In September 2020, the Foyer Federation joined Homeless Link's Enterprise Development Programme as part of a cohort of charities in the sector. Our aim was to review our existing business model in order to understand where we could grow our impact, and explore new enterprise models that could bring greater benefits to our community and develop our resilience in the years to come. After a year engaged in the programme, Joel Lewis, Chief Executive, reflects on the Foyer Federation's experience.
"Over the last year we've been part of the Enterprise Development Programme run by Homeless Link and funded by the Access Foundation. The opportunity to be part of a group of social entrepreneurs focused on improving the lives of people who have experienced homelessness has been wonderful and couldn't have come at a better time for us.
“The Foyer Federation had recently been through a challenging couple of years as a charity with a significant reduction in funding levels and a reduction in the amount of Foyer members. Our network of Foyers has experienced year after year of local authority funding cuts and services have struggled to deliver a thriving offer for young people in the hostile social and political landscape created by austerity measures. Add a pandemic to this situation and you've got an environment where young people who have experienced homelessness can easily be left behind, ignored and left to survive. Our vision for young people in Foyers has always been to enable them to develop their talents and realise their power and purpose.
“In 2020, when we joined the programme, the charity had minimal grant funding and had stripped back to a core offer for our members and the young people who live in the Foyers. We were in the process of finalising our new strategy and needed to invest in the development of our products and services as part of a new business model that puts us in control of our income growth rather than over reliance on funding to sustain the charity. The challenge we set ourselves was to: Explore, design, develop and test a new business growth model that takes existing products/services or new ones to build an attractive offer to new customers (young people and staff in youth services) that simultaneously grows our income base and social impact.
“Over the period of the programme we spent time understanding the true value of our offer to our members and to young people. We brought on board a couple of consultants to help us work through our assumptions and dig deeper into the needs and aspirations of our network. We conducted interviews with budget holders, funders, friends of the charity and young people and we had a detailed look at what we currently offered and where we could add greater impact.
“Alongside the development work that we embarked on, the regular chance to meet with others on the programme and compare notes was extremely valuable. The workshops within the programme also provided time to be inspired, reflect and learn from experts in marketing, growth, governance and much more. I now use a number of the tools, techniques and resources that were introduced within the workshops as part of my working life.
“A year on from the start of the programme and I am pleased to say that we're in a much better place as an organisation. We've grown our income by 50% over the year and secured long term funding to support the business model. We've adapted our training, accreditation and member offer into a blended model of digital and face to face offers that provide better agility and a leaner cost base. We've also just employed a new Director of Development and Partnerships to help build on this foundation and expand our offer further into the youth sector so we can reach more young people who have experienced disadvantage with an Advantaged Thinking approach."