How to go from zero to £10 million In 365 days and still have time to monkey around

A year after their first blog for us, we asked PossAbilities to share their wonderfully personalised service news with us again, just in time for their third birthday! Blog by Rachel Law, PossAbilities Chief Executive:

It’s our third birthday as a social enterprise supporting people with learning disabilities to live the life they choose. It’s gone really quickly. Yet since we left the council, we’ve been able to adopt a culture which is about saying ‘Yes’ wherever we can. What an amazing difference that makes to everything. It makes a difference to the people that we support; to the people who work at PossAbilities; and to the performance of our business.

To some, it might sound a bit ‘naff’ to be going on about creating a sustainable business. Yet the truth is it’s essential. You can’t support people to live the life they choose and to achieve more than they ever thought possible, if you are lurching from one financial crisis to another.

That’s why a major focus for us has been diversifying our customer base and ensuring that we build up sufficient resources to deal with unexpected events.

In 2016 we won our first competitive contract outside of our home base. It was a sign of great things to come. In the 365 days of 2016 we went from zero to £10 million in new contract income. We are not complacent though, we keep on moving forward.

Part of the reason for our success is our obsession with our mission and values. I come across lots of organisations that write complicated mission and value statements and then carry on as if nothing had happened.

One of the things I wanted to do was make sure that our values could be understood by everyone. Don’t forget, when we set up our business, the values were decided by a small group of people. I wanted to try to understand what these things actually meant to the people we support. So we asked them.

The result is that we now have a really simple and delightful poster which shows what our values are; what they stand for; and what the people that we support say they mean in practice. It tells staff how they can check that they are living the values every day.

Things like this, and our programme to make all of our services CQC Outstanding, mean that when we go for tenders our answers are a lot more meaningful rather than the more typical bureaucratic responses.

Whilst all of this stuff has been going on we have still found time to monkey around – quite literally!

Our HQ is in the town of Heywood which for 175 years has been known as Monkey Town. Some people hate this, but our view is that after 175 years, it’s not a tag that is going to go away anytime soon.

So we decided to make it into a positive. With support from the Big Lottery Fund we have commissioned nine artists to work with 1000 local people including schools and people with learning disabilities to create nine giant artworks in the form of 1.4 metre high apes. These will form the centrepiece of a summer long festival called Monkey Town Goes Ape! Which will see local people walking a three mile trail as they visit each ape.

The whole thing kicks off with a monkey themed town parade and a whole town garden party in our Cherwell Wellbeing Garden and Farm.

It’s great to see that in amongst all of this activity are people with learning disabilities, getting involved, doing what the rest of the town are doing, yet not being seen as any different to all of the other people involved.

That’s real community involvement.

Have a look at our website www.monkeytrail.org and if you are in the area over the summer come and do the trail.

Let’s go ape!

Rachel Law
Chief Executive, PossAbilities