Companies House podcasts
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.
 
Case Study: Lullabyz Nursery

Case Study: Lullabyz Nursery

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.

Lullabyz Nursery is a family run day care and wrap around facility based in Newport, south Wales. The Nursery was set up by Nicola Reed and her husband Karl in October 2011.

Read more about them on our website - www.gov.uk/government/case-stu…es/lullabyz-nursery

 

Transcript

 

Gary Townley: Okay. Hello. My name is Gary Townley. I'm part of the communications team here at Companies House. I'm delighted to today be here with Nicola Reed, one of the owners and one of the directors of Lullabyz Nursery. So thank you for having us Nicola. Would you like to introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about yourself and the company?

 

Nicola Reed: Okay. Well, the company would have been running, it’ll be 6 years this October. So we opened on the first of October 2012. It’s Lullabyz Nursery. We're a family run nursery, based in Newport quite near the city centre. We started off with 5 members of staff and know there’s 34, so we were a fast growing business but we've sort of levelled out now. That’s where we are and we've got a great reputation which we fiercely protect.

 

GT: Okay. So you say you started out about 6 years ago?

 

NR: It’ll be 6 years ago in October.

 

GT: And do you run it on your own? Are you the sort of the sole manager here?

 

NR: Yes. With CIW who's our governing body, you have to have a registered person. That's the person who oversees everything and then you have a person in charge. Somebody who runs it on the day-to-day basis. I am both of those people here.

 

GT: Okay. So what inspired you to start the business?

 

NR: I always wanted to work with children and I went to do a teaching degree as soon as I did my A-levels. So I was teaching for 3 or 4 years actually in Nottingham. When I moved back, because I’m from Newport originally, I was doing supply teaching. Nursery owning was always something that I wanted to do. So because I was only doing supply teaching it was a now or never sort of thing.

 

GT: So what did you do first? Was it finding premises or find staff?

 

NR: Finding a premises, it took us 2 years to find premises and then when we actually found this building it took us a year to buy it. So it was a very messy operation, but it was worth it. We got there in the end. So it took us a year to buy it and then it took us 9 months to renovate it to be open

 

GT: Right so it’s this building. You haven't moved since you started out?

 

NR: No.

 

GT: Okay brilliant. So when did you decide to become a limited company? Was that straight away?

 

NR: Yes straight away initially. My dad previously had set up his own business and that was a limited company. So he already had expertise in that area and that's what he recommended as the safest way, you know to protect the business.

 

GT: Okay. And so he gave you most of the advice. Did you search anywhere else’s website?

 

NR: No, not really. My dad is one of the directors of the company and he's got over 40 years experience, you know, with running his own business. So he was our go-to person. So we went on his advice really. He set us up with our current accountant who also offered us a lot of advice.

 

GT: That was the next question really, did you do it on yourself or did you use a formation agent, stroke accountant?

 

NR: Yeah, we've got accountants who are Lewis Ballard and we pay them for different services. They not only do our wages, you know pensions lots of other things. So they do a lot of work for us. And yeah, we trust them implicitly so we have meetings with them quarterly and updates. My husband Carl, who’s also a director, does a lot of the accounts as well and sends them over to Lewis Ballard.

 

GT: Excellent. So the company was incorporated in October 2011. So actually before you opened.

 

NR: Yes, as I said it was 9 months of building work and paper work.

 

GT: Okay. I know you use an accountant, but are you aware of your responsibilities as a director?

 

NR: Yeah, we know what our responsibilities are and they're quick to pick us up if we’re not doing anything right. So yeah between myself and my husband all the paperworks.

 

GT: Yep. So it's confirmation statement on an annual basis. The PSC register is one we’re particularly interested in. That was introduced about 2 years ago now in 2016. Do you know what that is?

 

NR: Yes, I think so, let me get it right now. A person of significant control.

 

GT: That's right. That’s it, someone who has ownership of the business. Does not have to be a director, does not have to be a shareholder. Someone who has influence about how the company runs. Now I have noticed actually from the register because the register’s free to inspect for anyone, that you recently changed your details on your PSC. Do you know what that was?

 

NR: We've recently moved house so it would be a change of address.

 

GT: Right okay, so change of service address. And you know when that has to be filed?

 

NR: Is it 14 or 28 days? Is it 14 days?

 

GT: 14 days, absolutely. You have to notify Companies House within 14 days of a change of address.

 

NR: Which we did.

 

GT: Brilliant, your accountant did and you did that obviously online. It's much quicker to do it online. Now I notice your husband is also a director. Does he have any role in the business?

 

NR: He manages the accounts. Or he sends everything onto the accountant. So he's in charge of the paperwork on that side of it. Although I say paperwork, it’s all done online now.  

 

GT: Right, okay, and also he's a PSC because you both own over 25% of the shares and that's one of the criteria of being a PSC. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far since starting the company?

 

NR: I will probably always say staffing and I'm sure if you come back in another 20 years, I'll still say staffing. If you get your staff right then your business is right, especially in the childcare industry, I can't speak for other people, but we spent the first 2 years of our business recruiting. And now it's sort of a one-out one-in basis because we're at maximum capacity now and I would always say get your staff right. If I go on courses, or meet anyone else, that's what everyone talks about. It's just staffing and having staff issues.

 

We have an excellent team of staff here. We have a very low turnaround for staff which is unusual in this industry and that's because, you know, we do have a good reputation. The girls want to work here.

 

GT: Would you have done anything differently? If you had your time again?

 

NR: What would I do differently? Obviously, yes, you look back now and you just think you were so naive on different things. You think you can hit the ground running but it is an evolving business. We will never say that we’re the finished article because the nursery is always changing. We're always growing, we’re always improving. So yeah, there's a lot of things that I would have done differently. But everything we've done has got us to where we are now.

 

GT: And it’s been successful because you have grown. What do you think the most important factor in the success of the business has been?

 

NR: I think that I'm so hands-on in the business. There's not very many nurseries where the owner runs the nursery day-to-day as well. Normally an owner will set up a nursery and they'll disappear and pull somebody else in to run it. I've got 2 children of my own and I always say this is my third baby. People have asked us about setting up another nursery under the same name, but I just feel like I would dilute what I've got here, you know. Me being here all the time is what makes it special.

 

GT: Okay, and what advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of starting up a similar sort of business?

 

NR: Go and speak to somebody really who's already done it because it always seems like such a lovely idea but you don't realise the work that is involved in it. Not just the hours but the paperwork and everything that you've got to keep on top of. I speak to my staff and I asked them, what would you like to do in the future? And lots of them say run their own place. It's easy to say that it's not as easy to do it.

 

GT: Okay, how do you promote the business? Do you use social media? What do you need to do? Do you use word of mouth?

 

NR: Yeah a lot of it is word of mouth. We do use Twitter and Facebook. But really they're not really for promoting the business, they’re just for information and sharing ideas with other settings. At the beginning we did a lot of promotion and we advertised in magazines and leafleting but we haven't had to do that for quite a while.

 

GT: Okay, and what's the web address in case anybody wants to get in touch?

 

NR: It’s www.lullabyznursery.co.uk.

 

GT: Excellent. And what's the most important lesson you've learned since setting up?

 

NR: I suppose, be confident. I've grown as a person since opening the business. My husband will tell you, he probably thinks I don't need any more confidence, but yes I think before I started the nursery I would be scared to speak to people about different things and now you have to. My staff have to know that I am in charge and that they've got confidence in me. So you do have to be confident in speaking in front of people. I will speak to anybody now on any level and enjoy it.

 

GT: That's great. And if you could what's the best piece of business advice you'd give to your younger self, perhaps you’re just leaving school?

 

NR: My younger self. Follow your dream. Yeah.

 

GT: Is this your dream?

 

NR: This is my dream. Yeah. This is my dream.

 

GT: And what's the best thing about owning your own business?

 

NR: Coming and going as I please. Yeah. I've got 2 children. So running my own business. It has enabled me to take my children to school, pick them up when they've got concerts, can go in and out. So as a family person it’s been a big part of my life, but it doesn’t take over my life. It's finding that work-life balance, which if I was an employee, I wouldn't necessarily be able to do.

 

GT: Being limited liability means you've got that protection as well.

 

NR: Yes.

 

GT: That's great, right. So how do you see the company developing in the future?

 

NR: As I said, we will always continue to grow and improve. We're always looking for ways in which to improve the nursery, but income wise we're probably at capacity now. For the last couple of years that hasn't really changed. Numbers do go up and down throughout the year, but it sort of balances itself out. We can't really take on any more children at the current time.

 

GT: Okay, and that's I think about it for me. So thank you very much Nicola. If you do want to contact us it's www.gov.uk/companieshouse. You can telephone us on 0303 1234 500. And if you do want to contact us, it’s enquiries@companieshouse.gov.uk. So, thank you very much for listening, listen in to the next one. Thanks, Nicola, if you want to say goodbye?

 

NR: Bye.

 

GR: Okay. Thanks very much, and we'll see you next time.

Customer and Stakeholder Survey

Customer and Stakeholder Survey

August 20, 2020

We talk to James Downes, Head of Product for Companies House, about the importance of customer insight and transforming our customer facing digital products and services.

 

Transcript

Gary Townley: Hello and welcome to this podcast from Companies House. My name is Gary Townley. I am part of the communications team here at Companies House. Probably most of you know us, but for those who don't know who we are, Companies House are the government agency who register, dissolve and keep company records and make those records available to the public. Our sponsoring department is BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

 

We have four locations, Edinburgh, Belfast, London and here in Cardiff, where we are broadcasting from this morning, so thank you for joining us. I'm delighted to be joined by James Downes, Head of Product here at Companies House. So I’ll let James introduce himself.

 

James Downes: Hello. Yes, as you say I'm James. I'm head of the product team here at Companies House. We look after all digital products that are customer facing. So everything from the filing products where people can file the documents say, incorporate new companies, dissolve companies and so on, through to the other side of the product spectrum where people can view company information to our search and data products.

 

GT: All available from our website?

 

JD: All available from our website, yes.

 

GT: Okay, so products, as well as we got people filing, people inspecting, people providing information. So we've introduced a survey recently that's been going for about 6 weeks. So what's the purpose of the survey?

 

JD: So the survey is designed to help us improve basically. That means improve our products and services that we just mentioned, but also actually improve how we do surveys in the future. We've always you know, we've always wanted to get the insight from our customers and want to know what they think about us and how satisfied they are with us and we've done it in a number of different ways. What we're trying to do this time, is find a much more consistent way that we can regularly monitor, you know, feel the pulse of our customers and stakeholders.

 

GT: Okay, and who’re we looking to take part in this survey?

 

JD: So anybody who use our services. So we've already mentioned filers. So companies, directors, secretaries and accountants that file documents to Companies House and obviously then those that the consume company information. So they might be people doing it for their own personal reasons, looking at companies, but also what we call data consumers. People like credit reference agencies, transparency groups and things like that who are consuming our data in bulk. May be using our API, or using our bulk products to do more with that information.

 

But also stakeholders. So we've got lots of people who have a stake in what we do here at Companies House. They may be formation agents, big accountancy firms, the trade, press, even people from within government. They have an interest in what we do. I'd very much like to hear from them too.

 

GT: Okay, so everyone who has contact with us,

 

JD: Absolutely.

 

GT: And who’s been dealing with us, right?

 

JD: We decided to run it for 3 months. What we wanted to do is get the biggest sample possible so that we really covered all the different groups that I just mentioned.

 

GT: And the numbers so far are looking quite positive?

 

JD: Yeah, we've got a really good sample. So we’ve certainly got over 27,000 responses so far which is excellent. It gives us a really good sample on which we can we can do some analysis and really get a good understanding of people's opinions and levels of satisfaction.

 

GT: Okay, so lots of people taking part. Any specific areas that you know, we want more people from a particular area to come forward and take part?

 

JD: Yeah the stakeholders in particular. Having had a quick look at the data, we know that we've got a good representative sample, and we know that we don't have as many stakeholders as we do people that search or file, but we'd still like to hear more from stakeholders because what we do is important to them. It’s important that they have a say in any future direction that we might take.

 

GT: Yes it’s their chance to tell us what to do isn't it?

 

JD: Yeah.

 

GT: Okay, so it's going to end in about 3 weeks time. So 3 weeks for people to get on board and fill in that survey for us. So one of the next stages once it closes, what's going to happen with those results?

 

JD: So we will we will do some analysis and really sort of understand the data that we've got because as I said it's quite a large data set. We’ll will work with our colleagues in the analysis and corporate insight section. We've got some statisticians there that will make sure that our methodology and our analytical methodology is robust. Then what we'll do is, we'll obviously present that internally and then we'll look to publish that information to the outside world as well. Because we believe it's you know, in terms of transparency, it's good to share what we've learned.

 

GT: Yeah I was going to say that. Are the results going to be published. They’ll be available on our website, I take it?

 

JD: They will be available from our website. It won’t be immediately after the service ended because there does need to be some rigour in terms of the way that we publish that information, our statisticians are happy with the quality of the way we’ve sampled and analysed the data.

 

GT: Oh, and we keep mentioning our website, so I suppose I'd better give the website address. It’s www.gov.uk/companieshouse and indeed, if you want to take part in the survey go to that address. It's on our front page. It's a lovely sort of purply, bluey sort of logo. Click on there and it’ll take you straight through to the survey.

 

Now, I believe if you do take part, there’s a little incentive that we might be giving away.

 

JD: That's right. Yes, there is. We’re going to be doing a free draw for an iPad Pro. It's a lovely bit of kit, obviously brand new. And yes, that will be going to a lucky winner. There are some rules on that. So it does have to be based in Great Britain and unfortunately, it's not available to employees of Companies House or BEIS.

 

GT: That's sad that we can't take part in that. Okay, so the results will be published and obviously we’ll be acting on those results in some way, some shape or fashion.

 

JD: Absolutely. Yeah, so, you know, we're sort of heading into a new stage of Companies House where we're looking to transform. Much of the feedback and actually much of the reason for doing this in the first place is to help shape that transformation and really understand. One of our strands of transformation is brilliant services. So a lot of what we learn from the survey, will be used by Companies House as a whole but specifically the product team, the customer insight people and so on in order to be able to prioritise and really understand what matters to people.

 

GT: Ok brilliant and the survey has been promoted on all our social channels. So it's on Twitter. It's on Facebook. It's on LinkedIn. So you will see little logos little animations etc promoting the service, so do take part if you're listening in. If you do want to contact us, our telephone number is 0303 1234 500 and you can email us on enquiries@companieshouse.gov.uk if you need to get in touch with us.

 

Now. I’ve also noticed from our website, reading the other day, that we're looking for people to join the Companies House user panel.

 

JD: Yes.

 

GT: That's another feature, we're sort of trying to promote as well.

 

JD: Yes the user panel. It sounds a bit grand but ultimately it's about people giving us permission to contact them for future research. So that might mean surveys from time to time, we do individual surveys. But also when we're looking specifically at individual services, we like to do a lot more in-depth research with customers. So that could be anything from, again from a survey to a telephone interview to even some usability testing. We do usability testing remotely and we also do it from our usability lab here in Cardiff.

 

GT: Yeah. I've seen the usability suite that's quite a good bit of kit. We call people in to use that do we?

 

JD: Yeah, it's a great facility. It’s used almost every day. And what we do is, we ask people to come, so members of the public, customers from all different customer groups, and we will basically test our services with them. All the way through us designing one of our services right from when we've got, you know, sort of basic prototypes up through to finished versions. We’ll continually test how usable that is to make sure that people can get it right first time.

 

GT: Yeah, and as part of the survey process once we've got this information in, obviously we’ll tailor our tools and get people in to test these new tools as well.

 

JD: Absolutely. Yeah, it's about sort of expanding that pool of people that we can work with to make sure that we can deliver the best services possible.

 

GT: That's all right, isn't it? So, I think that's about it from the podcast. I'll just get you to take a card from this magic pack here, just to finish off

 

JD: Right.

 

GT: So any card, any chance, okay, read it out and give us your answer on that.

 

JD: It says ‘hypothetically speaking, if you could teleport anywhere right now, where would you go?’ That’s a difficult question. If I could teleport anywhere right now, where would I go. I think I would probably go, boring answer but, I'd probably go home to Pembrokeshire. In this weather, it's absolutely stunning right now.

 

GT: Brilliant. Okay. Thanks James. So James Downes is Head of Product here. My name's Gary Townley. I'm part of the comms team. So thank you very much for listening. Also join us on all our social channels, get to our website obviously www.gov.uk/companieshouse, 0303 1234 500 is our call line if you want to call us, and enquiries@companieshouse.gov.uk if you want to send us an email.  So thank you very much for listening and listen in again for the next one.

 

Case Study: Hard Lines

Case Study: Hard Lines

August 18, 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.

Hard Lines is an independent coffee and vinyl shop based in Cardiff, south Wales. We interviewed directors Matt and Sophie and asked them about the challenges of setting up their business and their plans for the future.

Read more about them on our website - www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/hard-lines

 

Transcript

Companies House interviewer: Hi there. I'm here with Matthew and Sophie from Hard Lines an independent coffee shop based here in Cardiff, but a coffee shop with a twist. We'll just have a bit of a chat and find out a bit about you guys, so how did you meet and get things started with your business?
 
Matthew: University, I guess, we met at University when we were both 22, we both went to uni in Cardiff Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama just up the road. I think it's probably like maybe two, maybe three years after we left university, I think we were starting to get a bit fed up what we were doing with work and I think we particularly both had reasonably difficult Christmas’ around 2016, so then we took a holiday and then on that holiday, we sort of conceived the idea that we want to do something differently and leave what we were doing and maybe go in a different direction and then we came back and started that process. 
 
CH: Okay, coffee, why, how? Where did that idea come from?
 
Sophie: We were sat in a coffee shop and talking about how we were kind of disillusioned with the work we were doing and Matt was talking about, you know, “I would absolutely love to run a little coffee shop”, well, you know, “I would love to run a little Record Shop”. I really like coffee, Matt’s really into music and records. We were on the flight home and thought should we go for it? And then it just took off from there. I think we're really lucky we struck it at the right time. 
 
M: Yeah, I think so. I like being surrounded by people who are keen to have that time. I think we were just in a little bubble of people and like a community they were willing to offer advice and help us build or do different aspects of what might need to be done to make it happen. We were lucky enough to have that as well. I think that probably gave us a little kick on.
 
 CH: So what kind of advice were you given and where did it come from? 
 
S: We're lucky. Over the past five years there's a really strong independent scene, especially in food and drink in Cardiff. We kind of came through at the same time and we worked alongside luffkin, who are like a micro roastery and Early Bird who are bakery. They'd both started about six months or so before us so we'd been going there as customers and we would chat with them and they were really open and helpful with everything, so “you should speak to this person”, “you should do this” or “just go for it”.
 
CH: So from a limited company point of view, obviously, you're registered as a limited company. Where did the decision to go down that route come from, was that advice given to you or did you search out for that information?
 
S: Yeah, we're both already soletrades because we were self-employed. We were looking at  becoming a partnership, I think it was my based on knowledge from my GCSE business, I said “I think a limited company is the right thing to do” and so we looked it up and realised we ticked quite a lot of the boxes.
 
M: Yeah, thinking back from my perspective was the fact that we were starting with nothing. I think all we were starting with was a tiny amount of our own money. In the very beginning we didn't take any money from banks or anything like that. I don't know, my logic behind it was that maybe if things didn’t go with the plan and we packed it in a couple of months later or six months later or a year later then I know psychologically there's less risk for some reason as a limited company which to this day I don't know if it’s correct or incorrect, but that's definitely what my logic was, so that's why I went with it. 
 
CH: So how did you choose your company name Hard Lines? Where did it come from? What's the story behind your company name?
 
S: So we weren't called Hard Lines. We were called Out Post and I guess if we're talking about any mistakes or shortcomings, so when we were limited company, we thought that Out Post wasn’t already taken which meant we were fine. And that wasn’t the case. It's not a copyright. So we traded as Out Post and there's another company called Out Post who wrote us the letter and said, don’t do that anymore. And so we kind of had a stressful six months in between getting that letter and then also opening our second location and doing the rebrand. I think it came from our first kind of visual heavy firs brand. Our first brand was very DIY, hand drawn. It kind of went with the pop-up aspect and then our graphic designer Cuddy, who does all our at work; the second time we wanted something a bit clean-cut, a bit more kind of fresh look maybe.
 
M: Maybe more accessible or I think the idea behind the rebrand and the renaming of it was maybe that we were trying to build something that was more than a coffee shop, so Hard Lines isn't necessarily just that coffee shop. I think we were trying to build off of it. So maybe Hard Lines could have a line of merchandise or Hard Lines could be a club night or maybe Hard Lines could put a festival on or those sorts of things. Within that rebrand we were trying to pull what we’ve learnt from the year or the year and a half previous and for all of our education into this new look and try to look a little bit for the first time into the future and what might come in the next five years as opposed to what's about to happen or just happened. 
 
CH: So you mentioned that you've already opened up your second site. How soon after establishing this place did that happen? 
 
S: I think May 2016 we did our first pop-up and then we did a summer of doing festivals and things like that and then midway through October 2016 we opened in the castle emporium as our full-time shop then we got the go-ahead in the June 2017 for the market store and then we opened in October 2017.
 
CH: Is the plan to keep expanding now? You've mentioned things like merchandise and festivals and club nights. Is that the route you want to take?
 
M: Yes, the market thing was definitely something that even before we ended up here, we knew we wanted to do. I think we just really like that and it was really appealing to us. After the market opened and a couple of months later into Christmas and the other side and now, where we are now in 2018 is the first time we've had to sort of think about the next move maybe with a bit more clarity and try to work out where it is, so what the next thing is for us on a bigger scale really, whether there's another shop or some other plans that we've got in the pipeline and then alongside that we were running club nights and DJ’ing regularly and things like that. This is I think our time to think and really work out what the next five or ten years looks like and how to really grow, hopefully of what we've built over the last two years to make it into something bigger and more sort of suitable. 
 
CH: What do you think it is that has helped make your business such a success and what kind of promotion have you done to get yourself to this point?
 
M: Promotionally getting the word out. I've definitely found a social media is definitely the avenue that we will maximise and that will be our target for promotion and how we get the word out there. I think that's a big thing and shouldn't be overlooked in any business really. I think social media goes far beyond any online sort of direct marketing. Social media would definitely be my promotional avenue and something we all try to concentrate on massively. 
 
CH: So to anyone that’s out there and they're listening and thinking these guys have done it,   they’re living their dream! What advice would you give to anyone who's got an idea? And what top tips would you give them for going from an idea to a fully-fledged business?
 
S: I think it's very easy to say and I do think we were really lucky. I think we're definitely lucky that there’s two of us. Whenever I speak to people who run business by themselves. I just bow down to them because we find it really tough and there's two of us. When we first started we didn't even have espresso machine. It was just like filter coffee and vinyl records in suitcases that we turned into racks, you know, like there wasn't a lot. Don't be limited by things.
 
M: Yeah, ultimately your passion might carry it through as well. If you are passionate about that thing whether it’s records or coffee or beer or skating or whatever it is, usually your passion for that product or that thing will feed off of you on to your customers and they believe in you from that and they'll want to come and drink coffee with you or buy stuff from you, because you're trying to do something maybe a little bit different and you're trying to do something yourself.
 
CH: You mentioned at the start as well that the reason any of this came about was that you’d gone off on your holiday. You were both quite disillusioned with what you were doing in your lives at the time. What's the best thing about having your own business?
 
M: I guess being in control of it, so we can literally do what we want to an extent. That sort of freedom to express yourself and to be able to deliver something and offer something different. Doing what you want. If that doesn't sound too selfish.
CH: Doesn't sound selfish at all. That's fantastic. Yeah, is it kind of the same for you? 
 
S: Yeah, I think that's why we got into it. I guess that is probably what it is. It is hard work and it's long hours but we are getting to do what we want.
 
CH: So I'm going ask you a few questions about Companies House as well. Were you aware of Companies House before you became a limited company? Have you seen any of our guidance or familiarised yourself with any kind of formation process through our website? 
 
S: Yeah, I think probably I did something really rudimental like Googling : how do I start a business? And then I think again, that's really the reason why we went down the limited company route.
 
CH: You must have some pretty interesting stories that you've accumulated over the last few years, any that stand out that you'd like to share with anyone? 
 
S:  We both attended Green Man festival. I'm a big fan of that. One of the first things we did there was approach people. Some would ask ‘would you like to come and work with us?. So we got to run a little pop up record shop at Green Man last year and DJ for a set so we got to go there and then we went to the festival and then we went back again this year and got to do coffee as well. 
 
M: Yeah, and we've had some great support generally from people within Cardiff and you know people who were at festivals, people like Huw Stephens, real big supporters of us who maybe a year or two ago, you'd think oh, you know that we'll never get across with some of these guys who are really making a difference in Cardiff and in the music scene or even within the coffee scene, you know, some of the people we are lucky enough to come across it's good and it's really cool.
 
CH: So going forward is that kind of the plan to just sort of expand and get out across the festival's, moving outside of South Wales? 
 
M: Yeah, I think there's lots of different avenues. It seems like there's loads of things. I think something I'd like to explore more of is the market store. It seems like a really good avenue for this, as well as trying to create a really green, sustainable coffee shop that's really self-sufficient and it looks after itself and is doing all the correct things on that front. I think the idea of building something like that is really cool. I think definitely just from my perspective the coffee culture and education within coffee and Cardiff is a real big thing on my agenda. I think we can try to offer that in Cardiff and educate customers and people within the industry. That’s quite cool thing.
 
CH: It seems like you've got the passion and determination. So I don't doubt that you won't succeed at that. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciated the opportunity to chat with you and to sample your wonderful juice. 
 
M: Thank you. 
 
CH: I just want to say for anyone out there listening that we will be running a series of podcasts. So do listen out for more of those coming through. Thank you very much for listening and goodbye.
 

 

Companies House interviewer: Hi there. I'm here with Matthew and Sophie from Hard Lines an independent coffee shop based here in Cardiff, but a coffee shop with a twist. We'll just have a bit of a chat and find out a bit about you guys, so how did you meet and get things started with your business?

 

Matthew: University, I guess we met at University when we were both 22, we both went to uni in Cardiff Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama just up the road and we met there and I think it's probably like maybe two, maybe three years after we left university, I think we're starting to get a bit fed up what we were doing with work and I think we particularly both had like reasonably difficult Christmas’ around 2016, so then we took a holiday and then on that holiday, we sort of conceived the idea that we want to do something differently and leave what we were doing and maybe go in a different direction and then we came back and started that process.

 

CH: Okay, coffee, why, how? Where did that idea come from?

 

Sophie: We were sat in a coffee shop and talking about how we were kind of disillusioned with the work we're doing and Matt was talking about, you know, I would absolutely love to run a little coffee shop, well, you know, I would love to run a little Record Shop. I really like coffee, Matt’s really into music and records and then we were on the flight home and thought should we have a go for it? And then it just took off from there. I think we're really lucky we struck it at the right time.

 

M: Yeah, I think so. I like being surrounded by people who are keen to have that time. I think we were just in a little bubble of people and like a community there were willing to offer advice or help us build or do different aspects of what might need to be done to make it happen. We were lucky enough to have that as well. I think that probably gave us a little kick on.

 

CH: So what kind of advice were you given and where did it come from?

 

S: We're lucky. Over the past five years there's a really strong independent scene, especially in food and drink in Cardiff. We kind of came through at the same time and we worked alongside Luffkin, who are like a micro roastery and Early Bird who are bakery.

They'd both started about six months or so before us so we'd been going there as customers and we would chat with them and they were really open and helpful with everything, so you should speak to this person, you should do this or just go for it.

 

CH: So from a limited company point of view, obviously, you're registered as a limited company. Where did the decision to go down that route come from, was that advice given to you or did you search out for that information?

 

S: Yeah, we're both already soletraders because we were self-employed. We were looking at  becoming a partnership, I think it was my base knowledge from GCSE business I said, I think a limited company is the right thing to do and so we looked it up and realised we ticked quite a lot of the boxes.

 

M: Yeah I think, thinking back from my perspective was the fact that we were starting with nothing. I think all we were starting with was we a tiny amount of our own money. The very beginning we didn't take any money from banks or anything like that. I don't know my logic behind it was that maybe if things didn’t go with the plan and we packed it in a couple of months later or six months later or a year later then, I know psychologically my head was there's less risk for some reason as a limited company which to this day I don't know if it’s  correct or incorrect, but that's definitely what my logic was, so that's why I went with it.

 

CH: So how did you choose your company name Hard Lines? Where did it come from? What's the story behind your company name?

 

S: So we weren't called Hard Lines. We were called Out Post and I guess if we're talking about any mistakes or shortcomings, so when we were limited company, I think that not lack of educational side is like ‘Out Post’ that's not taken. That means we're fine. And that's not the case. It's not a copyright. So we traded as Out Post and there's another company called Out Post who wrote us the letter and said, don’t do that anymore. And so we kind of had a quick stressful six months in between getting that letter and then also opening our second location and doing the rebrand. I think it came from our first kind of  visual heavy and our first brand was very DIY, hand drawn. It kind of went with the pop-up aspect and then our graphic designer Cuddy, who does all our at work; the second time we were like, we wanted something a bit clean-cut, a bit more kind of fresh looking maybe.

 

M: Maybe more accessible or I think the idea behind the rebrand and the renaming of it was maybe that we were trying to build something that was more than a coffee shop, so Hard Lines isn't necessarily just that coffee shop. I think we were trying to build off of it. So maybe Hard Lines could have a line of merchandise? or Hard Lines could be a club night or maybe Hard Lines could put a festival on or those sorts of things. Within that rebrand we were trying to pull what we’ve learnt from the year or the year and a half previous and for all of our education into this new sort of look and try to look a little bit for the first time into the future and what might come in the next five years as opposed to what's about to happen or just happened.

 

CH: So you mentioned that you've already opened up your second site. How soon after establishing this place did that happen?

 

S: I think May 2016 we did our first pop-up and then we did a summer of doing festivals and things like that and then midway through October 2016 we’ve opened in the castle emporium as our full-time shopThen we got the go-ahead in the June 2017 that we got in that market store and then we opened in October 2017.

 

CH: Is the plan to keep expanding now? You've mentioned things like merchandise and festivals and club nights. Is that the route you want to take?

 

M: Yes, the market things was definitely something that even before we ended up here. We definitely knew we wanted a little stand in the market. I think we just like that and it was really appealing to us. I think having like a little what we've got there basically and we tried for a little while before even coming here I think around the same time maybe to get into the market and I think we missed out on an occasion so the market was just a go and something we really wanted to hit and really wanted to get. After the market opened and a couple of months later into Christmas and the other side and now, where we are now in 2018 is the first time we've had to sort of think about the next move maybe with a bit more clarity and try to work out where it is, so what the next thing is for us on a bigger scale really, maybe whether there's another shop or some other plans that we've got in the pipeline and then alongside that we were running club nights and DJ’ing regularly and things like that. This is I think our time to think and really work out what the next five or ten years has and how to really grow, hopefully of what we've built over the last two years to make it into something bigger and more sort of suitable.

 

CH: What do you think it is that has helped make your business such a success and what kind of promotion have you done to get yourself to this point?

 

M: Promotionally getting the word out. I've definitely found a social media is definitely the avenue that we will maximise and that will be our target for promotion and how we get the word out there. I think that's a big thing and shouldn't be overlooked in any business really. I think social media goes far beyond any online sort of direct marketing like that or flypostering or anything. Social media would definitely be my promotional sort of avenue and something we all try to concentrate on massively.

 

CH: So to anyone that’s out there and they're listening and thinking these guys have done it,   they’re living their dream! What advice would you give to anyone who's got an idea? And what top tips would you give them for going from an idea to a fully-fledged business?

 

S: I think it's very easy to say and I do think we were really lucky. I think we're definitely looking at those two of us. Whenever I speak to people who run business by themselves. I just bow down to them because you know we find it really tough and there's two of us. That's great. But like just do it. Definitely when we first started we didn't even have espresso machine. It was just like filter coffee and vinyl records in suitcases that we turned into racks, you know, like there wasn't a lot.  I think don't be limited by things.

 

M: Yeah, ultimately your passion might carry it through as well. If you are passionate about that thing whether it’s records or coffee or beer or skating or whatever it is, usually your passion for that product or that thing will feed off of you on to your customers and they believe in you from that and they'll want to come and drink coffee with you or buy stuff from you or you know, cause you're trying to do something maybe a little bit different and you're trying to do something yourself.

 

CH: You mentioned at the start as well that the reason why it kind of came about you went off on your holiday . You were both quite disillusioned with what you were doing in your lives at the time. What's the best thing about having your own business?

 

M: I guess being in control of it, so we can literally do what we want to an extent. That sort of  freedom to express yourself and to be able to deliver something and offer something different. Doing what you want. If that doesn't sound too selfish.

.

CH: Doesn't sound selfish at all. That's fantastic. Yeah, is it kind of the same for you?

 

S: Yeah, I think that's all we got into it. I guess that is probably what it is. It is hard work and it's long  hours but we are getting to do what we want.

 

CH: So I'm going ask you a few questions about Companies House as well. Were you aware of Companies House before you became a limited company? Have you seen any of our guidance or familiarised yourself with any kind of formation process through our website?

 

S: Yeah, I think probably I did something really rudimental like Googling : how do I start a business? And then I think again, that's really the reason why we went down the limited company. It is the most legitimate kind of thing to be a limited business, but I remember I have been reading some PDFs and stuff on how to do it and things like that.

 

CH: You must have some pretty interesting stories that you've accumulated over the last few years, any that stand out that you'd like to share with anyone?

 

S: Go and get back here so like bang on doors and stuff. Like we both attended Green Man festival. I'm a big fan of that. One of the first things we did there was like, ‘Hey guys don't know if you care, but we're doing this and we really like you’ and they were like, that's awesome. Would you like to come and work with us? So we got to run a little pop of record shop at Green Man last year and DJ for like a settlement so we got to go there and then we go to the festival and then we go back again this year and do coffee as well.

 

M: Yeah, and we've had some  great support generally from people within Cardiff and you know people who were at festivals maybe or Huw Stephens, real big like supporters of us who maybe a year or two ago, you'd think oh, you know that we'll never get across with some of these guys who are really making a difference in Cardiff and in the music scene or even within the coffee scene, you know, some of the people we are lucky enough to come across it's good and it's really cool.

 

CH: So going forward is that kind of the plan to just sort of expand and get out across the festival's, moving outside of South Wales?

 

M: Yeah,I think there's lots of different Avenues. It seems like there's loads of things. I think something I'd like to explore more of is the market store. It seems like a really good Avenue for this, but trying to create a real green sustainable coffee shop basically, that's really self-sufficient and it looks after itself and is doing all the correct things on that front. I think the idea of building something like that is really cool. I think definitely just from my perspective the coffee culture and education within coffee and Cardiff is a real big thing on my agenda. I think we can try to offer that in Cardiff and educate customers and people within the industry. That’s quite cool thing. I think to build a culture in Cardiff.

 

CH: It seems like you've got the passion and determination. So I don't doubt that you won't succeed at that. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciated the opportunity to chat with you and to sample your wonderful juice?.

 

M: Thank you.

 

CH: I just want to say for anyone out there listening that we will be running a series of podcasts. So do listen out for more of those coming through. Thank you very much for listening and goodbye.

Meet the Team: Toby, software development

Meet the Team: Toby, software development

February 26, 2020

Meg speaks to Toby about agile techniques, spitfire aeroplanes and being socially responsible.

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to Meet the Team podcast. My name is Meg and I work in our External Communications department. And I'm the host of this series.

 

I'm here today with Toby. Toby was one of the first people that I met here at Companies House as he was on the panel for my interview. And who better to welcome me?

 

Thank you for agreeing to be on this podcast. I'm looking forward to learning more about Toby and his role. How are you today?

 

Toby Maxwell-Lyte: I'm very well. Thank you for inviting me.

 

MH: You’re very welcome. Firstly, can you just tell me your role title and how you fit into the wider team here at Companies House?

 

TML: Okay, so my role title is the Head of Software Development Profession and so my focus is on the community of people with that skillset within Companies House.

 

So how does that fit into the wider picture? Our purpose is to actually build the software that then meets users’ needs, so that we can then make sure that citizens that need to use our services, whether that's companies who’re filing information with us or whether that's members of the public who want to get access to that information, are able to do that via our web services.

 

MH:  Thank you so much. So I'm not sure if you listened to the previous podcast, but we're going to start with some jokey questions to get going. So, cats or dogs?

 

TML: Dogs

 

MH: Tea or coffee?

 

TML: Coffee

 

MH: Introvert or extrovert?

 

TML: Extrovert

 

MH: Night owl or early bird?

 

TML: Early bird

 

MH: Same! Moving on to the proper questions, the serious stuff. Which piece of work are you really proud of?

 

TML: I think one of the pieces of work I'm most proud of is what we’ve built over the last couple of years. It’s been a project called the Streamlined Company Registration Service. This was a joint project where we worked closely with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to make it easier for people who are setting up new companies.

So historically they would’ve had to tell Companies House that they wanted to incorporate their new company, and then they would independently have needed to register with HMRC for corporation tax and vat and PAYE.

 

So we've built a service with them that enables people who want to set up their own companies to be able to do that all in one go now, so they're not having to tell multiple different government departments the names and addresses of directors over and over again. It's made it streamlined.

 

MH: I think that's interesting because it's actually something that I've thought about. And thought, isn't it great how you just do one thing and then HMRC automatically know about it? It's all these things that have to get done but people don't realise. It's fixed before it’s broken almost?

 

TML: Absolutely and that wasn't always the case and I think it's important that we, as government, work across those sorts of organisational boundaries to make sure that we’re providing services for citizens that are user-friendly. You know, they're not customers. They can't choose, they're obliged to do it. So it's important that we make it as easy as possible and reduce the friction.

 

MH: Talking of making it as easy as possible, which brings us on really nicely to One Team Gov. I know you do a lot of work in that area. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

 

TML: Yeah, One Team Gov formed about 2 years ago. There were a couple of people who were together at a conference and they thought policy and digital were separate things. And wouldn't life be better if those were more joined up? So they formed One Team Gov which is a group of people who want to make things better across government. And it’s kind of as vague as that really, it's about doing things well.

 

So it's working across boundaries. Working across government boundaries or whether it's working across teams within organizations or you know, even globally. So there was a One Team Goes Global unconference event which I helped at, and we had people from over the world. About 40 countries represented.

 

I found it really interesting to learn from, say people in Canada, about the challenges they were facing. We have our Companies House register here, and in Canada because they have 11 states, they have 11 equivalents of Companies House. And it was interesting to hear the challenges.

 

There's often people who have solved the problem you're facing already and if you talk to other people you can get their input, and it's nice to be able to get that from other people and also to give back.

 

MH: Thank you Toby that’s great, can we go back to your role? What made you decide that it was the career for you?

 

TML: I always enjoyed playing around with computers. My dad was always quite keen on buying shiny new kit. So I got exposure to it and got to play with that. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with a career.

 

So ended up doing a degree in computer science and then naturally went into the world of software development. I quite like working with people. I enjoy the problem-solving side of things, you know, the extrovert question earlier comes into the sort of working with people and that sort of stuff.

 

I like working with software developers and helping join the gap in terms of making sure that we build software that meets users’ needs. I enjoy that sort of stuff, the human side of the role.

 

MH: You sound like you’re really rewarded by your job. Is that true?

 

TML: Yeah. I enjoy it and I'm always looking to improve. You know, I find it satisfying. There's nothing more satisfying than being able to build just enough software so that you can make peoples’ lives a bit better. And yeah, it's great.

 

MH: Talking about making peoples’ lives better, can you tell me a bit about the social responsibility work that you've been doing in digital?

 

TML: One of the benefits of being in Companies House is that we get a given number of volunteering days that we’re allowed to use each year to help with the wider community.

 

And something I've been involved with is working with a local organization called City Hospice. So that's a hospice in Cardiff. It's a “bedless” hospice, so people don't actually stay in beds, it's like a day centre for people who might be going through different cancer therapy or they might be experiencing other things which they're going through.

 

This provides a nice environment for people to get out of their house and go and socialise with other people. So what we do there is, once a month we get volunteers from the digital teams to go along and meet with these people and help them with their digital skills.

 

For example, I went and I met a really nice man. He said to me “I've heard that I can watch videos of Spitfire airplanes flying over Cardiff Bay. Apparently that happened in the 1980s and I'd really like to see a video of that. What can I do?” So I thought okay. So this must be YouTube, so introduced him to that and no doubt he's now gone down in the whole history of watching those videos.

 

MH: I know that we've done some equipment donations as well, is that to City Hospice?

 

TML: So that's to some of the local primary schools. Obviously the older our equipment gets, it comes to the point where it's no longer up to scratch for our software development needs and general user needs. Whereas local schools really value that kind of thing. So I know that we've also donated some of our equipment that we don't use anymore to local schools, which is making their lives a bit better.

 

MH: Can you tell me, are we using any new or creative processes or attitudes towards work and output?

 

TML: So the primary way that we do our software development is by using agile techniques. That's not particularly new in the software world, but we're doing more and more of that, which is breaking everything down into small chunks and delivering it as often as we possibly can to meet users’ needs. And then getting feedback on it so that we can iterate on those services.

 

We've recently created a platform team here who can help us with some of the more automation of the software release processes. We're moving towards a continuous integration mindset where all the developers code. They combine their code with each other as often as possible to make sure that it’s as straightforward as possible and easy for people to work together.

 

And then it’s breaking that stuff down. It's really small chunks so that it gets delivered really frequently because more often, the smaller the chunks the lower the risk and the better we can meet user’s needs.

 

MH: I know I'm repeating myself, but it's just one of those things that you fix before it’s broken. People take so much for granted and you get it to this stage, that you have no idea the work that's gone into it to get to there.

 

TML: Yeah, but I think it's about the smaller the chunks the lower the risks. Yeah, and that means if you release a small piece of software, there's not too much to fix if it's gone wrong. It’s really important that we make sure that we can do that.

 

MH: Can you tell me a little bit about Innovation time?

 

TML: So historically there's always been quite a strong focus on projects, which is rightly so. We’re ultimately spending public money. So that needs to go in the most efficient and effective ways possible.

 

What we've realized is, we've got a large group of bright and intelligent people and we need to harness the innovation and creativity side of their roles rather than just purely heads down to the grindstone.

 

We introduced Innovation time which gives people the opportunity to spend half a day a week on doing whatever they want, that they think will make things better.

 

So an example of one of the things that came out of that was, in our culture community, one of the things that people liked most was meeting people from other areas. People can register for ‘curious coffee’ and then you get randomly paired up with somebody from another directorate. And you can go and have a coffee with them and just get to meet.

 

MH: Being the head of the development software profession means…

 

TML: For me it's about enabling people to grow within their roles and develop themselves as a person, so that they can become an even better software developer.

 

It's getting people across the different teams. We’ve got 13 software development teams. It's getting them to share their great ideas with each other so that if one team over here is doing great stuff, the other teams are aware of that and can learn and gain from that.

 

How can we make sure that we're doing high-quality software, that's easy to maintain? Which then means that we can add new features to it easily and quickly without incurring technical debt and pain that is then difficult to iterate in the future. So it's about trying to simplify that whole process.

 

MH: You definitely strike me as a very people-focused worker and person generally, which is really lovely. I don't think from the outset on face value you'd think software developer as a people focused person. Rightly or wrongly?

 

TML: It’s critical. I mean everybody works in teams. We have to work together. You know, you've got that stereotype, but it's important that our people, are happy and engaged. You absolutely need that to have the most effective way of developing software and get the most out of it.

 

MH: Well, thank you so much that brings us to a nice end. Have you enjoyed?

 

TML: Yeah, it's been really good.

 

MH: So thank you everyone for listening to this podcast. In case you missed the last episode of our Meet the Team series, we spoke with Oceanne last month about her role as an Interaction Designer. You can find all of our podcasts on Soundcloud or wherever you listen to your podcast. Thank you again. Bye.

 

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