well as supporting other employment initiatives in the area.
3. Supporting local communities and groups
Through the coffeehouse I want to support local charities and community projects through, for example, the catering of events and the provision of free meals for, for example, families in need.
4. Developing a dynamic space
My aim is to develop a space where people can meet, eat and socialise, reflected in its design, to encourage multiple social experiences and support a dynamic programme of events. This will contribute to overcoming some of the social problems the town faces, for example those associated with social isolation, whether it be a weekly book group or providing a space for groups to meet.
Progress so far
With a potential premises found, financial forecasting starting to take shape and a strong network of suppliers and customers emerging, the vision is all becoming quite real. While to date, A Baked Thesis has primarily been a baking blog, over the next few months it will transition into what I have outlined, albeit briefly, in the paragraphs above. I will of course continue to blog about my adventures in baking, but will intersperse these posts with those documenting my journey into social entrepreneurship.