Our Community Business Trade Up Programme had a big impact on Simon Redding, co-founder of Monkey Park CIC. Here’s his story…
In a nutshell:
- Organisation: Monkey Park CIC in Brampton, Chesterfield is a diverse hub, run by and for the local community – providing a home to a bike project, café, and work space. It provides jobs, friendships, training, qualifications and improved mental wellbeing to a community in transition.
- Business model: Sales from a bike shop, café and rented work space and local authority contracts cover the running costs. Crowdfunding and grants cover any building work.
- SSE programme: Community Business Trade Up Programme, in partnership with Power to Change.
- Supported by SSE in Yorkshire and North East
If you combine cakes, bikes, jobs, sewing, workspace, yoga, book clubs, you’ve only really scratched the surface of what Monkey Park offers its community.
Its founder, Simon Redding, was working as a government IT consultant before setting up what is now a vibrant community hub, in the heart of Brampton, Chesterfield. His story started at a local meeting about the church building that housed his son’s scout group. “The building was going to be demolished. So me and this other guy started a charity, which morphed into a community trust. Over the next few years we managed to raise money to get the building renovated.”
Simon soon realised that people weren’t really using the building or wandering in. Then he had a lightbulb moment: “I was walking past an old Co-op building near where I live and thought: why not start up a new centre there? So we got together a group of locals – one was into cakes, one was into bikes. We drew up a plan.”
Simon approached the owner, who agreed to rent them the building on a commercial lease, with the option to buy it at a reduced cost if they could get a loan. “We went out to the community using CrowdFunder. We also raised a £32k loan with social investment tax relief. We asked people to lend us the money for 30% off their tax bill.”
The building had been empty for five years, and there was a hole in the roof. Incredibly, they opened the doors to the community six months after getting the keys. “None of us had ever run a business, a café or a bike shop before – we had an interestingly rough ride.” As well as asking the community to loan money, Simon and his team asked the locals what they wanted the building to be used for. This philosophy of asking the community what it wants has featured throughout the growth of Monkey Park, helping to develop the hub into what it is today.
Simon started the Community Business Trade Up Programme at a critical time. “Personally I’d been through a low ebb, not knowing where I was going, and being out of work.
“During the programme I decided I wasn’t going to be the day-to-day manager of Monkey Park – we would hire someone instead. The learning set gave me the courage to make this tough decision.”
Monkey Park was also losing money at the time. Learning about pricing and winning contracts helped Simon turn this around. “We spoke to our customers, increased our prices in the café and even won a contract with the local authority to run community wellbeing courses.”
He gained the skills to grow turnover and employ a part-time manager, who also then joined the learning sessions. “It was important everyone took part in the learning programme. I made sure I took someone else with me so that everyone was involved.”
“The programme made us more resilient and helped us to grow our trading and profitability.”
Locally rooted: Monkey Park is “like a public living room” providing part-time jobs, volunteer opportunities, training and qualifications, as well as a place for friendship. Plus it’s helping to drive economic growth through its space for small businesses.
Accountable to the local community: Monkey Park has a board of local volunteers, it employs people living in the area and regularly goes out to the wider community via fun days, an open-air theatre and an active Facebook page that has over 2,000 followers. “Our plan is to work with young people to help plan how they want the area to be in the future,” Simon explains. “We want to use our space to help change the local area.”
Broad community impact: Brampton has a lot of social issues and many locals live in poverty. Monkey Park’s tremendously broad range of activities and initiatives like donating bikes to refugee groups, ensure its touching all parts of the community. “We’re building people up as humans.”
Top tip for other social entrepreneurs:
“Keep your eye on the horizon and make sure it’s what you all want collectively”.