Across the UK, small business owners are busy helping out their local communities as well as running their own operations. Here, David Adams speaks to a few of them and find out what drives their voluntary efforts.
Small and medium-sized businesses are not just the economic lifeblood of the UK: every day thousands of SME owners, managers and employees make valuable contributions to society in other ways. That includes the millions of pounds raised for charities, but many FSB members also do a huge amount of voluntary work to help other small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Those efforts should be acknowledged and celebrated – and in February 2021 FSB honoured many of these people as Volunteer Champions, including several of those featured here. But it is also important to recognise that for many other small business owners and entrepreneurs this is simply part of what they do, because they believe that helping
each other is good for all of us.
Grace Graham is Director of the Keep It Simple Training Company, which provides bespoke equality, diversity and leadership training, but she is also a college lecturer, a mentor and FSB diversity and inclusion lead for Greater London.
Grace has been helping other small business owners and managers via FSB since she first became a member in 2016. The FSB group she set up and runs in Hackney, east London, has been meeting since 2018.
She felt it was important to offer attendees opportunities to talk about their work. “So that’s what we’ve been doing: helping other people find the confidence to get up and talk in front of people, to help them to get connections they never would have had,” she says.
Leading these meetings has created opportunities for her, including as a lecturer at New City College in Hackney. She is also an enterprise mentor for current and former University of East London students who are starting businesses.
Volunteering gives her huge satisfaction. “It’s about fulfilling every potential of my life and helping others to do the same.”
For more than 20 years, Gennaro Borelli’s business, Gennaro Organic Hair & Beauty, has been an institution in the Bedfordshire market town of Leighton Buzzard. He chairs FSB Leighton Buzzard Retail Special Interest Group and the town’s own business association, Leighton Buzzard First.
LB First campaigning successes have included delaying the building of an out-of-town supermarket for so long that the supermarket decided the large store format was no longer viable. “Had we not done that, lots of independent businesses in the town would have suffered,” says Gennaro.
LB First and FSB have also collaborated on the development of the website shoplocallb.co.uk, through which more than 100 local businesses now have an online presence. FSB is sponsoring the site, and businesses listed there can get a 30 per cent discount on their first year of FSB membership.
He urges small business owners to deepen their involvement in their local communities. “It’s a great way to have a strong voice, but you also get to make new friends and meet lovely people,” he says.
Maggie O’Carroll is CEO of The Women’s Organisation (WO), created in 1996, which supports women growing businesses. She delivers the Enterprise Hub for the Liverpool City Region Business Growth Programme, and is also visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde’s Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship; co-chair of the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group; and a board member of the National Committee for SME Enterprise Competitiveness and Sustainable Urban Development at Civil Society Involvement.
Her job at the WO includes lobbying for small business-friendly policy. She also mentors social entrepreneurs across the UK. During Covid-19, this included identifying gaps in government support. “Sometimes it’s lobbying, sometimes it’s networking, sometimes it’s mentoring, but it all focuses on using networks to try to get influence for small businesses,” she says.
“My moral and business compass has always been about giving a hand-out and a hand-up. Why wouldn’t you try and create an environment where you can promote economic and social wellbeing? It’s just the right thing to do.”
Bayo Igoh, founder and owner of Bigoh Coaching, developed an interest in social policy while volunteering at Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre. He went on to work for Lambeth Borough Council and a variety of housing organisations. In 2017, he decided to focus on working as a business coach and mentor.
In his job, he helps business owners develop the confidence to create opportunities. He also runs FSB initiatives in Lewisham, south-east London, is a trustee for the NGO Children of Rwanda; and works in voluntary roles for organisations including the Black Training and Enterprise Group, Black Owners and Enterprises, and Mental Health First Aid England.
With some of these, he works with young people building careers – “helping them to navigate managing teams, taking on workloads and projects” – or those leaving the criminal justice system – “showing what can be done if you are given the opportunity to turn a corner”. He also offers pro bono or discounted coaching to entrepreneurs. “I get a lot of pleasure out of practising my art and seeing someone else benefit,” he says.
Chandra Sharma is Managing Director of Tangent Office Resources, which sells office supplies, stationery and work clothing. He is also a mainstay of the local business community in Orpington, south-east London.
Born in India, Chandra came to the UK when he was six. The family lived in Dudley, West Midlands, where they opened a clothes shop that was a community hub. “Dudley symbolised what community is all about,” he says. “That idea of togetherness really resonated.”
Since founding Tangent in 2005, Chandra has sought to improve the fortunes of all the businesses in the town. He helped to set up the Orpington Town Business Forum, as well as working with FSB.
As well as being named a Volunteer Champion by FSB, Chandra received an award in December 2020 from the BOSS Federation – the trade association for the office supplies and services industry – for work that he and three other FSB members have been doing to help business owners facing severe problems during the pandemic. “Community is more important than ever now,” he says.