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Social Franchising

17-June-2016 15:50
in Severn Project
by Admin

I started the Severn Project in 2010 with a lot of nothings.  No money.  No experience of growing food.  No experience of the catering trade.  No support.  No board members.  And yet in 2015-16 the project generated a profit (accounts will be published mid July – they’ll show a £30k profit) distributing around 700kg of produce per week while protecting the environment by not using any weed killers or any nasty pesticides, while shortening the food supply chain AND providing employment to people who probably would struggle to get jobs.

In those years though I struggled.  Regular 70 hour weeks, exhaustion, stress, no time for family, no money, bailiffs collecting my council tax, isolation etc.  All the things we warn people about in a therapeutic situation.  Dangerous stuff really. (I got a degree in Addictions Counselling in 2009).  I learnt a lot about self-sacrifice,  tenacity, bloody-mindedness (mine), growing food, the catering trade, working with people who have significant barriers to mainstream employment, dealing with people and organisations that think growing food is some sort of fashion statement or a way of getting funding, dealing with accreditation bodies, land purchases (we just bought 8 acres of top quality land), land leases, temporary use, soil fertility, seed purchases, packing, handling customers, pricing, refrigeration, logistics, suppliers, banking, credit, loans……

And in the meantime I have had people ringing wanting to know how to do this.  How to get to the point where it’s not an all-consuming monster that you have to feed all your time and energy to…

So we have taken the decision to Franchise what we are doing.  We want there to be more food being grown around the UK.  We want to re-introduce market gardening as a viable, visible and attractive means of generating income for individuals, groups and organisations.  It would have been easy to set myself up as a consultant and charge £40 per hour but it doesn’t seem.…..empowering to do that.  Empowering for me maybe but I don’t want to be the person with all the secrets who will reveal them to anyone who can afford to pay.  As I said I started with no money and no experience and discriminating against someone in my exact position for the sake of £40 per hour 6 years later is not what I want to be doing.  Growing food is for everyone.  We can all do it.  We have proved that.  So franchising a horticultural framework upon which social outcomes can be arranged is what this weekly blog is going to be about.  A 250kg minimum which will bring in around £2500.  Per week.

I have just spent a very intensive week with Allianz who have really challenged me about the basics – Who?  Where?  Why? How much? And between us we have developed a time line and a set of criteria so that a minimum of four franchises can be started for next growing season.  Our franchisees will have the benefit of our training, our accreditation, our HR, H&S and administration packages, an availability of funding and loans, our contacts with seed suppliers, packing materials, our label, our marketing, refrigeration and packing machinery, growing machinery and polytunnels, insurance and the benefit of our accumulated wisdom in the three main areas of horticultural enterprise – growing, packing and distribution and administration.  Most importantly they will have access to our product backup through the winter and at any other time so that they can with confidence go and start growing food.  We won’t specify social outcomes but base our expectations of our franchisees on respect for people and planet.

I’ll be putting this blog (a new one every week) on our facebook page, twitter and the website.  Cheers, Steve