Companies House podcasts
John-Mark Frost: Director of Operations

John-Mark Frost: Director of Operations

August 20, 2020

John-Mark Frost chats about what he’s learnt about himself in a professional and personal capacity over recent months. Also, about how customers and colleagues have been kept safe, revised levels of service and the golden thread running through Companies House: diversity and inclusion.

 

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to a brand-new episode of “Meet the team” from Companies House. Like many things big and small, this series has not been what we planned in January. In our first two episodes of “Meet the team” which I will link in the show notes of this episode, we recorded with Oceanne and Toby in our Cardiff office. But since then due to government guidelines following the coronavirus outbreak, I now find myself hosting this episode at home in my living room with my dog on my lap.  I'd like to welcome JM Frost who is the Director of Operations at Companies House. He is someone that as soon as we started this series, I knew I wanted a record with. That was then and this is now and after everything that's happened over the past few months and the work that we've done supporting our customers during this difficult time, I'm even more excited to introduce him. So welcome JM. How are you? 

 

John- Mark Frost: I'm good. Thank you Megan.

 

MH: How have you been finding this time? 

 

J-MF: Yeah, it's been interesting. So a mix of being in the office and working with colleagues there and the mix now obviously of working from home as well. And of course, I've got two reasonably young children. So being at home, there was always a reason I knew shouldn't be a teacher and this confirmed that I definitely chose the right vocation and choice of career. So, let's say yeah, we've all survived we've almost got to summer holidays, so all is good. 

 

MH: I think teachers have actually gained a lot of credit during this time. 

 

J-MF: Yes, teachers and hairdressers. 

 

MH: Yes, definitely. So my first question is what have we been doing at this time to support our customers?

 

J-MF: Yeah. So, lots and it's been really interesting to make sure that we've taken a lot of care to make sure that we had a balance between wanting to try and provide really high levels of customer service,maintain the sorts of service that we would provide during normal times as much as possible, with of course balancing that with keeping our colleagues safe. And so we were fortunate in some ways the majority of the services that our customers use are already online. So we've been able to keep them working, keep them going and support our customers through those online services, but we do have some particularly some of our more complex cases, complex case work. Where it was very much paper-based. So trying to maintain those services has been more challenging in terms of our customers often were at home. They weren't able to get out, weren't able to print or even if they were at home that the directors of the company they needed to sign things were at home somewhere else. So it was a real challenge, so it was looking for us to work with legal colleagues and policy colleagues to look at innovative ways that we could try and do it differently.

 

So what did the law require us to do in terms of the Companies Act and how could we try and support our customers to do some of that differently? So we've stood up new services, so we've got the emergency filing service where customers can go on and upload an electronic copy of a document and we focus that on the services that weren't already electronic and where customers couldn't already do things digitally. So we've done that. I mean even within a couple of weeks of lockdown we'd launched an extension service which in the first month or so had 90,000 companies applying for extensions and we were able to give extensions to those companies entirely digitally so they knew they had more time to be able to file their accounts with us and we form part of working with BEIS, our kind of partner and parent department and the Insolvency Service another partner organisation with BEIS another agency in government. We worked on the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill which went through and became an Act just earlier this month and so as part of that we were then able to look at that and make sure that we were supporting our customers giving them longer to file. Most companies now have another 3 months to be able to file their accounts longer on some of the confirmation statements and other things that they've done. So trying to do all we could whilst enabling our customers to do what they need to do to stay compliant with legislation.

 

MH: It's amazing and really things that in a normal world would take a long time to come to fruition just making company changing policies in weeks really.

 

J-MF: Absolutely I mean, normally the legislation would take months or years to go through the process and it was drafted within 3 or 4 weeks. Working really closely, collaboratively across government departments, working together across agencies, but also really listening to our customers. So what did they need? What do they need us to do what were some of the challenges that they were facing so that we could try and develop it and adapt it to kind of meet their needs. 

 

MH: Yeah brings me really nicely on to speak about how the colleagues have been kept safe at the same time because obviously to make all this happen there's the team's behind all the work that goes into it?

 

J-MF: Yeah, absolutely and it was a big challenge so as an organisation, you know we have great, fantastic digital services. Digital services both for our customers and for our colleagues, but we did tend to be quite office-based. So obviously our headquarters based in Cardiff and then offices, small office in London, Edinburgh and Belfast, but we did all tend to be in the office every day. And so suddenly we went into lockdown and the vast majority of colleagues between 90 and 95% of colleagues were almost immediately working from home and working from there like we are, from lounges, spare bedrooms, our kitchens, wherever we were, so that was great. So we were able to get people home at they were safe particularly those colleagues who maybe were vulnerable. If someone was in one of those vulnerable categories it was really important t to us to make sure people were safe. Then there are some things like I said that that needed to be done for us to keep the process running so to keep the Companies House information service and keep the register up to date we needed to do some stuff in the office. So in each of our offices in Edinburgh and Belfast and in Cardiff,  we've kept sort of skeleton staff in who are dealing with the post that arrives and then processing the really the kind of paper documents. They might be big documents or things that we couldn't do at that stage digitally, so yeah go do this first so it's really critical services and I will always be immensely grateful for those volunteers. 

 

So we did it on a volunteer basis of people saying, look people who are fit and healthy weren't in the vulnerable groups who volunteered to come into the office and run those services with me. I was there as well so for the first kind of 10 weeks I was in the office every day with them as a thank you to them. I wasn't as useful as a lot of them, but yeah, we managed to get through and managed to retain those services which you know are paramount to us maintaining that customer service. We weren't always quite as quick as we would normally be you know, there were some delays in the process, but we did manage to maintain those services to our customers.

 

MH:  Well understandably so and that's what I was going to ask as well, was what was the biggest challenge and how have our service levels been revised during this time? 

 

J-MF: Yeah. So I think that the biggest challenge was really finding out how critical our services are so, you know as our role as Companies House. We want to kind of drive confidence in the UK economy. We want to enable people to be able to look up the Companies House service. Look at the information about companies to make decisions. To know that information is up-to-date and is available there. I mean last year we had just over 9 billion searches of that information, a hugely searched piece of information and data source in government. To do that we needed to make sure that it was up to date and that the information was available. So that challenge of making sure we could do that in a timely way, that we could get the information in whether that be on paper, delivered by hand or trying to increase some of the digital elements and trying to make sure that our customers were aware of what they could do and encourage them actually in some cases. There was already a digital service so we could point our customers to look do that. That's the quickest way we will get it and of course getting so within the operational areas of Companies House is about 600 people who work in my area and so getting them home, where not all of them had kit initially, so getting that the kit the computers and such, so forth to then making sure they were safe and then changing our processes and adapting really quickly to get done what we needed to get done as quickly as we could. 

 

MH: Where there's a will there's a way.

 

J-MF: Absolutely, absolutely. 

 

MH: So my next sort of area I wanted to speak about with you is diversity and inclusion. It's really important to us all at Companies House. I know it's something you're quite heavily involved with and I was wondering if you could expand on that area?

 

J-MF: Yeah, absolutely. So yes, I think it's really important to all of us at Companies House as you said, and I'm really passionate about it for a whole host of reasons, but because as an organisation, we should reflect the citizens that we serve. We are only here to serve our customers and so we should be diverse in the way that we are made up so we can have those perspectives on a personal basis. So I'm the son of a single mother who was on benefits, so having that perspective, you know, some of my other colleagues maybe came from very different homes. Maybe there was plenty of money around and we all bring different perspectives. So we need to realise our customers will have those perspectives from different backgrounds. 

 

So my mum was an immigrant, she was from another country. I'm from a mixed heritage background so those perspectives that I bring I think hopefully will help me have the perspective with the range of our customers. So it's really important that we’re as diverse as the citizens out there that we serve but also that as an organisation, we're inclusive so we all have our own backgrounds whether that be background of race, culture, ethnicity, gender, the age that we are, our background whether we're Welsh speakers, whether we're not Welsh speakers, you know, LGBTQ perspective, you know all of those things. We will bring our own perspectives with us and our own mini-cultures and our ethnicity with us and it's really important that people can bring their whole selves to work. You know, we've got a really challenging role in Companies House. It's a role that we love. I'm really passionate about but as part of that we want people to focus on the role that they've got to play so they can flourish be the best that they can be in their role, not trying to hide something about themselves. So we want everybody to be bringing their whole selves to work so they can focus on doing the job that we want to do, to serve our customers to the best of their ability. So yeah, as I said, it's really important that we're both diverse and that we're a really inclusive and welcoming culture, something that you know, we're working on. I think we're doing it. We've made a lot of progress which is great. But there's always a lot further to go. 

 

MH: Yeah, it's one of those ever moving things, isn't it? You can't just say, oh we've done it now and we're diverse, we’re inclusive. It's ever moving.

 

J-MF: And I think COVID and the kind of situation has really helped because of course we've kept colleagues safe, as I talked about, physically safe from the virus and those sorts of things which is really important. But also it's about keeping people's well being safe and well and one of the various things we've done is around the networks that we have. So we've got a range of different networks, where that be the carers network, where that be the LGBTQ network or the faith network one of the ones that we’ve recently developed is the working parents network. So, you know to try and support people through this time. So different people created different resources and things so that people could then share with their children to keep them busy and support them because you know, it was really challenging being at home, lockdown for a number of months with the children there and as we mentioned at the beginning, you know, I'm definitely not a teacher so these resources were useful, so it's about being inclusive and considering people's well-being as well as their physical safety. 

 

MH: Yeah. I've been in Companies House I think coming up for 9 months and it’s something that honestly blew me away just the community. There’s space for everyone which is really lovely. My next question is what has this time taught you personally about yourself in a professional capacity?

 

J-MF: That’s a great question. I think it's amazing how both myself personally and as an organisation and kind of colleagues that I've worked with. It is amazing how resilient we can be, you know, it's you know, we always had plans for business continuity. What if there was a fire? What if there was a flood? What if the electricity went out? You know, these are sort of things you plan for and I'm not sure any of us had planned for a pandemic that meant that pretty much most of the world went into lockdown for 3 or 4 months. But it's amazing that we've coped. You know, we have been really resilient. I think collaboration has been the key. There's a phrase I think that, necessity is the mother of invention that actually when we need to it is amazing what we can do and I think I think that's true but also being in this it's really important with all of us working virtually and working in different locations to make sure that we remember that we're human that we do need to have a chat. That we do need to have to keep that human element of connection going. That's part of our kind of, our well-being and our safety as well so that we remember that we are people and that all of us need to connect on that level of working together not just of colleagues and getting work done. But we hopefully have to enjoy what we do and how we do it so that we can deliver more.

 

MH: Thanks, and maybe a bit profound but the same question but what have you learned about yourself in more of a non-professional capacity? We know you’re not a teacher.

 

J-MF: Yeah. I'm not a teacher and it was a good career choice. That's a really good one, I guess that I really love my family, but I didn't anticipate being locked in with them for 3 months, but don't tell them that I said that!

 

MH: Well, thank you so much JM. I'm at the end of my questions now. It's been an honour to chat to you. It's clear. You're so passionate about our customers and our business as a whole I knew it before, but I definitely know it now so thank you very much.

 

J-MF: Thank you very much for your time, bye-bye.

 

 

Meet the Team: Oceanne, interaction designer

Meet the Team: Oceanne, interaction designer

August 20, 2020

In the first episode of our new Meet the Team series, Meg speaks to Oceanne, about multiple uploads, new projects and cold January nights.

 

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to Companies House Meet the Team podcast. My name’s Meg and I work in our external communications department, and I’ll be hosting this series. I’m here today with Oceanne.

Oceanne Esparcieux: Hi

MH: So hello Oceanne and welcome to our brand new series. Thank you so much for agreeing to be our debut guest. I feel so excited about this series and I’m really pleased to be sat here with you today. How are you?

OE: I’m very well thank you.

MH: Good, how’s January treating you so far?

OE: It’s pretty dark. I don’t think I’ve seen daylight for a few months but it’s treating me pretty well.

MH: I feel like we're coming out the other side. The weather looks nice for this weekend.

OE: Yeah, I'm hopeful that we’ll see some sunshine soon.

MH: So firstly can you just tell me your role title and how you fit into the wider team here at Companies House?

OE: I'm an interaction designer and I work within the product team which is situated in the digital department. And my job is to basically design the digital services that we have at Companies House. So everything is moving away from being paper-based and is hopefully going to be online within the next few years.

MH: That's fabulous. I think that's the way loads of places are trying to move.

OE: I hope so because I hate speaking to people on the phone and I hate filling out forms, so if I can do it online, it’s a bit better.

MH: It’s the future isn’t it?

OE: Yeah.

MH: So I've had this plan that we’re going to have these jokey opening questions to get us going at the start of every podcast, so obviously you’re the first. So I’m going to start with… cats or dogs?

OE: Dogs.

MH: Tea or coffee?

OE: Coffee.

MH: Introvert or extrovert?

OE: Introvert.

MH: Night owl or early bird?

OE: Night owl. I’ve got one for you.

MH: What?

OE: Starter or dessert.

MH: Both. Starter.

OE: Good shout.

MH: Okay, so, moving on. Back to work. Which piece of work are you really proud of?

OE: I haven't been at Companies House for very long, so I've not had a chance to work on many services. But I did develop a service for applying for an extension for your filing deadline. And within that service, which has passed assessments and you can now use it online if you need an extension. Within that service, we have file upload and it was a pattern that we didn’t actually have in government yet.

So I helped design it with my colleague, Ollie. So we helped build it and it's now available online. And it's not just a single file upload, you can upload multiple files. And it's going to be the standard across all of Companies House file uploads now.

MH: That's really rewarding isn’t it.

OE: Yep, definitely.

MH: So why do users need to upload files?

OE: If they are applying for an extension, they need to upload a file to provide evidence to the team within Companies House that will decide whether the extension will be granted. And at the moment when it’s paper-based or by email, 10% of all applications come with files attached. So we wanted to be able to give the user that same opportunity online as well.

And it makes them feel like their application is going to be considered slightly better because they’re actually providing evidence for their reason.

MH: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's not just a tick box, it's giving that evidence that people can see their reasonings behind.

OE: They’re not just saying they’re ill, they’re saying I was ill and here’s a doctor's note.

MH: Yeah, definitely. So why do stakeholders need the users to upload files?

OE: So it allows the team, the internal team more information, to be able to make that decision. So not taking everything on blind faith, they’re actually being able to dig in a bit deeper and make sure that they can verify things.

MH: So Oceanne, why do we need multiple file uploads?

OE: Good question. We currently allow multiple file uploads on our paper-based or email applications. And we find that 10% of all file uploads will have multiple file uploads. It allows the user to give extra evidence. So if they were ill and they have the doctor's note, maybe they're also in hospital and they have information about being in hospital as well, it just provides more information about the extension application they have.

We actually found that when we did the first release of the online service, that users were finding a way around it and creating zip files or pressing the back button to upload another file. So it just meant that it was a more elegant solution to those people that were able to find their way around.

MH: I think it's really important because I definitely know from services that I've used, quite often you have that one chance to upload one thing and it's choosing which one. It’s important to give all the evidence that you have.

OE: Definitely, and it's so much easier for the user, they don't have to think ‘oh, shall I create all of these documents into one PDF or?'

MH: And that just doesn’t work.

OE: That’s right, yeah.

MH: But hasn’t the government digital service got a design for that already?

OE: GDS which is the government digital service, currently has a design for single file uploads. But they didn't have one for multiple file uploads, and it was something that had been discussed across all of the departments, so HMRC, DVLA, ONS have all discussed how they could create multiple file uploads. And no one was able to do it.

And GDS are really good at having quite open discussions, so everyone went away and designed their own, tested it made sure it was accessible and that uses understood what they were doing.

But, no one was actually able to have a fool-proof, accessible, multiple file upload that users were able to use every single time.

So I think that's why I was so proud that using all of the information that I gathered from these other departments that had done the hard work, I was able to amalgamate it and actually make it work for us.

MH: That’s so amazing. And it’s really nice that we’re collaborating with the other government departments and creating really amazing things.

What file formats do you accept?

OE: We accept most file formats, so we expect people to upload PDFs or images, word documents and things like that. At the moment there’s a limited number of things we don't accept. We don't accept videos and stuff like that but we do accept zip files still, so people can put whatever they like in there.

But we can only accept files that are 4MB or smaller, which might limit people uploading videos and stuff like that. But we found that the videos that users had previously submitted weren’t really relevant to the case and didn’t really help the internal team make a decision on the application.

MH: So why don't you say that on the page when the user uploads? Why doesn't it say that?

OE: We felt that if we had information about all of the things you couldn't upload it would detract and it wouldn't be a very smooth service. And because we accept so many file formats, it's easier for us to allow the user to go about what they do and then stop them if they’re doing something wrong and tell them why rather than just having too many warnings and too much stuff to read.

MH: I think it’s way more progressive to have the things you can do, rather than the things you can’t.

OE: We haven't found that anyone hasn't been able to upload what they want.

MH: Yeah, that's great. What would you say the biggest challenge you're facing right now is?

OE: In my whole job right now?

MH: Yes.

OE: I'm currently working on a couple of different services and I'm struggling with one project at the moment, which I will keep secret for now. But it's making sure that the user fully understands what they’re signing up for basically. So making the service appealing but also communicating that it can have quite severe consequences if you don't do correctly.

Because either the user doesn't want to read that so they’ll ignore it or they might just miss how grave the situation would be if they do it wrong. So it’s quite a difficult balance.

MH: Sounds like quite an exciting project.

OE: Yes.

MH: Can you describe your role to me in 3 words?

OE: If I hyphenate words and count them as one. So, it’s definitely a creative role, and there is problem solving but I think the main part of my role is making sure that everything I do is user centred. Putting users first.

MH: Excellent. And if you were going to go and work in another part of Companies House, where would you choose and why?

OE: That’s a really hard question. I like to think that I’d put my degree to use.

MH: Which is? Can I ask?

OE: It's in Film Production. So maybe I’d work in comms.

MH: Come work with us!

OE: But realistically, I love a spreadsheet. So probably somewhere in HR?

MH: Oh, I hate a spreadsheet!

OE: They’re so cool.

MH: They’re so hard.

OE: Yeah so maybe somewhere in HR, I don’t know.

MH: Well thank you so much, that’s the end of our questions for today.

OE: Thank you Meg.

MH: You’ve been a fabulous guest. So thank you and goodbye.

OE: Thanks. Bye.

Community Interest Companies: online filing for accounts

Community Interest Companies: online filing for accounts

August 20, 2020

We spoke to Ceri Witchard, Regulator of Community Interest Companies, about the new online accounts filing service for CICs.

 

Transcript

Gary Townley: Hello and welcome to a Companies House podcast. Thank you for downloading, or listening to this wherever you are. My name is Gary Townley. I'm part of the communications team here at Companies House. For those of you that don't know, Companies House is the agency responsible for registering and dissolving companies, collecting company information and making that information available to the public. We are sponsored by BEIS, that is, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy. We have 4 offices based all around the country. So one in Belfast, one in Cardiff, one in London and the other one, which I'm trying to think of now I can't think of, but it’ll come to me in a bit.

 

So a slightly different podcast today, in that I'm joined by Ceri Whitchard, who’s the Regulator of Community Interest Companies. We're going to be talking this morning about account filing online, which is a new service that is being introduced fairly shortly, I believe, so hi Ceri, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what a community interest company is?

 

Ceri Witchard: Yeah. Hi Gary, and thanks for having me here today. So community interest companies, or CICs, are social enterprises. So they were created in 2005 to give people a way of running a business, where they can get paid and can pay their staff but with a community benefit at its heart. So they're not charities, they are businesses, but they're set up to benefit particular groups of people or something in their community. And essentially they’re ordinary companies. They have to comply with all of the company law rules as well as some extra requirements for being CICs. They can be limited by shares, or by guarantee, and we’ve even got some on the record that are PLCs.

 

My office is responsible for regulating them. We check that when they set up they are genuinely going to deliver a benefit for a company and just keep a bit of a track that's going well and if we do get any complaints, we don't get very many, we do investigate just to make sure that people are doing what they say they're doing.

 

GT: Okay that’s great. Just the last office is in Edinburgh for anyone who's interested in that. So where is the community interest regulator based?

 

CW: So we're based in Cardiff. We have a small office within the Companies House building in Cardiff, which is really good for us because we obviously work closely with the teams there, including developing online services.

 

GT: Okay, so very much like a normal limited company do CICS have to file accounts annually?

 

CW: They do and it's really important that they remember this. You must file your accounts, even if your dormant, the same as any other company. And if you're a CIC, because you've got this special regulation around you alongside your accounts, you have to file your community interest report and the fee of 15 pounds.

 

GT: Okay. So ordinary limited companies have been able to file online for quite a while now. So why has this been produced for CICs and why is it a good option?

 

CW: It’s a really good option for CICs and we've been trying for a while to make sure they can benefit from the same range of services that any other company can have. As I said for a community interest company, you have to have your extra report and pay the fees. So we had to make sure all of that worked well. One of the main benefits is, we see an awful lot of CICs, they file their accounts with Companies House and they forget to attach that benefit report or to attach the fee. They come in by post, they then get rejected. It takes time for them to then meet the requirement and then they're getting a late filing penalty which obviously we don't want it's distracting them, it's an annoyance and it means they're not delivering their benefit while they're sorting all that out. We can avoid all of that with an online service. It's a much better option for our companies.

 

GT: Yeah. The late filing penalty comes in almost immediately. So it's not optional.

 

CW: No it's not optional.

 

GT: Even if you’re a day late.

 

CW: A day late it kicks in and we do get people contact us but we don't have any powers to just say oh, well, you're a community interest company, don't worry about it. Unfortunately in law if you're late you're late and the penalty applies.

 

GT: Now does this mean that any CIC company can file?

 

CW: Most of them will be able to. In fact the vast majority. If you can file small accounts and most of our CICs are in that category, you'll be able to file online from now on. There are a couple of criteria for that. Your turn over being no more than 10.2 million and a balance sheet no more than 5.1 million, very precise figures there, and an average number of less than 50 employees and you only have to meet 2 of those criteria and then you can file online. The majority of our CICs can take the service up so we're hoping to get a really high up take.

 

GT: Okay. Can you do it yourself or would you need an accountant to do this?

 

CW: You can do it yourself. We've designed it with Companies House alongside all their other services. They've tested it with users to make sure it's easy, takes you step-by-step and as long as you've got your accounts ready to go, you'll be able to use this service.

 

GT: Okay, I think you mentioned a few of the benefits, but are there any other benefits to being able to file online?

 

CW: Yeah, I mean, it's quicker. You'll get a receipt immediately letting you know that they've arrived, you can do it 24 hours a day. A lot of companies, you know, they're busy all day doing their work and they actually want to file their accounts in the evening. It's there for you and you'll get something come straight back saying here it is. You can make your payment online so it’s easier to see where your money is going in and out. So it's just a much slicker system, much easier for people.

 

GT: And 24 hours a day.

 

CW: 24 hours.

 

GT: Absolutely. Now you said the majority of companies can do this online. Are there any exclusions?

 

CW: There are a few. So if you're one of those larger or medium-sized CICs and we have a few at the moment, you won't be able to use this service. There are some technical bits and pieces. The system will tell you if you can't do these things. You can't change the date of accounts that were made up to, that option won't be there. You can't include a balance sheet that includes a revaluation reserve or an intangible asset, but to be honest, these are small numbers of CICs that will apply for that sort of service and we are working with Companies House and we'll be plugging those gaps.

 

GT: So there are around 4.2 million companies on the actual Companies House register, how many of them would be CICS?

 

CW: So there are about 17,000 at the moment. It is growing. It's still a fairly small field in comparison with other entity types, but when they first set up we were only expecting to get sort of 200 or so a year. Now we'll get more than that every month applying. So there's a lot of interest in this area.

 

GT: Okay, so if I'm thinking of now filing my accounts online, what does the service look like? What does it consist of?

 

CW: So when you file online, you'll need to have your balance sheet. You can add notes and most importantly that community benefit report that you need to attach. And it will tell you to attach it. So there's no way you'll miss it. CICs always need to have that balance sheet. They always need to have their annual report. When you put it in, things that you do have to do for the CIC, you have to just outline what you've delivered for the benefit of your community. And that's a really important key feature. It's about the transparency to your stakeholders and the public that you're delivering what you say you will and for me and my office, it’s what we use to assess that you are performing in the way you've set up to perform. The other thing you need to tell us is the remuneration for your directors. That is an extra requirement for CICs. You don't have to for other companies, but either it has to be in your account or in that annual report. There's nothing wrong with paying directors. You're supposed to pay them but it does have to be reasonable to make sure that community benefit is there.

 

GT: Okay and this information is available to look at on the register?

 

CW: Yes, it will all go on the public register that's part of the transparency. It's important to remember that, so we do have people, make sure you don't put you know phone numbers or personal details of that sort because whatever you put in that report will go on register.

 

GT: Okay, so just to summarise that then, the online filing for CI accounts is going to be faster. It's going to reduce errors. I suppose it's the same as a normal company in that it won't let you go to the next page unless you fill certain fields in. Yep. So that's good that will lead to less rejections I suppose and also those late filing penalties that everybody doesn't want to pay will be lessened. So obviously it's going to be accessible at all times or 24 hours a day, depending on the system. Online payment, can you pay online?

 

CW: Yeah you can pay online. It’s a really slick end-to-end service and it really guides you through step-by-step.

 

GT: Okay, and it gets rid of that paper as well doesn't it? So saves the environment somewhat, for all those paper documents coming in. So it's streamlining the process. How can people get further information about how you use a service?

 

CW: So if you want to find out more there's plenty of information on our website. We're on the gov.uk website so if you search for CIC regulator, you'll find plenty of information on this. There's some blogs, some step through guides, and follow us on Twitter @CICregulator and my office here, you can always contact us if you really need some help but there's plenty of online guidance and the service really is so straightforward to use, just go and try it. If you have any feedback please do send it. We're always looking to improve.

 

GT: I visited the CIC regulator website. There's lots of case studies on there, lots of useful information. Again, you can visit our website www.gov.uk/companieshouse. Again, lots of information, blogs, podcasts and everything available for you to use there. So thank you very much Ceri for letting us know about this new service. Obviously people will use it from when it becomes available, I think it's next week. I hope everyone's found this useful. Thank you for listening and listen in again for future podcasts and also sign up to get regular updates from us. So thank you for listening.

#GetBizzy: Odyssey

#GetBizzy: Odyssey

August 20, 2020

We spoke to Dominic Bonaker, founder and CEO of Odyssey, about what inspired him to start his own company.

 

Transcript

Sara Jones: Hello, I'm Sara. I'm a Campaigns Manager at Companies House and with me today is Dominic Bonaker. He's the CEO of Odyssey, which is a web design agency in Cardiff. And we're going to be talking about young entrepreneurship and his company today for our new #GetBizzy campaign. So thank you for joining us.

 

Dominic Bonaker: Thank you for having me.

 

SJ: Let's just start by you telling me a little bit more about you and your company.

 

DB: Yeah, so, my name is Dominic. I'm 23 years old and I’m the founder and CEO of Odyssey.  As you said, we are a web agency based in Cardiff and we work with our clients to help them look better online. Whether that's a new website, whether it's a new shop and anything else on the web.

 

SJ: Okay. So what inspired you to actually start your company? Why did you decide to go off on your own?

 

DB: To be honest, I think it was because I couldn’t really work for anyone else. I was very kind of self-driven. I was very self-motivated and I didn't really like being told what to do a lot of the time. Especially when I knew that there was a better, or quicker, or faster or cheaper way of doing things. I felt that we were doing things because that's what we were told to do, and I didn’t like that.

 

So one thing that we try and incorporate into our business is that I don't think I'm any better than any of the employees. If they've got a great idea then they can bring it to me, and we can make it happen. We're not guided by these fixed guidelines at all.

 

SJ: Okay, and this isn't the first company that you've actually started is it? Tell me a little bit more about it?

 

DB: Okay, so, going back a little bit. So, the first company was set up in my first year of university and I thought ‘okay, I'm going to start a company and that's it, sorted, all done’.  That's not actually the case. There were certain requirements that I had to do as the director of the company, and I didn't really feel all that comfortable doing it back then. I had a lot of commitments with the university and some other things as well. So I just decided that I was going to close that company down and I was going to focus back on my studies a lot more.

 

In my final year of university, I knew that this was more what I wanted to do. I went to a few job interviews and didn't really like them. I didn't really like what they were trying to achieve and what they were trying to get out of me and that's not what I wanted to do. So I registered another company. I decided to call it Tech Tailors back then and that was the original company. Then as we grew we decided that we kind of outgrew that name. It was very much where we started so we decided to change it with Companies House.

 

So we're now called Odyssey. So we trade as Odyssey and Odyssey literally translates into journey. So it's all about that journey, from taking a client from nowhere to a beautiful website or improving their website or whatever that looks like to them.

 

SJ: Cool. Okay. So did you have any particular support from anyone? You know funders, investors, or maybe it was like an entrepreneurial body. Did you get any help?

 

DB: So I think when we first started out it was very much, we were very alone, because it was just me by myself starting out. I didn't really know what was out there in terms of other help or other organisations that were available. I did feel a little bit isolated in that respect. But then when it came to it, it was going online, googling, seeing what networking events were coming up, seeing what support there was out there and there's so much around that you just don't even see on a regular basis. And that was one thing that really did kind of boost the company. Just kind of going out there and just meeting new people, seeing what help we can receive and just going from there.

 

SJ: Okay, so obviously you're a limited company now. Is there a particular reason why you decided to register with Companies House as a limited company?

 

DB: So basically before I registered the company, I was doing a bit of freelancing here and there, doing the odd job for a friend or family member or whatever, and I didn't really like the lack of security, it seems. I don't know maybe that was just my personal preference, but it just felt that having a limited company there was more room for growth as an organisation. You can't be a sole trader with someone else. It doesn't quite work like that.

 

So we decided to register the company, we became a limited company and it means that we have a lot more security over what we can do now and what we are liable for. It also comes with a bunch of insurances that we can also implement as well.

 

SJ: And had you heard about Companies House before you became a business owner, or was it just when you started looking?

 

DB: I think it was pretty simultaneously. I knew a few people that ran their own businesses and I kind of asked the general questions about how did you get started? One of the bits of advice they said as well, if you want to be a registered company, you need to go to Companies House. There's a small fee to register your company and you're off to the races kind of thing. All the instructions are on there and it walked me through the process and that's exactly what I did.

 

SJ: Okay. So obviously you're a company director. That comes with certain responsibilities, like filing your accounts on time. So were you aware of all of that before you became a director or was that something that you've had to learn as you've gone?

 

DB: So I think you'll never stop learning these types of things because there's new, maybe there's a new regulation that comes out and you need to stay adapted to that. But when I was registering the company, I always made a note of what the requirement said from me. So if it said I need to submit my accounts on this day. I'll make a little reminder in my calendar and say okay my accounts need to be set up and ready for this day. It got to a point where I didn't want to do that anymore and I was fortunate enough, because we were earning enough money, that I could outsource that to an accountant. Now my accountant deals with my books. I get automatic emails when it says that things have been submitted or when things are due for submission and I just send all that stuff over to him. He deals with it. He lets me know it's all good and I'm happy.

 

SJ: That's amazing. So what would you say would be the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in setting up Odyssey?

 

DB: I think some of the biggest challenges, for any small business, is going to be your cash flow. You don't necessarily know when your next project is going to be. When you're a very small dot in a big big world, it becomes very hard and being able to manage that cash flow is quite difficult.

 

So us as a company, we've never gone after funding we've always been self-funded and we did that on purpose because that's how I like to grow businesses. I want to see money coming in and I want to see money going out and I want us to have more money in the account than we started with and that's how we've grown. We haven't gone in for investment because we don't think that we need it right now. I'll never say never, but for right now, I think that we're pretty good.

 

SJ: That's good. So is there anything in particular that you love about being your own boss? Is it, maybe, the work-life balance and all those kind of things?

 

DB: It's interesting you say work-life balance because that is, that was what I thought when I started out. I was like, I’ll have loads of time and I'll be with my friends and it's going to be great and it actually turns out that it was the opposite.

 

I find myself working more hours. My friends do a 9 to 5 job. They go in at 9, they finish at 5. And there's no homework or there's no ongoing things that they need to take home with them and they're done for the day. It's the complete opposite when you're running your own business. Last night, I went to bed at 5 o'clock and I was up at 9, to come in and to get the day going. Starting new projects and taking work home with me all comes with the territory of being your own boss.

 

But at the same time it comes with so much freedom. So if I want to finish for the day at 12 o'clock, I can do that. It's not a great idea because I've got things to do but it also allows me to have that freedom.

 

SJ: So what do you think has been a really important factor in maybe the success of Odyssey? Is there anything in particular that you can attribute that to?

 

DB: The biggest thing that I would say that has helped our success is the team and the environment that we put ourselves in constantly. We're always reaching up. We're always trying to find new mentors and to find advice from people that have been doing it for longer than us. I'm still quite young in terms of business and both personally. I'm only 23 years old and I've never worked in a formal big business before as a kind of full-time employee. I've always done part-time jobs here and there and I don't have that experience. So I need to get it somehow and that’s by surrounding myself with really good people, really helpful people that want us to develop and see you grow and just seeking out those people and taking their advice.

 

SJ: Amazing, so what's the most important lesson that you would say you've learnt in business so far?

 

DB: No one's going to do it for you. So you need to go out, you need to do it. You're the one that’s in charge of your own future. Your journey is all up to you and even if someone tells you no, that doesn't matter you can do it yourself. You can go out and you can make those things happen. The amount of nos that I've received from old teachers, from people that think you'll never do it, you're only 23, what do you know about business? And now we're a team of 4, we've got a lovely office in the centre of Cardiff and I'm showing all those people that we can do it and anyone can do it if they put their mind to it.

 

SJ: And do you see the business developing further in the future? You know, are you going to expand to new premises?

 

DB: Yeah, definitely, we’re looking to grow the team. We're always looking to find talented people that actually really care about other people. It’s weird that we kind of compare ourselves to, we're a customer service company that just happens to make websites because that's honestly how we treat people. We want people to feel comfortable when they work with us and to feel inspired that they can trust us. So finding a good team is always great, something that we definitely want to push more of.

 

We're also moving premises in the next 7 to 8 months as well. So that's going to be another chapter in our book. And yeah, that's the best thing about starting a business, is there’s always change and as long as you can adapt to it, you're fine.

 

SJ: Great. So before we finish up. What would be the one piece of advice that you would give to any young entrepreneur, who's looking to, maybe they've already got a business and they're looking to grow it, or perhaps they haven't even started their business yet, but they've got a really good idea. What would be the one piece of advice that you’d give them?

 

DB: I think honestly it's as simple as just go out and try something. Go out and see what you can do. See what you can achieve. There's businesses that have started off with the most crazy ideas, but they just work well. They've made millions and millions, if not billions of pounds. No one thought we needed another taxi company and then Uber came along and just kind of blew everyone out of the water.

 

There's so many different things you can do, so just do one and if you don't like it and if it doesn't work, you try something new. And if you don't like that, you try something new and you just keep going until you find something that you actually really care about and that you're really passionate about. The one that’s going to give you the best result, is the one that you care about the most.

 

SJ: Great. Well, thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it. And everybody listening at home, you can find more information about starting a business and the #GetBizzy campaign on the Companies House website, so that's gov.uk/companieshouse.

#GetBizzy: HR Sports Academy

#GetBizzy: HR Sports Academy

August 20, 2020

In our latest podcast, we find out more about how Mickela Hall-Ramsay started her community interest company (CIC) as a young entrepreneur.

 

Transcript

 

Sara Jones: Hi everyone. I'm Sara. I'm a Campaigns Manager at Companies House. Today I am joined by Mickela Hall-Ramsay who is the director of HR sports academy and today we’re going to be talking about her business as part of the #GetBizzy campaign.

 

So hi, Mickela, thank you for joining us today. And can you start by telling me a little bit about you and your company?

 

Mickela Hall-Ramsay: Yeah, as you said, my name is Mickela Hall Ramsey. I'm the founder and one of the company directors at HR Sports Academy.

 

I started up the business when I was 23 years old. So registered it as a CIC and have enjoyed the process ever so much, ever since. HR Sports Academy - we use sports to empower young people, we go into schools providing various different activities from running clubs, to after-school clubs, running P.E sessions, lunchtime sessions, literally everything throughout the whole day to really empower young people with skills which will allow them to develop and to just have fun and get fit, make new friends.

 

And then within the community as well, we do a number of activities. So we have a holiday camp which takes place during all school holidays. We have a youth club. We do competitive competitions, so we have teams that compete in leagues. We do tournaments, apprenticeships, traineeships, internships. It goes on and on, literally every and anything to support young people aged 3 up to the age of 23 years old.

 

SJ:  So there's lots of stuff going on. What made you want to start your company in the first place?

 

MHR: So, I've loved sports from a very young age. I was studying sports science at university and in 2007, my sister sadly passed away. She had Down’s syndrome and throughout her whole life, I noticed that there were limitations placed on what she would be able to do. And literally through the support of my family and my friends, she was able to literally just smash all of the goals and pretty much live a normal life. When she passed away, it was obviously hard for me but youth crime at the time was really really high. And even though I was dealing with this tremendous pain, I couldn't imagine what families were going through when their loved ones were still young and they had been murdered.

 

Sport had been a massive part of my life and it had always kept me. I felt safe. It developed a load of skills within me. It was just an amazing thing that provided me with so many benefits and I just wanted to provide the same benefits to young people who were recklessly losing their lives.

 

So in 2008 after finishing my undergrad I did a project which basically allowed me to set up a basketball camp for young people. It kind of just got them to mix with others within the borough from different schools and just create cohesion within Haringey and I absolutely fell in love with the idea of being my own boss. After finishing my masters and working for the council for a year, I decided to take the risk and set up my own organisation. My mum had previously set one up, a community interest company that is in memory of my sister, so I kind of like, got spurred on and the idea of knowing that it was possible through seeing her do it herself.

 

SJ: So your mum inspired you quite a lot then?

 

MHR: Yeah, definitely.

 

SJ: And did you get any advice from anyone or any organisations before you started?

 

MHR: Yes, so obviously my mum was definitely one of the people that helped me and provided me with advice since she had literally just done it. I also used Business Links. I know it's not around anymore, but Business Links was really really helpful in terms of providing me with the step by step guides. Where I needed to go, what I needed to do and that's kind of I suppose where I found out about Companies House as well.

 

SJ: And did you get any funding to help you get things off the ground?

 

MHR: So when I formally registered as a CIC that allowed me to then access funding. So I suppose that allowed me to buy the balls, get some uniform and just pay for the coaching fees and other expenditures that I needed to help set up sessions.

 

Once I did that, then I was able to charge parents and charge the schools as they knew exactly what we were providing and were satisfied with it and kind of like just had faith in what we would do and knew that it was of value.

 

So yeah, I definitely did have funding at the beginning to start up. It was a bit of my own capital as well. So I had saved up quite a bit before I left my job and used that to really invest into the business.

 

SJ: And is there a particular reason you decided to register as a community interest company over another type?

 

MHR: Yes. A community interest company definitely stood out to me because it allowed me to apply for grants and gain that financial support, but still have financial independence in terms of, not having too many rules, what I had to file or loopholes which I had to jump through or just policies that I had to follow in order to run the business or monitor the business. And that allowed me to just get things going a lot quicker and I suppose feel more confident in terms of actually running the business and not being scared that I'm not doing this correctly or oh my gosh, I haven't done this and somebody's going to be knocking on my door. So that's probably one of the definite reasons why.

 

SJ: And when it actually came to registering your business, how did you find the entire process with Companies House?

 

MHR: The process was pretty straightforward, and it's been 10 years now, almost 10 years since I've been a registered company and it feels like a long long time ago since I actually sat down and done it. But I remember doing it by paper. So I know now (because I was trying to help my friend and set up an organisation) going online and seeing that pretty much everything could be done online. I know that would make things a lot easier, but even when I had to file the paper forms, it was pretty straightforward. The information packs were pretty comprehensive. So yeah, I would say go for it. And because it wasn't that bad then, I can only imagine it's a lot easier now.

 

SJ: At what point did you start to see the business take off?

 

MHR: I would say, I started to see the business taking off when a lot more schools were requiring our services. So a lot of schools were referring us to other schools, and parents were in demand. So I was the only person at the beginning and doing after school clubs pretty much and there's only 5 days in a week. So there was only 5 after school clubs that I could actually do.

 

So, knowing that say, there were 10 clubs that we needed a week, I knew that I needed to get an employee to deliver the other sessions and it was only then when I realised that I was kind of onto a winner and that the business was taken off because we needed to deliver more sessions to actually fulfil the need of the community.

 

SJ: And were you aware of all of the responsibilities that you would have as a director before you registered with Companies House?

 

MHR: I would say no.

 

I kind of, I suppose, had an idea and it seemed to be really really good, especially based on all the research that I had completed and working in sports when I was younger as well. It just seemed like pretty straightforward and I didn't realise I had to do the accounts and file them and complete the confirmation statement in addition to the other daily tasks of just being a director. I suppose like payroll and then submitting stuff to HMRC, managing staff, sorting out the insurance, the list is endless. It just goes on and on and on.

 

SJ: What would you say some of the biggest challenges are that you’ve faced when you've been setting up your company?

 

MHR: One of the biggest challenges I face, I would say, is finding the right employees. At the moment I’d say it's amazing because we have a lot of young people who have come through our services. So whether they’ve been ex-participants, volunteers or done work experience with us or something. Then training them up and getting them qualified. Because they've been through the whole system, in terms of worked with us and know the benefit of our services, they basically provide that same opportunity to others and they know our culture and what is expected. So it just works perfectly.

 

Whereas when I first started the organisation, even though we would have good coaches, and these are open quotes, even though we would have good coaches, they did not necessarily deliver the sessions in the way what that we would like. And that wouldn't necessarily reflect the image that I wanted. Or if they did something that did not necessarily sit right with me it was because I suppose, I was young as well and I didn't know how to manage people. So definitely employing the right person and training them and managing them was the challenge that I had when I set up the business.

 

Funding would be the next. Money I suppose is something that everybody finds challenging, regardless of what business you run. For me it was a lot of time that I spent on applying for grants and because it was so competitive you didn't necessarily get anything, so it’d just seem like a waste of time. But not even just that. Simply not having work done and invoices not being paid on time really affected the business because when we didn't have any reserves or anything, when money was there, it was literally making sure that employees were paid and bills were paid. So for instance, our rent, venue higher, insurance etc. Just to make sure that those expenses were covered and then myself would be paid last or when the money was available just to ensure that we could continue and run as a functioning business.

 

SJ: So, October is Black History Month. Would you say that you've encountered any obstacles in business being a black female?

 

MHR: I wouldn't say I've encountered any obstacles but I predominantly work in Haringey, and the neighbouring boroughs that we also work in, I feel that they're diverse. So they're used to black business owners I’d say. And a lot of the work that I've done with organizations or schools or parents, I've kind of known them already. So a lot of the research that I did when I was at university was with these schools or with these organisations. So kind of gaining access and contracts was pretty easy simply because that relationship had already been built.

 

But I suppose, as I grow as a businesswoman and I'm going to more high-profile events and meeting more high-profile professionals, honestly, I would say it maybe, not even maybe, it's likely, very likely, to be a challenge that I might face. But at the moment, I've been very fortunate and I haven’t.

 

SJ: So obviously you have a community interest company. So how important has the community support been in the success of your company so far?

 

MHR: I would say that the community support has been everything. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing at the moment. Simply attending our sessions, again the referrals from the schools, the parents or even the children telling their friends, has really allowed us to be where we are and the success that we are today.

 

Also we've received a number of nominations and won a number of high-profile awards and that recognition and that support that they give us then allows us to go on further and reach other people. So if it wasn't for our community, I'd definitely say we wouldn't be where we are. And yeah, thanks, whoever's listening.

 

SJ: Do you have any particular role models who have inspired you in business?

 

MHR: So like I said my mum set up a community interest company in memory of my sister and she would definitely be my biggest inspiration. Just seeing her do it, seeing the process that she went through and then obviously her providing me with that support. I would say going to different events. I'm inspired daily by a number of business owners and individuals just because of what they've achieved and it also allows me to see where I can go as well.

 

Famous people, I don't necessarily think there's any one person that stands out probably apart from Oprah Winfrey. Simply because she's been through a lot of adversity just for the background that she grew up in and being one of the richest if not the richest black woman in business. So what she's achieved is definitely amazing and inspiring.

 

SJ: And what would you say is the best thing about being your own boss?

 

MHR: The best thing about being my own boss, I suppose, is just having that creativity and being able to get on with what you want to do. I love sports and I love coming up with different projects and delivering different events, especially for young people. So not having to go through a process of ‘I have to ask this person and then that person’ and for that idea to be shot down is amazing because it just allows me to get on with doing what I know I'm really really good at.

 

And another benefit of being my own boss is just having that flexibility to kind of still live my life. So if I needed to go to the doctors, not having to ask for somebody to get time off or knowing that I couldn't get time off and just not taking care of myself.

 

My brother recently had a baby as well. So little things like him being able to go to every single doctor's appointment and being with his partner and his daughter is valuable because if we weren't the company owners, he would have to again miss those milestones and I think it's very important to have that work-life balance. Being my own boss allows me to do that.

 

SJ: Do you think that there's been one particular factor that's been really important in the success of your company?

 

MHR: Definitely partnerships are important in with regards to my success and the business as a whole. I’d definitely say the partnership that I have with my brother. So we're both the company directors. We're both the company directors and his support is invaluable. So he's there to bounce ideas off. He's there to take stress away. He's literally my rock and having that support from him and our team is so important.

 

So I think definitely having a team behind you is key. I always say teamwork makes the dream work. And that's not just being a sporty person. I think it's really important to have somebody there to provide you with help when you need it. And even sometimes when you don't think you need it, just having that support there.

 

And partnerships with other organizations, so one of our biggest partnerships I would say is with Haringey council. Little things like being able to use their ‘Supported By’ logo is key because it allows us to get into places because we are seen as a trusted organisation.

 

SJ: And would you say that there's one particular lesson that you've learned in business that's really important?

 

MHR: I'll definitely say delegation is one of the lessons that I've learned. I like to take on everything and do everything myself because I think I can do it right and I'm not going to be wasting time having to show somebody to do this, etc, etc. But taking on everything can be detrimental especially if you're not necessarily that right person to do it or if your time could be spent better elsewhere. So I'll definitely say that's one of the key lessons that I've learned.

 

And also just asking for help. So not being afraid to seek guidance. I had a mentor when I first started the business and I recently had a mentor, I’ve pretty much had a mentor throughout the whole process. And again, it's just having that support. So yeah, I'll definitely say having that support is key and would be one of the lessons that I've learned.

 

SJ: What advice would you give to any other young entrepreneurs that are maybe just starting out, or those who are maybe thinking about starting a business. Is there one piece of advice that you'd pass on to them?

 

MHR: I would say make sure you research your business idea. If you can, get some experience in the actual field. I love sports so I've been playing it and I've been working in it, and I've researched it. So that has helped me to kind of like get a full rounded knowledge of what I was going to do and step into.

 

Working in retail also helps because I was able to learn valuable skills in terms of working in customer service. So I'll definitely say research and experience is key. And if I was to add in anything else it would be to basically dream big and really work hard. There's that saying about working smarter instead of working hard, but if you're able to combine the 2 then you'll reach where you're able to and it could literally be the stars.

 

SJ: So speaking of dreaming big, how do you see the business growing. Or going from here on out?

 

MHR: So from here, I would love to see us in a lot more boroughs. So Haringey is our main borough, and we do a lot of work here in terms of our reach into schools and within the community and I would love that to be replicated in other neighbouring boroughs.

 

We should have our own buildings soon. So that will be lovely and I think that will allow us to develop what we do. So we do an apprenticeship scheme and it will allow us to have more cohorts coming in and working with us as opposed to just having one or two a year. So that will be amazing.

 

SJ: For more information about the #GetBizzy campaign, or to find out more about transforming your young entrepreneurship dreams into a reality, visit the Companies House website at companieshouse.gov.uk and follow us on social media.

Case study: Hair Host

Case study: Hair Host

August 20, 2020

This podcast is part of a series of case studies in which we speak to small business owners. Find out about the challenges and advantages of owning your own business, and pick up some advice on how to get started.

Hair Host is a fast-growing salon based in Buckingham, near Milton Keynes. The salon was opened in September 2015 by Rebecca Blade with support from her parents, Julian and Janet Presant-Collins.

Read the full case study on our website » www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/hair-host-llp

 

Transcript

Jocelyn Keedwell: Hi, I'm Jocelyn and I am part of the communications team at Companies House. Today we're at Hair Host a salon in Buckingham as part of the latest small business case studies podcast series. Welcome, Julian and Rebecca. 
 
Julian: Thank you. 
 
JK: Thank you very much for having us here today, really appreciate your time. 
 
JK: So maybe you can tell me a bit about the company and the business? 
 
Rebecca: We're a growing Salon. We opened in 2015. There's eight of us now, and we want to build the business more, open more salons. So hopefully we'll do that soon. 
 
JK: So do you do it on your own?
 
R: So there's myself and then my two business partners who are also my mum and dad Janet and Julian. I do the day-to-day running in the salon and then they run more of the backstage kind of things like bookkeeping and marketing. 
 
JK: So do you need a lot of support Rebecca, not day-to-day, but maybe sort of behind the scenes? 
 
J: No, certainly not day-to-day. I mean, we're certainly not the hairdressers in the in the family. We leave that to Rebecca and she does a terrific job in the salon, but obviously what you don't realise sometimes when you start a business is you can open premises, employe people, get them doing stuff on a day-to-day basis, but then behind the scenes you do need to almost create a marketing engine to keep creating noise and keep encouraging customers to come back to us and encourage new customers to step across the threshold for the first time, so that's an ongoing thing and then just basic stuff; payroll, managing holidays and things like that, which my wife does. It all takes time. So I think, it's fair to say we're probably more involved than we expected to be, but we're enjoying the journey.
 
JK: You're talking about the journey. So how did the salon start? Why were you inspired to open a salon? Is it something you've always wanted?
 
R: I've always wanted my salon. I've always wanted to be a hairdresser since I was very young. Since starting hairdressing I thought that's what I want. I want my own business. 
 
JK: So you were really driven then you had that idea in your head.
 
R: Yeah from very early on. 
 
J: Well, let me tell you that her head teacher once accosted me as I turned up at school and said I've had Rebecca's class for the day and as a father you sort of go ‘’Oh what's happened?’’ And she said they were talking about careers, and she said Rebecca said she wants to be a hairdresser, but she doesn't just want to be a hairdresser. She wants to have her own salon, so she has been very driven since young age.
 
JK: That's great. So, do you have a really clear vision of what you want your salon to be like when you were thinking about it? 
 
R: Well a lot of clients find it very intimidating walking into a salon, you know? It's quite difficult for the first time especially. Some have told me that they've walked past wanting to go in and then not walked in and I don't want them to feel like that here. I want them to be able to walk in and feel welcome and that they can chat to anyone like they’re friends more than just clients and hopefully it's more of the living room feel rather than a salon feel.
 
JK: Brilliant. How did you start out? Was it registering as a limited company, was it finding premises or getting financial backing?
 
J: I think in terms of order of events, it's fair to say that we found these premises that were available, we talked about potentially supporting Rebecca with opening a salon business, but these premises were available and that really kick-started us into setting up Hair Host. It was important for us to get the right premises, and so we felt that unless we did something now we might lose this opportunity. Because of the businesses in the neighbourhood such as Waitrose it was important that we had that footfall and had that exposure really. Location was very important. Having got the premises then it actually moved quite quickly. We put together a business plan. We took the plan to NatWest and they were very willing to support us, which was great because we needed to spend quite a lot of money in turning what was an old card shop into a high-end salon. 
 
JK: So you registered with Companies House in March 2015. I think you're open about six months later in September. You’re an LLP so that's a kind of different type of limited company. Why did you go for that structure?
 
J: Yeah, we sat down with accountants, we use a London-based firm that specialise in small and medium enterprises and it was really on their advice when they spoke to us about who was going to be running the business on a day-to-day basis, who actually needed to draw an income from it. It quickly became apparent that the best route for that was going to be an LLP so although the three of us own it jointly, Rebecca has the flexibility of drawing from it and so an LLP allows us to allocate all the profits or some of the profits to support Rebecca's needs.
 
JK: So it worked best for you and the family?
 
J: It works better for us than a limited company might where you've got a fixed number of shares and then it becomes more complicated when you start to declare dividends as to who gets what. It was just that flexible structure that was important to us. Otherwise, we probably could have been a limited company, but it was easier and more flexible to be an LLP. 
 
JK: So obviously setting up the business is always a tough time, but what kind of challenges in particular did you guys face? Was it setting up in the community, making sure you built those relationships or maybe finding a work-life balance? I know it can sometimes be quite tricky with your own business. 
 
J: Well, Rebecca has got children.
 
R: Yeah. So I think trying to balance your work and life, kids, all their needs and then the salon needs as well. I think integrating into this community, everyone was really friendly, we've been quite lucky with how the other shops were with us starting.  
 
J: I think the biggest challenge for us was probably getting going and that's probably what any small business will tell you. When we opened the doors we generally didn't have any customers. It wasn't an existing salon business that we've taken over and we're trying to do something different. We literally didn't have any customers and so for the first few months,  I think it's fair to say it was a bit frightening because you never knew who was going to come through the door. It is kind of building your brand a bit and getting awareness out there. We had to work very hard to get established and start to get people across the threshold and enjoying the culture that we have here. 
 
JK: So obviously, you’ve become a really successful company over the four years. What do you think's been a really important success in that? What's the main factor to success?
 
R: Having a strong team is definitely the key to a lot of the success.  If they're on the same page with what we want for our business then it definitely helps for them to support us.
 
J: I think to add to that we do have a terrific team and it's fair to say we have hand-picked them as well in many respects. Some people have joined us through the usual routes for us putting an advert out and we've had quite a lot of success there. It's a very strong team but also, I think what we've tried to always create is a family/ caring culture here and so genuinely, my approach is that always the most important  person in the salon is the customer and then there's the rest of the team and then it's yourself and if people can remember that simple order, and I think they do, then it changes the whole culture and the way that you run things as a hairdressing business and I think our customers find that quite refreshing. They don't know the mantra but they do experience it, the client is the most important person at that time in the salon and then it's all about everyone else looking after each other before they worry about what they're doing. 
 
JK: Yeah, because you do spend a lot of time making sure your team is looked after staff are cared for? 
 
R: Yeah, absolutely we have health care benefits and things like that to make sure our team are happy and they feel like we care for them and then hopefully they care for the client a lot more because they feel cared for. 
 
J: I mean, I was always quite encouraged in the early days because what we wanted people to do is to be able to get up and enjoy the prospect of going into work and we did have a member of team who very much in the early days said she felt it was like coming in and spending time with friends rather than actually coming in to do a job so that’s very encouraging. We don’t get it right all the time, but most of the time I think we're doing the right thing.
 
JK: In terms of not always getting it right. What do you think has been an important lesson you've learned in setting up a company or you know, would you do anything differently? Perhaps you're happy with the way everything's gone.  Has it been an easy sailing or has it been a few challenges?
 
R: I wouldn’t say it’s been easy sailing. I don't think I personally would do anything differently the small challenges we've faced you can overcome and you learn from so everything is a lesson really.
 
J:  Yeah, I think so. I mean it's been quite interesting that there's been very, very few occasions when as partners of the business we've disagreed with either the strategy that we're following or how things are being done on a day-to-day basis, so that's been quite encouraging. I think I'd agree with Rebecca looking back there's been very little that we would necessarily change. From a business point of view, you might say there are occasions when we've probably been overstaffed, if we're really brutal, but that's something that we're prepared to in a sense and run with it because we think ultimately it is the right thing to do.
 
JK: What would you say is the best thing about being a small business owner? What are you really proud of?
 
R: Probably having built a brand that I believe in personally and also the flexibility of work-life balance.  Also how you want the brand to be that's the best thing.
 
JK: So it's develop the way that you want it and you’ve seen it grow and be more successful. 
 
R: Yeah. 
 
J: I mean, I think from my perspective, it’s very rewarding. We use social media a lot. We try and encourage customers to share with us their thoughts and experiences on visiting Hair Host and when we look at some of the reviews it's very rewarding that they genuinely seem to leave here having felt like they’ve had a really good time and received a really good service in the process. So I think that side of it says yeah, okay, we're doing the right thing. We've got thousands of customers now and we started off with none and nearly a hundred percent of the time, I think we do a terrific job.
 
JK: Fantastic, how do you see it developing in the future? Have you got any more plans or any more staff, anymore salons?
 
R: We would like to open another salon so we're looking slowly into that. Yeah using the staff we've got, theyre really quite experienced and homegrown so developing them further to then spread them across and then probably start apprenticeships in both salons. 
 
J: Yeah, it's nice we've had some young people come through, and in fact just this month one of our apprentices is qualified and came out the other end with a distinction, so that's a great endorsement that we are providing them with probably the best training that they can get and we do see that building the team allows us to naturally split the team almost across two salons without diluting the service offering and that's always important to us, if we do make that step into a second salon that the first one doesn't get affected in any way and customer still receive the best service.
 
JK: Brilliant. Well, it's a beautiful salon to visit and you guys have worked really hard and you've made it a great success here in Buckingham. Thank you ever so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really appreciate it. 
 
J and R: Thank you.
 
JK: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to find out any more information about Companies House or anything we’ve spoken about today, there's loads of guidance and info on our website. Just go to www.gov.uk/companieshouse

 

 

Jocelyn Keedwell: Hi, I'm Jocelyn and I am part of the communications team at Companies House. Today we're at Hair Host a salon in Buckingham as part of the latest small business case studies podcast series. Welcome, Julian.

 

Julian: Thank you.

 

JK: Thank you very much for having us here today, really appreciate your time. So maybe you can tell me a bit about the company and the business?

 

Rebecca: We're a growing Salon. We opened in 2015. There's eight of us now, and we want to build the business more, open more salons. So hopefully we'll do that soon.

 

JK: So do you do  it on your own, is it just use a member?

 

R: So there's myself and then my two business partners who are also my mom and dad Janet and Julian. So I do the day-to-day running in the salon and then they run more of the  backstage kind of things like bookkeeping and marketing.

 

JK: So do you need a lot of support Rebecca, not day-to-day, but maybe sort of behind the scenes?

 

J: No , certainly not day-to-day. I mean, we're certainly not the hairdressers in the in the family. We leave that to Rebecca and she does a terrific job in the salon, but obviously what you don't realise sometimes when you start a business is you can open premises, employed people, get them doing stuff on a day-to-day basis, but then behind the scenes you do need to almost create like a marketing engine to keep creating noise and keep encouraging customers to come back to us and encourage new customers to step across the threshold for the first time, so that's an ongoing thing and then just, basic stuff; payroll, managing holidays and things like that, which my wife does. It all takes time. So I think, it's fair to say we're probably more involved than we expected to be, but we're enjoying the journey.

 

JK: You're talking about the journey. So how did the salon start? Why were you inspired to open a salon? Is it something you've always wanted?

 

R: I've always wanted my salon. I've always wanted to be a hairdresser since I was very young. Since starting hairdressing I thought that's what I want. I want my own business.

 

JK: So you were really driven then you had that idea in your head.

 

R: Yeah from very early on.

 

J: Well, let me tell you that her head teacher once accosted me as I turned up at school and said I've had Rebecca's class for the day and as a father you sort of go ‘’Oh what's happened?’’ And she said they were talking about careers, and she said Rebecca said she wants to be a hairdresser, but she doesn't just want to be a hairdresser. She wants to have her own salon so she has been very driven since young age.

 

JK: That's great. So, do you have a really clear vision of what you want your salon to be like when you were thinking about it?

 

R:Well from a lot of clients they find it very intimidating walking into a salon, you know? It's quite difficult for the first time especially. Some have told me that they've walked past wanting to go in and then not walked in and I don't want them to feel like that here. I want them to be able to walk in and feel welcome and that they can chat to anyone like with friends more than just clients and hopefully it's more of the living room feel rather than a salon feel.

 

JK: Brilliant. How did you start out? Was it registering as a limited company, was it finding premises or getting finance for backing?

 

J: I think in terms of order of events, it's fair to say that we found these premises that were available, we talked about potentially supporting Rebecca with opening a salon business, but these premises were available and that really kick-started us into setting up Hair Host. It was important for us to get the right premises, and so we felt that unless we did something now we might lose this opportunity. Because of the businesses in the neighbourhood such as Waitrose it was important that we had that footfall and  had that exposure really. Location was very important. Having got the premises then it actually moved quite quickly. We put together a business plan. We took the plan to NatWest and they were very willing to support us, which was great because we needed to spend quite a lot of money in turning what was an old card shop into a high-end salon.

 

JK: So you register with Companies House in March 2015. I think you're open about six months later in September. You’re an LLP so that's a kind of different type of limited company. Why did you go for that structure?

 

J: Yeah, we sat down with accountants and we use a London-based firm that specialise in small and medium enterprises and it was really on their advice when they spoke to us about who was going to be running the business on a day-to-day basis, who actually needed to draw an income from it. It quickly became apparent that the best route for that was going to be an LLP so that although the three of us own it jointly, Rebecca has the flexibility of drawing from it and so an LLP allows us to allocate all the profits or some of the profits to support Rebecca's needs.

 

JK: So it worked best for you and the family?

 

J: It work better for us than a limited company might where you've got a fixed number of shares and then it becomes more complicated when you start to declared dividends as to who gets what. It was just that that flexible structure that was important to us. Otherwise, we probably could have been a limited company, but it was easier and more flexible to be an LLP.

 

JK: So obviously setting up the business is always a tough time, but what kind of challenges in particular did you guys face? Was it setting up in the community, making sure you built those relationships or maybe finding a work-life balance? I know it can sometimes be quite tricky with your own business.

 

J: Well, Rebecca has got children.

 

R: Yeah. So I think trying to balance your work and life, kids, all their needs and then the salon needs as well. I think integrating into this community, everyone was really friendly, we've been quite lucky with how the other shops were with us starting. 

 

J: I think the biggest challenge for us was probably getting going and that's probably what any small business will tell you that. When we open the doors we generally didn't have any customers. It wasn't an existing salon business that we've taken over and we're trying to do something different. We literally didn't have any customers and so for the first few months,  I think it's fair to say it was a bit frightening because you never knew who was going to come through the door.

 

JK: It is kind of building your brand a bit and getting awareness out there.

 

J: We had to work very hard to get established and start to get people across the threshold and enjoying the culture that we have here.

 

JK: So obviously, you’ve become a really successful company over the four years. What do you think's been a really important success in that? What's the main factor to success?

 

R: Having a strong team is definitely the key to a lot of the success.  If they're on the same page with what we want for our business then it definitely helps for them to support us.

 

J: I think to add to that we do have a terrific team and it's fair to say we have hand-picked them as well in many respects. Some people have joined us through the usual routes for us putting an advert out and we've had quite a lot of success there. It's a very strong team but also, I think what we've tried to always create is a family/ caring culture here and so genuinely, my approach is that always the most important  person in the salon is the customer and then there's the rest of the team and then it's yourself and if people can remember that simple order, and I think they do, then it changes the whole culture and the way that you run things as a hairdressing business and I think our customers find that quite refreshing. They don't know the mantra but they do experience this, the client is the most important person at that time in the salon and then it's all about everyone else looking after each other before they worry about what they're doing.

 

JK: Yeah, because you do spend a lot of time making sure your team is looked after staff are cared for?

 

R: Yeah, absolutely we have that health care benefits and things like that to make sure our team are happy and they feel like we care for them and then hopefully they care for the client a lot more because they feel cared for.

 

J: I mean, I was always quite encouraged in the early days because what we wanted people to do is to be able to get up and enjoy the prospect of going into work and we did have a member of team who very much in the early days said she felt it was like coming in and spending time with friends rather than actually coming in to do a job so that’s very encouraging.  We don’t get it right all the time. But most of the time I think we're doing the right thing.

 

JK: In terms of not always getting it right. What do you think has been an important lesson you've learned in setting up a company or you know, would you do anything differently? Perhaps you're happy with the way everything's gone.  Has it been an easy sailing or has it been a few challenges?

 

R: I wouldn’t say it’s been easy sailing. I don't think I personally would do anything differently as such the small challenges we've faced you can overcome and you learn from so everything is a lesson really.

 

J:  Yeah, I think so. I mean it's been quite interesting that there's been very, very few occasions when as partners of the business we've disagreed with either the strategy that we're following or how things are being done on a day-to-day basis, so that's been quite encouraging. So I think, I'd agree with Rebecca looking back there's been very little that we would necessarily change. From a business point of view, you might say there are occasions when we've probably been overstaffed, if we're really brutal but that's something that we're prepared to in a sense resource and run with because we think ultimately it is the right thing to do.

 

JK: what would you say is the best thing about being a small business owner? What are you really proud of?

 

R: Probably having built a brand that I believe in personally and also the flexibility of work-life balance.  Also how you want the brand to be that's the best thing.

 

JK: So it's develop the way that you want it and you’ve seen it grow and be more successful.

 

R: Yeah.

 

J: I mean, I think from my perspective, it’s very rewarding. We use social media a lot. We try and encourage customers to share with us their thoughts and experiences on visiting Hair Host and when we look at some of the reviews it's very rewarding that they genuinely seem to leave here having felt like they’ve had a really good time and received a really good service in the process. So I think that side of it says yeah, okay, we're doing the right thing. We've got thousands of customers now and we started off with none and nearly a hundred percent of the time, I think we do a terrific job.

 

JK: Fantastic, how do you see it developing in the future? Have you got any more plans or any more sort of staff, anymore salons?

 

R: We would like to open another salon  so we're kind of looking slowly into that. Yeah using the staff we've got really quite experienced and homegrown so developing  them further to then spread them across and then probably start an apprenticeships in both salons.

 

J: Yeah, it's nice we've had some young people come through, and in fact just this month one of our apprentices is qualified and come out the other end with a distinction, so that's a great endorsement that here we actually are providing them with probably the best training that they can get and we do see building the team allows us to naturally split the team almost across two salons without diluting the service offering and that's always important to us, that you know, if we do make that step into a second salon that the first one doesn't get affected in any way and customer still receive the  best service.

 

JK: Brilliant. Well, it's a beautiful salon to visit and you guys worked really hard and you've made it a great success here in Buckingham. So thank you ever so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really appreciate it.

 

J and R: Thank you.

 

JK: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to find out any more information about Companies House or anything we’ve spoken about today, there's loads of guidance and info on our website. Just go to www.gov.uk/companieshouse

 

 

 

 
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

August 20, 2020

As a government organisation and a large employer, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is important to us. We’re committed to ethical and sustainable business practices, and take account of our social, economic and environmental impact.

We speak to Leanne Hugglestone, our CSR Coordinator, about her passion for CSR and our responsibilities as a government organisation in helping the local community.

 

Transcript

Tanya Lang: Hi there. My name is Tanya Lang and I'm part of the comms team here at Companies House. So for those of you who don't know who we are, we are the government agency who register dissolve and then keep company records and make those records available for inspection. Our sponsoring department is BEIS and that's the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and we've got 4 locations, Edinburgh, Belfast, London and Cardiff from where we are recording this very podcast.

 

First I'm joined today by Leanne Hugglestone, who is the corporate social responsibility or CSR coordinator here at Companies House. So I will let Leeanne introduce herself, Leanne.

 

Leanne Hugglestone: Hi, I'm Leanne Hugglestone. I've been working here at companies house for 15 years now, coming up to 16, and I've done many roles within Companies House. Starting off as a data processor, working my way through finance and IT, worked on a lot of big IT projects and then about 6 or 7 years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So I had a year off work. During that time, I spent an awful lot of time within hospitals and in charity organisations, receiving help and guidance through what was quite a traumatic time.

 

Thankfully a year later, in May 2013, I came back to Companies House, full-time working. And it was then that I realised that a project I’d been working on before my diagnosis around management and making a difference projects. I delved into some of the information around volunteering at Companies House. We were allowed one day a year to volunteer in Companies House and not many staff knew about it. We wanted to make a difference for Companies House. So I asked if I could continue with this volunteering project to allow more staff to find out about it. And so we could utilise those days in order to help the community.

 

My main reasoning for asking if I could do this project is without volunteers, I wouldn't be here today. Without volunteers to make the cups of tea in the hospital, to drive the mini buses, to do the fundraising, the backpacking and the race for life. I wouldn't be here because the research and the medication that I'm on was actually created in Wales, and I wanted to utilise the volunteering here at Companies House to help towards making a difference in the community.

 

So from there, I went to the main board. Took the project to them and they fully agreed that I could do this volunteer initiative alongside my job in IT. Whereby the new HR Director at the time, Angela Lewis, picked up on the fact that we didn't actually have any recorded data for any kind of corporate social responsibility. So that means the fundraising that we do here in Companies House, we’ve got a very generous workforce, any of the volunteering, we don't have stats before 2013. So what she asked, was for me to leave IT and work with her for 6 months to research and develop corporate social responsibility for Companies House and compare us to other government agencies both in our government department area, but also just across the Civil Service in general.

 

We knew that the DWP had signed up for 30,000, out of the 30,000 Civil Service days, they'd signed up to try and do 10,000 days a year. We only had close to a thousand staff and they were allowed one day a year. So the maximum we could ever do was close to a thousand. But even that was if everybody took part. After 6 months, my role was made permanent because we found out that we were doing an awful lot already, but it just wasn't being recorded. So we developed a business strategy around corporate social responsibility.

 

The 4 main parts of corporate social responsibility. Number one is environmental. Well, we already have an environmental team. An Estates team who look after all our environmental efficiencies. Second one is procurement. So are we paying our own contractors? Our own bills on time. Are the contractors who come in when we put out to tender, do they have apprentices? Do they have any work experience people with them so we can see that those smaller companies are also making a difference in the community.

 

Then there's people, the third arm of it. And under people is HR. We've got a brilliant flexi system. We've got a huge amount of benefits for staff. We look after staff with the health and well-being group sports and social. We've got a gym on site. We've got so many wonderful benefits. We are a responsible business in looking after that.

 

And then finally is the community arm and that's where my role lays. Almost like a community liaison looking after the fundraising and the volunteering and all the good stuff that we do here at Companies House and making sure that’s recorded.  

 

TL: Brilliant crikey. That is a lot of information.

 

LH: I know, sorry.

 

TL: No, no. It's fantastic because you can actually feel your passion and your joy about the work that you do. So what I want to know is like I said, that sounds like an enormous amount of work. Who helped you with that. Was it kind of just you rolling things along. Did you have buy-in from others?

 

LH: Angie Lewis was a brilliant mentor. She came along from another government agency. So she was also fresh eyes on Companies House, which was great because she could see the good work that we were doing and the fact that we weren't recording it. So it was down to me to find out from other government agencies where this corporate social responsibility sit in the organisation.

 

In one agency, it sat with the director, as just a tick box exercise. Do we do this? Yes. Other agencies had groups of 5 or 6 individuals as a team sometimes in HR, sometimes in their Estates team, so there wasn't a consistency across government as to where corporate social responsibility was.

 

In Wales, nationally, there's a company called Business In The Community and there's a branch of that business in the Community Wales. And we became members of them because that's their sole goal. They are a Prince's Trust charity company and they know and live corporate social responsibility. They are mentors and guides. We became a member of them and we have access to an account manager. That account manager then looks at what I can give them. So all the stuff that we do that we haven't recorded, and guides us on to what is good to record, why it's good to record and then you can link it up with your values. Is it linked up then with your business strategy? Is it linked up with the business that you are? What you don't want to be is a government agency and you’re just fundraising for a kidney foundation, when there's no actual link. So is there a materiality around it? Is there a common goal?

 

TL: Quite an evolution for Companies Houses as an organisation then, in terms of volunteering and what we did way back then to what we're doing now. And no doubt that will continue to grow and improve and transform and change as we do as a workforce. So say over the last few years, what's been some of our biggest CSR achievements, would you say?

 

LH: I think the great thing about Companies House and the culture change, is the fact that we were allowed to challenge behaviours. So our biggest achievements have come from where we've challenged things that, that’s the way it's always been. So I challenged those.  For example, a lot of our excess furniture used to either go to storage or landfill because we were very risk adverse as a government agency to donate that furniture.

 

So my challenge to the legal team, to health and safety, to the Estates team who look after the furniture was, well, what if we found other government agencies who did this? So again, I went round to the contacts in the other government agencies, and we found many of them do donate furniture. And what we got off them was copy of disclosures and disclaimers that we could get the charities to sign. They were checked over by our legal team, our health and safety team and they would agree with those charities.

 

In the space of I think 18 months, we donated over 40,000 pounds worth of excess furniture from Companies House. Once I challenged on that, I then challenged the IT department. We would send off our old IT equipment free of charge to a company to get wiped and disposed of. I asked, when after it's been wiped, can we not have those items back with an operating system onto donating to the charity into the community. Again, going through the same protocols, going to legal, going to IT security, going to other departments to see what they do, all of a sudden now we have now donated thousands of pounds worth of IT equipment into the local community.

 

And some of those recipients have said without that IT donation. They would no longer be around as a charity. And those charities have since grown, and become more available to clients especially within Cardiff. So for example, Autism Puzzles a local autistic charity, they were run by a single mum. She now has 3 of our laptops which means she's got 3 volunteers actively promoting, doing social media, registering all the families who are registering with Autism Puzzles. They’re now a huge organisation and they actually employ people. They've got an office now and it started because we gave them 3 laptops.

 

TL: So it's completely clear to me and probably everyone listening just what huge impact we as an organisation have had on charities out there, but what kind of impact has all of this work had on the internal staff and the teams here at Companies House? Have you seen a change?

 

LH: A massive, massive change. In the very beginning it was very difficult for managers to what they saw as allowing the staff a day off on a jolly, is the way it was perceived back then. It was very micro-managed. They just wanted their staff in work doing the work in front of them. But over the past couple of years there’s been a massive culture shift in the way we work. Our flexi times have changed, our core hours have disappeared. We’re trusted and awful lot more and with that trust we seem to get an awful lot back from the staff.

 

So we put in the extra work, but what we're finding, I think our biggest changes are from those middle managers who wouldn't allow staff off. Over the past couple of years, they've seen the benefits of when those staff have done a volunteer day, either individual or even better as a team, the benefits to the section and to that team for the weeks afterwards. They know more about each other, they’ve spent time away from the desks, they're not looking at emails, they're engaging and learning about each other.

 

So team bonding now is almost one of our highest reasons of the numbers of volunteers going out. A couple of years ago managers would really sort of get in the way almost of allowing staff to volunteer. I can tell you now, it's more managers approaching me, asking for team days and asking for those opportunities to take their teams out because they can see the benefits straight away on their team. And so that has been a massive shift in only 5 years.

 

TL: Brilliant and taking it up to sort of the next level. What about the board have they embraced this?

 

LH: This is brilliant. Over the past couple of years, it's been really, not difficult or a struggle, but trying to entice the senior managers. One of our chief executives was brilliant. He would regularly go on a volunteer day, but it was almost like that next step, getting the directors or the senior management, it was very difficult getting them all together in one room as it was. To get them out on a whole volunteer day was almost impossible. But we've achieved that this year. It's been amazing.

 

We've had such great feedback from the senior leadership group who said that it was nice to be able to get out in the fresh air and get to know each other on a personal level as well as professional level. But also to be able to talk about work stuff. They all went litter picking on one of the most wonderful Welsh beaches, our own Barry Island, down on Whitmore Bay and it was great. It was quite funny because that was the one day in that 2 week period that was really bad weather. I felt really bad for them. But it showed the adversity and the way they still went out there. They still did it and they still collected a huge number of bags of rubbish and they all came back smiling and loving the fact that they spent this time together.

 

So to get that at the very top level means now that will hopefully filter down through those levels of management so we can increase the numbers again through volunteering. So they can see and feel for themselves the benefits, not just for Companies House to be seen and the reputation of us as a company out in the community doing it, but also as well, see the benefits to the staff and encourage staff from a personal level. Not as a corporate, yes, we'd like you to go volunteering, but I've been as a senior manager, I believe in it and therefore encouraging their managers to encourage their staff.

 

TL: So we've obviously got a lot going on with regards to volunteering. So if anyone out there wanted to follow our progress and what we're doing or find out more about our latest CSR achievements, how can they do that?

 

LH: They can find out about corporate social responsibility from the main Companies House Twitter account. We’re really active when we go out on events or when people are volunteering.  We tend to post a lot of pictures now. You can also find out by emailing the CSR and skills team at companieshouse.gov.uk, and that's where we are currently located within the training team of HR.

 

TL: Brilliant and what's next then for CSR and Companies House?

 

LH: There's a couple of things in the pipeline. The biggest thing we're looking at around corporate social responsibility now is terminology. In those 5 years, it’s come a long way. Corporate social responsibility is a bit of a mouthful. Essentially, what you are is a responsible business. So it's all about being that responsibile business, so that's in either environmentally, procurement, your people or the community work that you do. So, I think it's all about defining what we want and how we're going to get it. So we want to do more surveys with staff. Look at the number of unique volunteers within Companies House because although we've got up to 5 days per year, is it the same 20 people doing it 5 times. Or are we actually getting 80, 90 separate individuals and only one or two are doing duplicate days.

 

I done the figures last year for 2017 to 2018 and according to Business In The Community, a good goal to have for staff volunteering is around the 18 to 20% mark. Last year, we hit 28% unique volunteers in Companies House. You're looking at, that that's closer to 30% of the organisation went out volunteering last year which is huge.

 

It’s a great, I think advocate to show that we are doing the right thing and people are engaged with it and they are enjoying it. But also the communities now. They're coming to us with opportunities. Whereas we used to have to phone them and say, oh have you got anything we can do to help you? They're hearing about us through other charities.

 

TL: All right. So the final thing I want to ask you then Leanne, is, what is a CSR ambassador?

 

LH: Oh, this is great, so if you think along the lines of friends of an organisation, we have a lot of staff within Companies House who have a huge appetite for the work that we do under corporate social responsibility. And so a CSR ambassador is those individuals across the organisation who we want to capture that enthusiasm and passion for. And use them as our comms outlets, or our people who shout about the work that we do under corporate social responsibility. So whether that's new volunteer opportunities coming up, events in house. Those people can be called upon, we've got about 25 signed up in the initial phase. They can be called upon, so if we do a bake sale, if we do an event in house rather than taking a full day volunteering, what we're saying is you can take them in 2 hour slots.

So what we're saying as an ambassador is, rather than be a whole day off your section, off your team. There may be times throughout the year that we need some help in house to organise something, to take part in something and every single person who's been asked has accepted and they're willing to take part.

 

So it's been brilliant. In the next few weeks, I think we've got a few new ideas coming through. We've got the what we’re calling ‘doorstep litter picks’. So within the organisation here in Cardiff, we're going to do to our litter pick slots for the immediate vicinity of our building. We're right next to a school, we're right next to the barracks, we’re right next to a leisure centre, right next to a main road and along those are lots of different alleyways, lots of streets, urban residential areas. We'd like to be seen in our local immediate vicinity and do a doorstep litter pick. Those are 2 hour slots. So those are for people who can't leave the section for a full day. And those CSR ambassadors are the ones who are going to shout about those kind of things.

 

TL: Fantastic. Well, I'm sure you'll all agree out there that Leanne is clearly very passionate, knowledgeable and excited about CSR and all that it brings to Companies House and thriving off her enthusiasm myself and a few of my colleagues have done the crazy thing of signing up for the Cardiff 10K.

 

LH: Fantastic news.

 

TL: Yeah, there'll be a handful of us running on behalf of Latch, which is a Welsh Children's Cancer charity. You can get more information about the charity at www.latchwales.org, and we also have a justgiving page. So from a personal point of view, I would just like to promote that page. So it's www.justgiving.com/fundraising/justkeeprunningCH.

 

So, please do all that you can to support that. So Leanne, any final words before we go?

 

LH: Yeah, and it's because of staff like you that in the past 5 years through various bake sales, charity runs, velathons, internal comic relief, children in need days that we do here, we've reached nearly 50,000 pounds in 5 years of fundraising and that's with less than, what a thousand staff.

 

So it's been an absolutely phenomenal amount and to think that that was never recorded. And so now that we do have that we're really going to celebrate the amount of fundraising that our staff do. We encourage them to do it and all they need to do is let me know on the CSR and skills team how much they’ve raised and when and that will go towards that total.

 

TL: Well, there we go. So make sure you donate generously to myself and my colleagues who will be running in potentially sweltering heat on the 2nd of September. So, thank you very much for your time, Leanne, and thanks to you for listening. Goodbye.

Reforming the Companies House register

Reforming the Companies House register

August 20, 2020

New proposals will bring about the biggest changes for Companies House and the work we do since we began registering companies in 1844.

We spoke to Alexandra Walters, Head of Policy at Companies House. Alex told us how the proposals aim to help combat economic crime and improve protection for people who run businesses.

 
Transcript
 

Gary Townley: Right. Thank you for downloading this Companies House podcast. My name is Gary Townley. I'm part of the External Communications team here at Companies House.

 

For those of you who don't know who we are, Companies House is an executive agency. We are sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, better known as BEIS.  Our role really is to drive confidence in the UK economy, and we do that by incorporating and dissolving limited companies. We register company information. We take that information from all the companies on our register and we make that that information available to the public. We've got 4 locations, all around the UK. So we've got one in Edinburgh, one in Belfast, one in London and our main office really is here in Cardiff, where we're recording this podcast this morning.

 

Now, I'm delighted to be joined by Alexandra Waters today who’s Head of Policy here at Companies House. Welcome Alex.

 

Alexandra Walters: Thank you.

 

GT: So over the next 10 minutes, this is sort of rather, a sort of specialist type of podcast really. It’s not like our general ones we do because this one will be talking about the government's consultation on corporate transparency and register reform. They’re new proposals, and they're going to bring in really the biggest changes that have happened at Companies House since we opened our doors back in 1844. So we’ll get the ball rolling. Good morning Alex. What’s the consultation about and why are we doing it?

 

AW: Okay, so we've been working really closely with BEIS to publish a very wide-ranging, quite high-level public consultation about reforming the company's register. As you referred to before, the biggest potential change, if these proposals are taken forward, since 1844. What we're looking to do, is make changes to give Companies House new powers to combat economic crime and improve protection for people running businesses, whilst at the same time trying to continue to minimise administrative burdens.

 

It’s a high-level consultation. So rather than proposing how we might do some of this stuff at the moment, we're sort of asking, should we be doing some of these things? So it’s high-level. It's all new. And at the same time, we'll be going through an organisational transformation, looking to transform the way we work to make sure we're fit for the future in our new role.

 

GT: Right okay. So the consultation has been out now for a few weeks and there are 4 main areas I believe. Do you want to just talk about the areas?

 

AW: Yeah, sure. I mean there are a lot of proposals in the consultation, but as you say, they generally group into these sorts of themes. The first one which I think is probably one of the most interesting to the general public and some of our key stakeholders, is around knowing better who's setting up, managing and controlling companies.

 

So what we're proposing is that we start doing some identity verification, which is something we've never done before. What we're suggesting is that we verify identities of directors, people with significant control and those individuals filing information on behalf of a company. We’re asking whether people think we should verify identities of shareholders too.  

 

At the same time as that, we're looking to consider whether we should collect more information on shareholders. The information we collect at the moment on shareholders is quite limited and it's quite difficult to link information and track information around the register. So looking to strengthen some of that at the same time to give us a better picture of company ownership and management and control.

 

GT: Yeah so quite a big change there. Strand 2?

 

AW: Okay, so the second theme is around improving the accuracy and usability of data. So this is where the real changes to some of the registrar's powers start to come in. Looking to get better quality information on the register, more reliable information. So these proposals include extending the powers of Companies House, so that we can query information before it goes on to the register.

 

GT: Okay.

 

AW: So at the moment, the law by which we’re governed, largely is about us being a registry. So we take in what's given to us by companies. These proposals will allow us to question something, if there's potential suspicious activity or we're concerned about something in some way. Having those powers to do something up front. We don't have those powers at the moment.

 

Similarly and on the other side of the coin, we want it to be easier to remove inaccurate information, still within certain boundaries, but there are gaps at the moment in terms of what we can and can't remove and in what circumstances. So we want to start to plug some of those gaps and to enhance those powers too.

 

GT: Okay, so knowing who’s setting up, improving accuracy. Strand 3?

 

MH: Okay. So although we’re proposing asking for some additional information and improving the accuracy and reliability of the register. At the same time, we recognise it's really, really important to protect people's personal information. Obviously stepping into a world of verifying identities means we'll be holding a lot more sensitive data. So we really need to think about this really carefully.

 

We want to be able to change the way we store and control access to personal information. Whilst we are, on the face of it, a public register, there's a lot of information that we collect now and even more in the future that we don't put on the face of the register. For example, we're not suggesting obviously that we’ll put everyone's ID information on the register.

 

So we'll have a much bigger private element to the register, which we anticipate will be accessible, in some way, under certain circumstances by law enforcement colleagues. And so thinking about how that will work is really important. Making sure that only identified authorised people can file information and access it and better protection of sensitive information. As I say, we'll be collecting a lot more of that in the future.

 

GT: And keeping that secure is quite key for us as well isn’t it?

 

AW: Absolutely

 

GT: Okay. So that's 3 strands. The fourth and last one?

 

AW: Okay, so the fourth strand is, really, this demonstrates our shift. I mentioned earlier that the law we’re governed by at the moment really makes us a registry. What this reform is looking to do, a big part of it, is to make us a partner with law enforcement in an attempt to combat economic crime and money laundering. So we need to be able to better share data with law enforcement colleagues, cross-check data against other datasets and information held by other organisations.

 

At the moment, again with us being a registry, the law is quite restricted in terms of what we can share and when. So we need to consider carefully who we need to share information with, under what circumstances, for what purposes and so on and so forth. We want to see the exchange of intelligence made easier so that we can quickly identify possible criminal behaviour, suspicious activity and pass that on to the relevant authorities in good time.

 

GT: Okay, so 4 strands there. Knowing who's setting up and managing and controlling. Strand 2, improving the accuracy and usability of the data. 3, protecting personal information and the fourth strand, improving the detection of possible criminal behaviour. So quite wide-ranging changes or proposals happening to the register. So who do we want to take part in this consultation?

 

AW: Everybody please. Because it's so wide-ranging, there will be something in there for every type of company on the register. So businesses large and small, we're interested in. People might have views on some bits of the consultation and not on others, interested in that too. And to make sure everyone gets a chance to have their say we're also talking directly to key stakeholder areas such as transparency, accountancy, financial services and law enforcement just to make sure we've got the right range of views.

 

GT: So professional bodies and individuals and companies large and small.

 

AW: Yes, that's great.

 

GT: So the consultation is out at the moment. When does it close?

 

AW: Closes on the 5th of August.

 

GT: Okay. So we've got a few weeks yet. If you're listening to this after the 5th of August, sadly you've missed out on putting your views forward. So once it closes then, what are the next steps once we've got all those consultations and people writing to us?

 

AW: Yeah. Okay, so Companies House will be working very closely with our colleagues in BEIS to review all the responses that we get and start to formulate some specific proposals. Again, just reiterating because it's such a high-level consultation, it's not as simple as saying yes, we want to do this, no we want to do that. Once we've got the yes or no, we need to work out how we're going to achieve some of this.

 

Ultimately there will be a government response to the consultation published. We don't have time scales for that as yet, but most of the proposals in the consultation are likely to need significant legislative change. So in reality that’s going to take a number of years to finalise and get through the parliamentary process.

 

GT: Right, okay. So if you’re listening before the 5th of August, and you want to take part in this consultation, where can we fill in our forms or fill in our details?

 

AW: So there's a direct link to the consultation from our website on GOV.UK. You can find out more about Companies House generally in the same place on GOV.UK. And the link to the consultation takes you straight through to the template that you can fill in. So it's all very straightforward and very user-friendly. You can also follow our latest news and updates on our social media channels and blog and there are plenty of links there to some of the proposals and to the consultation document itself.

 

GT: Does it take long to fill in? Or it depends on how long you want it to be?

 

AW: It depends how many of the questions you want to answer, I guess. If you want to go through and just say yes or no to each question, that's one thing. But we really appreciate the narrative that goes alongside that so that we get people's reasoning. Really useful.

 

GT: Right, okay. Thanks Alex. We got through that without mentioning Gillingham football club or the Spice Girls. That's very good. Thank you very much for listening. As Alex said, you can get more information on our website www.gov.uk/companieshouse. But please get on there and fill-in your consultation details and let us know what you think. Thanks for listening.

 

AW: Thank you.

 

 

Case study: The Eco Larder

Case study: The Eco Larder

August 20, 2020

This podcast is part of a series of case studies in which we speak to small business owners. Find out about the challenges and advantages of owning your own business, and pick up some advice on how to get started.

The Eco Larder is a Community Interest Company (CIC) based in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh. Opened by Matthew and Stephanie Foulds in November 2018, it's the city's first zero waste supermarket. They aim to put planet and purpose before profits.

Read the full case study here - www.gov.uk/government/case-stu…/the-eco-larder-cic

 

Transcript

 
Companies House host: Hello and welcome to our latest podcast. We're here with the Eco Larder Community Interest Company in Edinburgh and welcome to Matthew and Stephanie and baby Jasmina. How are you guys? 
 
Matthew: Very well. Thank you.
 
Stephanie: Yeah, really good. 
 
CH: Thank you for welcoming us here today to talk to you about your company. So if we get straight into it, why did you start the Eco Larder and what inspired you?
 
M: So we started the Eco Larder well, it was an idea that had been with us while Stephanie was pregnant with Jasmina and we became increasingly aware of the additional waste we were going through preparing for a little baby and just how much it was going to take to try and live without plastic for her and we just decided at that point that we were going to make a stand, we're going to do that ourselves and then that blossomed into well, there's an opportunity to do that for Edinburgh and create a zero waste supermarket. 
 
CH: Okay, and is it just the two of you or is it kind of you and family and volunteers?
 
S:  Well, we have my mum as our biggest volunteer looking after Jasmina and taking care of all the details helping in the shop and then we've also got an amazing team of volunteers. 
 
M: Yeah, we've had lots of people just willing to offer their time doing shifts, creating websites, fixing doors and sending boxes. We will always find someone, it's just been a wonderful experience. 
 
CH: That is so nice and I guess to already feel that you've kind of got a community of people that you know are really passionate about it and want to come and support the shop and what you're trying to achieve. 
 
M: Yeah 
 
CH: Amazing. In terms of kind of finding your premises and stuff. Was there a reason why you chose here? You're sort of just off the Haymarket aren’t you in Edinburgh?
 
M: Yes, so we're nice and central here, but we also live in this area. So we wanted to be fairly close to where we live, but also it is a great spot with what we hoped would be accessible for everyone who is coming in on the trains, but also very central in Edinburgh. Lots of people live around this neck of the woods, so we’ve looked around for a little while and checked out a couple of places and then we stumbled across where we are now. 
 
CH: Brilliant and I know you've been open since November 2018 so you're sort of a few months in now. Where did it all start? What were the first things that you kind of did in terms of, I guess setting up the business?
 
S: I think we just thought let's go for it. You know and one day we sat down and launched a crowdfunding campaign. It was near the end when I was heavily pregnant. We couldn't move anyway, we were stuck in the house and Matt said I'll do the crowdfunding and I did the website and we did that and thought we've got nothing to lose and it went from there. 
 
M: Yeah, then we got the crowdfunding. We thought ‘oh crikey’ now we've got to do it and yeah, it all just kept going one thing after another.

 

CH: Brilliant. So that was kind of I guess the starting point. Where did you go next?
 
M: Yeah, and so once we started to look at actually setting up the company we came across all the other options for how we would register and the best fit by far was the the CIC because we were taking on more than just creating a business for ourselves. It was you know, really going to be a shared effort for the Edinburgh community.
 
CH: Yeah, the really strong sort of social purpose I guess and that fits great into to why people go down the sort of community interest company.  
 
S: Yeah, I mean our moto is planet and purpose before profit and we stick by that through everything that we do and that ethos is just really important to us because we want to not only change shopping behaviours, but also improve society and the entire system that we live in and make it a fair world and we really believe that a social Enterprise is the only way to create that fairness.
 
M: So yeah, we'd like to see lots more social enterprises exist. 
 
CH: Yeah, and I guess with Jasmina as well. It's about thinking about her future kind of how you want her to kind of grow up.
 
S: Yeah definitely. 
 
M: In terms of other help as a result of that we have a government backed agency up here called FirstPort and they help social Enterprises to get off the ground so we receive a lot of help from them. 
 
S: Through that I guess we work with a lot of social enterprises, like we worked with the Edinburgh tool library in terms of getting the shop fitted out and then bread share they supply our bread to another social enterprise, Hey Girls, they fight period poverty and we stock their products as well and so we support other social enterprises. 
 
CH: That’s really nice. That's bringing everyone together, that’s the reason for what they are doing and its great that they integrating it with your business. 
 
S: Yeah Definitely. 
 
CH: That sounds great. In terms the business side of the Eco Larder you sort of first registered your company and then was it a fairly easy process to convert to CIC? 
 
M: Yeah. It was a really simple application. We went through a, I don't know what you would call them, it wasn’t through Companies House directly. 
 
CH: Was it a formation agent?
 
M: A formation agent and yeah, once we had registered we just had to apply for the social enterprise or the community interest company. It's just really easy. 
 
CH: Great, yeah, and I know obviously, you know you’re still really new so luckily you haven’t got to worry about filing anything in terms of the accounts and things for at least 21 months, which is great it gives you sort of real chance to get the business up and running.
 
S:  Definitely. 
 
CH: Did you look for advice from accountants and things to help you with that side of things? 
 
S: Definitely. 
 
M:Yeah, we're not accountants so we needed the help on that. But you know, it's nothing to be scared about.
 
S: It’s not expensive either.  
 
M: It’s fine to find an accountant who is willing to just do the you know, the final accounts, it's not a worry.
 
S: But it's a must have. 
 
M: It's a must-have, Yeah. We would leave it.
 
S: We wouldn’t do it. 
 
CH: Yeah and I think that’s something to think about it’s, you know we have to do this but I'm not great on that side of things. I know you've also got your yoga company, haven't you as well? 
 
S: Yes.
 
CH: Has that been a help kind of in terms of experience?
 
S: Yeah, we definitely went through about four accountants before figuring out that it's  quite a simple thing because felt at the beginning there were a lot of words that I didn't understand so we went with Derek Napier in the end who's fantastic. 
 
CH: Brilliant and he'll help you with all your responsibilities down the line at Companies House and CIC regulator.
 
S: Yeah.
 
CH: That’s really great. In terms of your biggest challenges, would you say the things that if you were giving advice to other people who are looking at kind of maybe a zero-waste shop or something similar what other things would you say? These are the things you kind of need to focus on and the challenges I guess.
 
S: Yeah. 
 
M: I think it depends on the space that you're going for and potentially if you're targeting a certain section of food and you really want to make a difference with your own business, if you've got the opportunity because you are surrounded by great farming, very local and that's a chance for you to change. 
 
S: I think you need to be really hands-on, just save costs by doing it yourself wherever possible, that’s the most important message I would put across.
 
M: Be prepared to have a real tough shift early on. 
 
CH: Yeah. Yeah dedicate yourself to it. 
 
S: Yeah, you are taking Deliveries at 7am And then at 8am you're doing social media 9:00am you're helping customers.
 
M: I think you have that with any small business. 
 
CH: Yeah those sort of personal challenges that come with it. 
 
M: And yeah, if you're believing in it, and you've got the reason for setting up in the first place. It's so much more rewarding.
 
S: You need to be driven by the passion because you need to really want to do this because it's a lot of work. Yeah. 
 
CH: And have you been amazed by how you've been received by local community?
 
S: Yeah.
 
M: Yeah, we've had a phenomenal response to the crowdfunding initially and that then built into lots of followers on our social media and because we opened up in Edinburgh and people were desperate for it, it kind of took a snowball really and we were just overwhelmed in the end when we came to opening day. So yeah, that's all been fab we couldn’t of asked for better really. 
 
S: Yeah, we've had a lot of media come in and film and lots of newspapers have taken up coming here as well and writing about us so that's really been helpful, you know being Edinburgh’s first zero waste shop has been a huge thing, which is why the media have really been behind us.
 
CH: Yeah, That's great.
 
M: And now there's more following so it's the more it becomes the norm the bigger the change.
 
CH: Excellent, in terms of things that you're sort of most proud of I know you run other sort of initiatives and things don't you that you're trying out, like your beach clean ups and things like that. Is that something that you're going to continue to do more of?
 
M: Yeah, so that's a regular part of our social initiative. We also look to run workshops on being more sustainable, making your own things, up-cycling with materials. We are also looking to expand this year into becoming a grower of produce and working with areas of Edinburgh to grow our own.
 
CH: Wow, and would that be here in the in the shop?
 
M: That would be a little bit in the shop and other parts of the city so that's a much bigger project that we've got. But yeah a real education piece around growing your own stuff growing seasonal. There's a lot out there in the news now about the diet that we have to live with to sustain the planet.
 
CH: Really exciting, sounds great. What's been some of the most important things in terms of what you see as your success? Has it been the people, has it been the volunteers has it just been sort of starting and seeing it grow?
 
S: More I think the people that come in and it's like a sweet shop for adults. So every single adult that comes in gets so excited and you can see it in their faces and their body language and then they say half the time ‘’I'm so excited to be here’’.
 
M: But the kids then who come in with them and they are really passionate about it as well. So I think they're going to be the generation that sees it as the norm and fixes a lot of where we've gone wrong. Through no fault of well, obviously fault of our own but maybe we just didn't quite understand the impact that we were having and generations gone by so that's been really nice to see.
 
 
CH: I guess, you know, you've obviously both got a lot of passion for what you do and what really comes across. What is something that you’d say is the main thing that keeps you going keeps driving me to do more?
 
S: I think so, I think that's what it is and then little Jasmina, I'm always thinking, we’re doing this for her. She gets to grow up in a world that cares for the environment, for people, for health and well-being. Those are our values that we want to pass to her and I feel that everything that we do every day is for her. 
 
M: And every day is a new day, which is refreshing.
 
CH: Sure and it comes with a different challenges I guess but that's all part of developing the business. So what's next for the Eco Larder in the next few months? 
 
M: So in the next few months, hopefully, we're in a position to start bringing in some people to help us run it as well and that will then allow us to look to do these other initiatives. It's in terms of looking to do our own growing.
 
S: We've also created a plastic free Edinburgh badge. It's a scheme that we want to help local businesses reduce their waste and in particular their plastic consumption and we feel that we have some experience in this and we're well placed to go into businesses and give them this advice, but going out and about is really tough right now because we need to run the shop so having people work here will really help us create a bigger impact throughout the city.
 
CH: Amazing. And is that's something that you're kind of look for some funding for to help with?
 
S: Yeah, I guess so, but it's largely our time more in like a consultancy basis so just freeing up our time. 
 
CH: Yes, you can get out and about and know that this is all running? 
 
S: Yeah, definitely we want to highlight the companies that are actively reducing their plastic waste we feel that we've got a strong social media following and we really want to shout about the companies that are making a difference so we're very interested in getting partnerships built that way.
 
CH: To round up then, is there one final thing you'd say to people about you know, if they're thinking about doing it themselves for any zero waste shop. What would you say just go for it? 
 
M: Yeah, I think more and more is going to come along the way so if you've got the opportunity, whatever part of the country you're in and you want to make it then go for it.
 
S: Yeah go for it, but expect it to be full on, which is good, you know and I feel that there's a lot of people with a passion behind it. From us to the customers, so you know get that community going wherever you are.
 
CH: Thank you both ever so much for your time. I know there's lots of really interesting stuff in there for people considering and opening up a small business. If you do want some more information, you can head over to GOV.UK/companieshouse and also the CIC regulator who will have information specifically about Community Interest Companies. Thank you. Thanks for listening.
 
S and M: Thank you so much.

 

Case study: Bear Pit Theatre

Case study: Bear Pit Theatre

August 20, 2020

This podcast is part of a series of case studies in which we speak to small business owners. Find out about the challenges and advantages of owning your own business, and pick up some advice on how to get started.

Founded in 2008 by a small group of actors, The Bear Pit Theatre is a voluntary organisation based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. It aims to provide a venue for, and bring together, the different artistic and amateur groups in the town.

Read the full case study here - www.gov.uk/government/case-stu…es/bear-pit-theatre

 

Transcript

Jocelyn Keedwell : Hello and welcome to the latest case study podcast. I'm Jocelyn. I'm from the company's Health Communications team, and I'm here today at The Bear Pit theatre with Pamela Hicks, David Mears and David Derrington all directors. Hello all, thank you very much for letting us in. Just wondering if you can maybe tell me a little bit about The Bear Pit Theatre and how you guys started?
 
Pamela: David and I, we got together at the very beginning with another friend and the reason being that we feared that what is now the play house next door was going to be shut down. There was going to be nowhere for amateurs to perform in the Stratford-upon-Avon. So we set about  trying to find a venue.
 
David Mears: So that was in 2008. We started to have those conversations and ten years later we're here now in The Bear Pit Theatre. We felt it was really important that in a town that celebrates Shakespeare there should be a venue for local community groups and amateur theatre makers to produce work.
 
JK: So it was very much aimed at community groups and community theatre rather than some more established companies? 
 
DM: Absolutely and before we started to find spaces and talk about setting up a venue we looked at lots of other community spaces. We did a tour all around London visited the Likes of Questers. We were very envious that the Talisman and The Priory theatre in Kenilworth had not one but two community-led venues. There's the Loft theatre in Lemmington and we're thinking well, hang on a minute. Why isn't there a community venue in Stratford-upon-Avon that’s in the heart of Warwickshire? 
 
CH:So you said your first formed in 2008.  Was it yourselves was there more people involved? Is it volunteer-based kind of thing?
 
David Derrington: It started with sort as they said with two things in mind really. One was to try and act as a sort of an embracing group for the other companies because we were all aware that all these people did not have a voice in Stratford. I mean so many of the theatres elsewhere are commissioned, run by, helped by local authorities and that sort of thing. In Stratford you've got the RSC. What else do you want? And so that was one of the things to try and do, to try and bring all these groups together. Perhaps we’ll come back to that and the second thing was to find the theatre. That's sort of where we were. 
 
CH: So the actual theatre is based at the back of the United Reformed Church here in Stratford. So how did you find that space?
 
P: We were introduced to the then Minister here who, actually I think is a great thespian. He couldn't wait to have this space filled with actors and so he showed us around and said well,  ‘’I'm happy that you get the opportunity to perform here”, at that time the church hall was being used for badminton and yoga and line dancing and goodness knows what, but he sort of allocated us long weekends, so that we can put on the shows. 
 
CH: So how did you transition then from being a long weekend space to being sort of a fully functioning theatre that you've developed and you've refurbished and you put a lot of time and effort into?
 
DM: It became quite clear that we couldn't continue as we were doing because it was a lot of time to set it all up. We'd be building a rake for our audience to sit on, we'd be building a set and then we'd have to clear it in a matter of hours so badminton could play the following morning at 10 o'clock. So that was was quite hard. We had to sit down with the church and seriously talk about how we could progress this project in a more formal way rather than us just being seen as a hirer like any other user using that space. 
 
CH: Did you speak to other community theatres or groups in the town, to get a bit of backing for this because you formed in 2008 and you didn't actually become a registered company until 2011 I believe. Those first couple of years  was that setting up, seeing how things went, what sort of models would be best for you. 
 
DM: We looked at as I say the Questers. We looked at Kenalworth, Talisman, Loft company. 
 
Pamela: Oh yes in Teddington there's a little theatre company who had actually got lottery funding and built themselves a theatre so we looked at all sorts of options and that took a lot of time and also trying to find somewhere in Stratford. We were looking at warehouses and it took a long time to do that. In the meantime, the groups interest was waning, they wanted somewhere to perform. They didn't really want to be involved in the setting up, so that left the onus with us. 
 
DM: Yeah. They were quite happy to talk about building a space, finding a space, but when it came to actually running the space, finding money to do it, etc.  Everyone started to back off and thought well actually this is perhaps a bit too much for us? Etc. But we stuck with this.

 

CH: I was going to ask. What made you stick with it? Was it just a desire for it?
 
DD: I mean we felt there were a lot of diverse groups. So you've got actors, you've got music, you’ve got non-Performing Arts, painters and for instance the actors wanted the theatre, the painters wanted an exhibition space. All these sort of things were going on and we just couldn't do it all or find somewhere we could do it and we just got to a stage when we thought that let's forget that, let's find them a theatre space because we know that's what they want. And that's what we're good at. 
 
P: we're all actors. 
 
DM: So yes, we want to support the musicians. Yes, you want to support the Arts in terms of the artists and we still do that. In many other ways, but we thought how are we going to make a sustainable space, how we're going to raise money. Well, we can produce our own work, we can put on plays that's what we're good at doing so let's do that and let's focus our time on that and pull together a company of actors. A company to support what's happening in this building. 
 
P: And that's been our policy from the start, that everything we earn is ploughed back in to the theatre.
 
CH: So was that maybe why you’ve registered to become a limited company? So you're a limited company by guarantee? 
 
DD: Yes. We registered and we wanted to be a corporate. We realised we were going to deal with other companies. We were going to have creditors, debtor, as we're going to buy stuff, hire stuff. So we wanted to be a proper entity and that's why we became a limited company.
 
CH: Yeah, and you obviously also protected yourselves from liability. 
 
DD:  Yes, protecting ourselves, rather than being a ‘hotch pot’ of actors.
 
P: It also was necessary for the lease with the Church too. 
 
DM: Yes, that was one of the stipulations.  
 
CH: Okay. So it made sense to make that sort of business decision. 
 
DD: Yeah, absolutely 
 
CH: Because then you also registered about a year later as a charity.
 
DM: That's right. Yes. 
 
DD: Well the other way around really. We registered first as Bear Pit Enterprises limited. That was when we were still looking at other groups, because obviously a social enterprise company has to be mindful of what's going on elsewhere, not just us. Then we decided that wasn't good, we couldn't really do that. We decided to change the name really to say what we do, we were a theatre and that was in 2013. Then in 2014, we registered as a charity.
 
CH: Yeah, and obviously because you were limited by guarantee you could register fairly easily because of the right company structure to be a charity.
 
DD: Quite easily yes. 
 
DM: I think for all of us, it has been a learning curve as to how to register a company, how to approach the charity commission and so on and so forth. Just to take advantage of grants and other benefits that a limited company bring. 
 
CH: Did you sort of get any guidance on that? Did you speak to an accountant or did you look at any sort of research online? 
 
DD: Well, the other girl who started it with these two, her husband was an accountant. Still is an accounted for us now. So yes, we had that sort of guidance. 
 
CH: Yeah, and you obviously are all volunteers. You obviously are aware of your responsibilities as directors, so, you know about annual accounts, confirmation statements,  charity commissioners accounts, but do you use an accountant do that for you? 
 
DD: Yeah, mostly yes. The accounts are so complicated because we've got our set of accounts and the charity side seems to be a completely different set of accounts and we have to file them at different times.  So yes, the accountants are hugely important as far as we're concerned and we're quite a big business now. We’re quite a complicated business.  There's a lot of stuff going on, so yes, we have an accountant to do all that. None of us are accountants.
 
P: And it was an advantage that he was already administering other little companies so he could advise us as well on how we want to go forward. 
 
CH: So you've made a lot of changes at the theatre. You've obviously invested a lot of the profits that you've made from being a company back into the theatre.
 
DM: Everything.
 
CH: I've noticed that you've made a lot of refurbishments backstage. Have you been able to apply for grants and funding?
 
DM: The room that we're sitting at the moment was care of a grant so this was a ginormous open room, a rather cold room, and thanks to a grant we managed to put this mezzanine level in so we've got a dedicated dressing room space on the ground floor and then above us we've got our beautifully organised costume department so now we have the storage space up there to accommodate stuff which we didn't have before.
 
CH: So you've been able to improve space for your company and you have visiting companies here now too and not just your own? 
 
DM: That's right. 
 
DD: That’s what its for of course, our own company benefits because we enjoy putting on plays but is hugely financially important to us to pay the rent so that we can have the others. It's lovely to hear them say every time they come ‘’Oh you've done this, this time’’. Every year we've done something that's different.
 
CH: So there's how many directors for the company?
 
DD: Eight directors. 
 
CH:  Do you have regular meetings to talk about the direction of the company?
 
DM: Yeah once a month and we are all sort of theoretically chosen because we've got something different to give.
 
CH: Yes. I was going to say so it’s obviously changed over the years sort of different directors. So you just said it's your 10th anniversary this year. What would you say you're most proud of?
 
P: I think it's when we put on a production and this is very selfish, but when we put on a production, it's the fact that each time, we see people who come back and back and back. We've now got a very loyal following in the town and the neighbouring areas and it's just so thrilling to know that from nothing we've created this.  
 
DM: We've welcomed thousands of people through the door every year now and loyal people that have come back to support our work and that's what's exciting.
 
CH: Yeah, and obviously a lot has changed. 
 
DM: Well people know who the Bear Pit theatre is now. People know the brand, they know the logo and people will not book a show unless it says The Bear Pit.
 
DD:  That's not totally true, [laughing] but that can be edited. 
 
CH: What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced in starting the company? So you've talked about the community sort of liking the idea of it, but maybe not necessarily being able to spare the time. Do you find volunteers? It can be a bit difficult work-life balance sometimes.
 
P: Hideously so. 
 
DM: So yes, we are reliant on volunteers. We are reliant on Pam and David to do things but yeah, I mean without the volunteers doing all of the stuff that they do we wouldn't be where we are now. 
 
P: And that is the hardest thing too, because it's asking an awful lot of people not just to come and I don’t know manage the box office once every so often. We need people backstage to organise the costumes to you know just administrate the backstage.
 
DM: Yes. That's right. But everyone is important.
 
P: Absolutely, everyones job is important.
 
 DM: It's making sure that everyone does feel important. That they are playing a part in making this building and what happens onstage, you know, good. 
 
CH: Do you think that's what's been a really important is the goodwill of those volunteers and a passion and belief in the theatre? Because as you said you’re actors and you have a love for theatre and you can't live in Stratford and not be aware of the theatre so that must have to come through in your day-to-day tasks and maybe when you're having a bit of a ‘’oh I’ve got to go and do the lighting rig today or something’’ It must be that what carries you through it. 
 
P: There's an awful lot of commitment from all those people and we've been very lucky in that we’ve just recently tapped into sixth formers who want to go on to do this as a career not just the acting but the sound and the lighting and we're very lucky. 
 
CH: It's great. You've obviously got the college and you've got the high school and the grammar school nearby. Maybe sort of looking forward to future plans, do you think that's something you might want to see? What opportunities are there for them? 
 
DM: This is something that we noticed when we did our investigations years ago, that Questers has a very unique relationship with the educational world and again, that could be a good way to go. 
 
P: Yes, but when we have one or two, it's just an indication that it might become a trickle which is so lovely.
 
DM: We also have a lot of retirement homes in Stratford as well so again its very key, very important, always looking for new members.
 
CH: You’re always looking for a new members, new writers, actors, performers?
 
DM: Always looking for new members. 
 
CH: Well, It has been lovely to speak to you and to listen to your passion for what you do and you know and theatre obviously comes through. I want to wish the Bear Pit all the success in the future. Thank you ever so much for letting us in and talking to us.
 
DM: Thank you
 
CH: For anyone out there who may be interested in what we've been speaking about today. There's lots of guys guidance and information on our website, which is www.gov.uk/companieshouse. Thank you very much again and thank you for listening.
 

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