A hands-on approach to embedding social value has offered a lifeline to local people and boosted the reputation of procurement company Barkers.
Having already volunteered time to a number of organisations – providing pro bono advice to charities – Barkers, a procurement service provider and commercial consultancy, decided to set up its own social enterprise. In April 2018, it opened the doors of LifeScape, a grounds maintenance provider that employs those who would otherwise struggle to find employment, such as homeless people, ex-offenders and ex-forces personnel.
With a number of large corporate entities as clients, who had offices in the region with maintenance contracts, landscaping seemed like the right category of business to choose, says Warren Kozera, supply chain lead at Barkers. “We thought it would be a category of spend they would find easy to subcontract or tender to a social enterprise.”
Already dealing daily with the CPOs and ops directors in these businesses, Barkers could suggest aligning the corporate social value agendas, and partner to deliver it, and show how it employs, trains and develops the staff. “We felt it was a compelling message to our customer base that demonstrated the integrity and value of Barkers at the same time as making it easy for them to allocate work on a market-competitive basis to a social enterprise,” adds Kozera.
The employees at LifeScape are trained on operating the landscaping equipment – purchased as an investment by Barkers – and are paid above the minimum wage on a long-term contract with confirmed hours. When LifeScape’s work is not sufficient, the team is employed by a larger grounds maintenance business GSU Landscapes, which has been involved in LifeScape from the start. This can help extend the skills of the employees. “We make sure they can deal with the work, with the supervision, turn up on time, and are not going to misuse dangerous pieces of operational equipment,” stresses Kozera. “We have qualified supervision – it’s a very health-and-safety-intensive environment.”
Barkers made the initial investment in LifeScape, including purchasing the equipment, with an aim to have a viable business by the end of 2020, with secure long-term repeatable work, confidence in the pipeline of work, and capacity to deal with the ad hoc work that comes during the growing season.
“All of our work is profitable. The recovery of the initial investment is not planned until three years, and is contingent on contracts,” he says. Profit beyond that will go to develop the business and improve training for the staff, such as getting driving licences, and construction cards, and hopefully move to structured apprenticeship programmes.
The company employs five staff at the moment, plus four in the management team, working to create more jobs. “We now have the structure in place to grow and if we secure a large contract that is on the horizon, we hope to employ 20,” he says.
How has it helped Barkers’ business? “Reputationally this work is immeasurable,” says Kozera. “From a business perspective it makes us interesting and it makes us compelling and sincere to our customers. As we’ve developed LifeScape, people have said they like the look of the company, and have asked us to come and do some work.”
Barkers with Bolton Family won the 2019 Business in the Community Connected Places award. The Bolton Family group is a collection of 40 companies volunteering to help achieve Bolton Council’s 2030 Vision to create stronger, cohesive, confident communities, for which Barkers provides pro-bono commercial consultancy work. One of the activities of the Bolton Family was to pull together to feed kids out of school term time. Coordinated by Urban Outreach, they set out to feed 8,000 children, making 52,000 lunches. “Warburtons gives the bread, Asda gives the filling, Seddons provides people to deliver sandwiches – a warehouse is donated. It is a privilege to be involved in the family because we see the benefit that it delivers,” says Kozera.