In recent blogs, we’ve looked at Out of Eden’s sustainability with regard to planet (our environmental impact), profit (the products we sell), and people (our business culture).
In this, the penultimate blog of the series, we share some of the ways we help people through our business: be that people in the communities that are closest to us or people further away. Anyone, in fact, whose lives and activities are supported by what we do or the charities we work with.
When co-founders Janet and Ian Hartley set up Out of Eden 25 years ago, it was just the two of them and a van, operating from a converted milk-shed. Back in that particular day, sales were less in a year than they are in a day today but the couple had big dreams.
Ian reminisces: “We started small and survived on income support and tax rebates when setting up. We challenged ourselves that three years to the day, we’d be self-sufficient.”
They were. Almost.
And when the business first started turning a profit in year five, Janet and Ian were able to start giving. They have always tithed which means giving at least 10 per cent of their profit away to charity.
They also believe passionately in businesses that conduct their business differently: businesses that give, from old fashioned corporate philanthropists in the days of Carnegie, Rockefeller and Cadbury to modern day success stories like The Entertainer, founded in 1981, whose 140 shops and 6 international stores delivered £1.4 million in charitable giving in the financial year of 2016/2017.
Businesses run, in short, by people whose beliefs changed the rules for business.
In Ian’s words, “Being in business and being profitable puts us in a position to do things we couldn’t otherwise do.”
He elaborates, “Why are we in business? First the priority was to make a living and get by, but quickly this developed into ‘supporting others less fortunate than ourselves through our profit’. This is now embedded in the business vision and values statement for the company.”
Out of Eden’s giving takes a number of different forms. The tithe made each year is typically the most significant as this is a set-in-stone figure, allocating at least 10 per cent of the business’ operating profit each year.
Some of this money is given to various Christian charities via Stewardship Services, to support several projects worldwide. Other streams for giving include Janet and Ian’s personal commitment across two decades to children sponsored through World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.
In more recent years, Out of Eden has been partnering with World Vision to bring clean water to Libo Kemkem, a village in North West Ethiopia, using two simple technologies: a borehole and a hand pump.
Before the bore hole was dug, villagers – usually women – made round trips of two to three hours to a stream at the bottom of the valley to collect water. As the stream was also used by livestock, the water supply was often contaminated. Currently, some 14 wells are providing 1,650 families with access to clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Nurses can focus on patient care instead of searching for water to clean medical equipment and almost everyone living in Libo Kemkem has access to a toilet and a hand washing facility.
World Vision is now working with the Libo Kemkem community to improve maternal healthcare, as well as access to clean water and better sanitation. Expectant mothers in the village now receive regular health check-ups and almost 3,000 women have received antenatal and postnatal care.
Healthcare workers have also been trained to become midwives, helping double the number of births being attended by a trained midwife to 80 per cent.
In addition to supporting projects and communities globally around the world, we are committed to our Cumbrian community.
In December 2015, Storm Desmond hit the United Kingdom, causing extensive flooding and one tragic death in Cumbria and leaving thousands of people without electricity county-wide. With people displaced from their homes and a mounting toll of riverbanks, bridges, and roads that had been washed away, we knew right away that we needed to help – seeking to do that by reaching out to local charities in Cumbria helping affected communities.
We subsequently donated £5,000 to the Cumbria flood recovery fund administered by Cumbria Community Foundation, one of the first responders locally, and an organisation which first raised funds and also distributed the government aid and other donations to assist individuals and communities affected by Storm Desmond.
Our team rallies in other ways to support local causes and communities close to home.
Out of Eden’s Showroom – opened in July 2017 with a splashy launch – features a higgledy-piggledy charity bargain table among neatly arranged racks of cotton dressing gowns and immaculate shelves stocked with folded bath towels, shiny cooking pans, and useful kitchen gadgets.
The table sells discontinued lines, returns, supply samples and damaged stock to thrifty shoppers and ecologically-minded hunter gatherers, and includes erstwhile packs of 24 jams, containing just 23 pots, otherwise perfectly good cleaning products with taped-up nozzles, and slimmed down packs of 50 shampoo and conditioners, where sachets have gone astray or burst in transit.
The money raised from sales of these heavily discounted products doesn’t add up to much, and it doesn’t add a penny to our company profits. It does, however, provide valuable support to a number of local groups and activities nominated for funding by our team members at weekly operations meetings.
These have included a tablet for Brough Primary School, £250 to maintain the monthly Hearing Clinic in Kirkby Stephen and funding for the Open Day at Appleby Training and Heritage Centre August 2017.
There are also regular fund raising efforts by individual team members for sponsored runs, bike rides and other events.
Charlotte in Purchasing recently completed the London Marathon and Barbara in Human Resources did a bike ride around London – both raising significant amounts for their chosen charities.
Some of the ways in which we serve the local community are less obvious. While Cumbria enjoys high employment, incomes are lower than the national average, and full-time work can be hard to come by.
Opportunities for work experience that offer young people a chance to make a good impression later on when entering the job market are therefore important: not least because they may also encourage young people to stay local in the future, rather than follow the brain drain out to far away towns and cities.
Several sixth form students work on our twilight shift and we have two even younger team members (with the necessary work permits from Cumbria County Council’s education department!) to help us keep things tidy and clean. The youngsters ensure that we’ve done our job properly in the warehouse, separating paper from plastics, for baling and recycling.
They also change towels in the loos, change the bins and clean and sort out the recycling in all three kitchens – organic waste, plastics and paper. They take pride in what they do, turning up on time, wearing the uniform, and working hard.
Their work is valued, and it is paid – not only in terms of remuneration, but also with work references when the time comes for them to move on. Best of all, perhaps, since they’re busiest in the summer when we are, and school’s out, we don’t even keep them from doing their homework.
In 2016, Out of Eden donated £15,000 to start a fund with the Cumbria Community Foundation that will facilitate giving on a much more local level for a long time to come. This is a different type of scheme from straightforward donating because in the fund the capital is invested and awards made from the growth in that capital, while the amount that has been donated stays intact.
There are two benefits to a scheme for giving that operates on this principle. On the one hand, the capital benefits the charity, by continuing to enable giving over many years; and on the other, it benefits the donor by allowing the donor to build up a much larger “pot” over time.
The aim is for donors to keep building up their pot until it reaches a target sum – £50,000 in our case – after which the scheme allows the donor to help decide how funds are awarded. Having reached our target sum in 2018 Out of Eden team members will be involved in setting the guidelines for the distribution of the funds from the Out of Eden "Pot".
And there are plenty of them, as is evident in the plethora of initiatives supported by the Cumbria Community Foundation. It has always been the intention that the "Pot" supports initiatives in the 17 parishes in the Upper Eden Community Plan – Kirkby Stephen – the market town where we are based – among them.
More to give and more time to give Janet speaks glowingly about Cumbria Community Foundation’s CEO, Andy Beeforth: “a man of perception and integrity."
“Andy’s genius is to scale-up resources, and make £10 into a hundred. When Storm Desmond hit Cumbria, Andy set up a giving page and Cumbria Community Foundation raised millions, directly and through matched funding. The Foundation’s Committee then met twice a week for 18 months, assessing and responding to every grant application within 14 days."
The Winter Warmth Fund, started in 2010, came about when a friend of the Foundation suggested that recipients of the government’s winter fuel payment who did not need the extra money could donate it to help those struggling to pay fuel bills to keep warm.
With what has become an annual winter sleep out the fund now helps many older Cumbrian residents keep warm. A fantastic example of turning a few pounds into hundreds which perfectly illustrates what Out of Eden hopes to do in helping individuals and organisations fulfil their potential with a little financial help.