Social platform aims to create a safe space for isolated professionals to connect and share experiences
Anita Cartwright explains why she left her fashion industry job and exhausting lifestyle to start ‘The Village’, providing a place where practitioners working on their own, particularly in rural surroundings, can find peer support, mentors, collaborators and suppliers.
See this page in: Cymraeg
Where did The Village idea originate?
Sadly, things are tough for many people right now, especially as we adapt to the new normal after COVID. The Village will build resilience against these challenges, via a new, kinder, social platform. It provides a peer support community for those who are daring to make their own luck, as freelancers or small business owners, and those who are looking to make that leap. Many people are having to reassess due to job insecurity too. We provide a supportive community for them as they step into the world of self-employment. My dream is for The Village to release the potential in all of us. We all have unique skills that deserve a chance to be showcased. If we work together, we can be stronger and find ways to move forward with support, collaboration and community.
Why do I want to do this? Well, I have had a very rocky few years and I learnt a huge amount from the help I received from a few kind people. Seven years ago I was working round-the-clock in the fashion industry, yet spending all the money I earned trying to keep up with an exhausting lifestyle, and was burning out before I turned 30. So I left London and came back to Wales, to an area where I grew up, to develop an online business with my husband. However, starting a life, a business and a family in the rural Brecon Beacons, has been a real struggle. Our clients were overseas and we didn’t have ‘colleagues’ so we felt very isolated at the start. Then I suffered a number of pretty major life setbacks, culminating in being unable to leave the house for eight months, with a very difficult pregnancy. I was so grateful for the people who supported me during this time from new friends and neighbours where we live in Crickhowell, to the online support groups for people suffering from the same condition as me (Hyperemesis Gravidarum). I honestly don’t think I could have got through it without them. The Village will therefore ensure that people have that helping hand when they need it. I was already working on a way to get peer support out to those outside the big cities or traditional networks, people like me, then COVID-19 came along and I knew the time to act was now.
Lockdown has been tough on many people’s mental health and sadly the economic consequences are only just beginning to be felt. I have been delighted to see how communities have rallied around their small business owners, from pre-paying for haircuts to buying their groceries locally. All these small businesses and producers that keep us going, the foundational economy, are so important to our wellbeing but are at the biggest risk from the forthcoming recession. The Village therefore provides a safe place for these freelancers and small business owners to come together. Be that sharing best practice or finding mentors, suppliers and collaborators. Together we can be much stronger than on our own and help each other weather the storm
Can you give us a summary of what has been achieved?
We have been using the lockdown to plan; figure out exactly what we are going to offer, cost out the business plan, and get lots of advice. This has meant quite a lot of time on video calls getting peer support from a wide variety of experts in their field; from policy to software developers, to those who have started their own successful businesses and communities. We have big plans but the over-riding advice has been to take one step at a time and let the community decide what we offer and what order to do things in.
To get us started, we have launched ‘The Village Community’ Facebook group and were delighted to have over 50 freelancers and small business owners sign up in the first two days, mostly from the local area of South Powys, Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent but also as far afield as Bristol, Shropshire, East Sussex and even France.
On the first day I was so delighted that a new member of the group contacted me to thank me for starting the community. They said they had low confidence after being out of the professional sphere for a while but then went on to list a most impressive list of skills. What is more wonderful is that they have experience in a very niche industry, exactly the one which another group member is trying to break into. I have made the introduction and they are meeting up as soon as they can, who knows what that conversation could spark? We have also linked up two gardening enthusiasts to work on a new project, connected a group of rural food producers with a potential supply chain in Cardiff and organised free peer training in stress management and how to get published. It is so rewarding to be a small part in creating new futures for people. It really gave me confidence that we are on the right track, as a key part of our wider ambitions is to match people who can plug each other’s skill gaps
Did you have to overcome any major obstacles / challenges?
Unsurprisingly the biggest challenge is accessing funding. We hope that in the long run the community will sustain itself by people paying-in what they can afford. We will then be sharing our profits with the community, in the form of micro-grants, to overcome barriers to enterprise, such as training, certification, and raw materials. However, it will cost tens of thousands of pounds to build our bespoke platform. We are applying for grants but in the meantime, we are collaborating with others to offer as much as possible before making this big investment.
"Our time is now! The world is changing and social businesses will be key to ensuring that future economic prosperity will also mean better living standards and a kinder more sustainable world. We are planning for the future that we want to see, together."
We have big ambitions. The main one is to have our own platform as we want to offer an alternative to the existing social media, which is created around the concept of surveillance capitalism i.e. where a company seemingly offers their services for free but then they track how users are interacting to push advertising on them. We don’t want to go down that route. We believe that influence should be earnt not bought. We also don’t believe in pay-walls, as this disadvantages those who are starting out and keeps the influence in the deeper pockets.
Any there any members of staff / community you would like to give special mention to?
I have been so grateful for the support this project has received from people giving their time for free, to share their expertise and making introductions to potential collaborators. This includes finding Peter Mills, who has come on board as Impact Director. He has worked with some major international charities and is ensuring that we are clear on our social objectives and will track how we meet them. The Crickhowell community of independent businesses also deserve a mention, not only for serving as inspiration but also their willingness to join and support the community in its early days.
How has Social Business Wales New Start been supporting you?
Social Business Wales has been great in answering loads of questions on the realities of running a social business, from company set-up to the ongoing governance. Thanks to Social Business Wales we will be officially registered as a CIC soon
Can you describe the importance of local community and social businesses collaborating?
Collaboration is really the key to what we are doing. We believe that a network of passionate individuals can achieve anything. We are so much stronger as a community than we are on our own. This will be even more important in the tough and uncertain months and years to come
If you had one message for the social business sector right now, what would it be?
Our time is now! The world is changing and social businesses will be key to ensuring that future economic prosperity will also mean better living standards and a kinder more sustainable world. We are planning for the future that we want to see, together.
If you have a social business idea and want to learn more about the support available from Social Business Wales New Start, book on to one of our ‘Start Something Good’ regional webinars or get in touch with the New Start team to see how they can help.
The Village has received business consultancy support and advice from Social Business Wales New Start, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
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