Talking SME Podcast: Businesses Connecting with Local Community Reap Mutual Benefits
We’re very happy to welcome Cindy Withey to our Talking SME Podcast. This episode is ‘Businesses Connecting with Local Community Reap Mutual Benefits’ where we discuss the importance of business connecting with each other as well as with their local community.
A bit about Cindy
In this episode we chat to Cindy Withey, Manager of local charity Connect Dacorum.
Connect Dacorum is a partnership between the business, public and voluntary sectors. They actively participate in creating a better quality of life for all in the Dacorum area, and are a service of the local charity Community Action Dacorum.
Cindy provides information and expertise on community involvement opportunities for businesses of all sizes and supports its members in the delivery of their Corporate Social Responsibility objectives. Cindy also has over 15 years’ experience of working on CSR-related projects with Grass Roots Group and City & Guilds in London.
‘Businesses Connecting with Local Community Reap Mutual Benefits’ is just one in our series of podcasts where we talk about a wide range of topics. We talk with business experts, and also offer broad insights to help SMEs become more successful.
Don’t forget to check out our other Talking SME Podcasts here.
Hello and welcome to Talking SME, our quick fire chat with business leaders. I’m Jane Gorman and I’m very pleased today to welcome Cindy Withey, Connect Dacorum Manager. Hi, Cindy. [00:00:17.620] – Cindy Withey
Hi, Jane. How are you? I’m very well, thank you. How are you today? [00:00:21.430] – Jane O’Gorman
Yeah, not too bad. The sun is shining, but it’s a little bit windy. [00:00:26.650] – Jane O’Gorman
Just a bit, yeah. Cindy, thanks very much. I know you’ve been a part of Connect Dacorum for some time now, and local businesses know you and appreciate all of the hard work that you do in bringing local businesses and charities together. And what would you say for you is the most rewarding part of your role? [00:00:51.490] – Cindy Withey
Thanks, Jane. So I joined Connect Dacorum in 2013 after working at a local Tring based company for five years as their corporate social responsibility manager. Yeah, definitely the most rewarding part of my role is helping people. I help businesses connect with each other as well as connecting them with the local community. And I also help charities fulfill some of their needs as well. So, yeah, it’s just a case of helping people. [00:01:22.630] – Jane O’Gorman
And I’m guessing you must have such a passion for that because you see the rewarding, feedback that comes from it, from the charities and the businesses who you work alongside. [00:01:33.790] – Cindy Withey
Definitely very appreciative. [00:01:36.710] – Jane O’Gorman
For a start up a growing business what would you say being part of Connect Dacorum would mean for them? [00:01:45.820] – Cindy Withey
So being part of a community like Connect Dacorum means that you’re surrounded by other businesses who are supportive and engaged. We’re hoping to get our face to face networking events back in the summer where you can build genuine relationships. I don’t think anyone will miss the endless Zoom event, which can be so impersonal, can’t they. I mean, I believe networking is about building relationships and not about collecting business cards.
Companies could also do businesses with charities so they also need marketing, IT, websites, stationery, all those sorts of things. So generally, people think that helping a charity means that they have to donate time or money when a company’s new or growing they may not have the resources to do that, but there are so many other ways to help support charities such as giving unwanted equipment.[00:02:45.040] – Cindy Withey
I’ve helped redistribute anything from office furniture to t-shirts and light bulbs. Giving some technical advice like how to write a bid or produce a social media plan, or even just offering your conference room out so that charities have a place to meet, where their trustees can sit down and meet is a great help. So being a member of Connect Dacorum helps businesses corporate social responsibility credentials. And even if a business can’t get involved in everything that we do, they’re still supporting a wide range of charities by knowing that the rest of the Connect Dacorum community is helping them, if that makes any sense. [00:03:29.620] – Jane O’Gorman
It does. And it actually is such a lovely thought when you take all of those elements into account because you’ve described there, you know, even something is as simple as light bulbs through to larger equipment or services or skills is such a wide, wide variety of support that can be given in so many ways. And from a local business perspective, and I put ourselves in that as a growing business. You know, we all have certain skill sets that to be able to be in a community where all of those skill sets are pulled together and you’re able to talk to other businesses. I can see why the benefit is there not only from the CSR perspective and being able to add back and support charities, but from a learning from other businesses at the same time. [00:04:24.640] – Cindy Withey
Yeah, definitely. [00:04:25.510] – Cindy Withey
I mean, CSR is mainly in four different categories. So every business does CSR without possibly putting it under that label. So, yeah, one of the subjects is workplace. That’s about how you treat your workforce and what benefits you give them. The other area is marketplace, so it’s about how you source your products, your supply line and that sort of thing, and how you sell and promote it. That comes under CSR as well as community and environment. So people just kind of think of community and environment, maybe as a CSR, but as you can see, it does incorporate all parts of businesses. [00:05:13.060] – Jane O’Gorman
Indeed, and that’s so interesting, Cindy. And thinking about this from the charity perspective, how important is it for charities to have the support that they receive through Connect Dacorum? Perhaps you might be able to provide some examples and just what a difference this has made for them? [00:05:38.980] – Cindy Withey
Yeah, definitely. I mean, there are many local charities in the area. I think Dacorum has around 500. But I would say that most people have only heard of a small handful of them, like the Hospice’s or Dens, the emergency night shelter. [00:05:54.520] – Cindy Withey
And people don’t know where to start or who to support, especially if they’ve not used the charity services and some people just pick one to support. So we have about 35 regular charities that come along to our events and engage in our activity so businesses can dip in and out of how they can help and who they can help. Some examples of local charities that you might not have heard of are the Dacorum talking newspaper where volunteers read out the local newspaper on tapes and then deliver them to people whose eyesight’s are not so good anymore. [00:06:29.200] – Cindy Withey
There are also places like Gaddesden riding for the Disabled Charity who have some wonderful horses, who give children and adults with special needs and disabilities the opportunity to ride and have fun. And we’ve organized quite a few team challenge volunteering days at Gaddesden Riding for the Disabled. Various companies, including Tesco regional managers. And this sort of support is so important for them as a charity, they do not have the time or resources to do some of the major tasks. [00:06:59.830] – Cindy Withey
So any help they are offered is greatly appreciated. And for some of the smaller charities, it’s vitally important for them to attend the networking, to find out what’s going on locally and to build those links, talk to other charities and also talk to other businesses and get their name out there so people know what they do. [00:07:24.140] – Jane O’Gorman
Amazing and actually just seeing the synergy in that and well, there’s a couple of things you’ve touched on here, which I think are really important, and I’m sure that there is so much that is being done locally. And even as you know, local businesses are growing and getting to know other businesses in the area. But from the charitable side as well, to have a platform where we can see some of the great work that’s been done and to have a platform where businesses can learn from each other, but charities can learn from each other. As you say, it’s not always about spend, it’s about benefit.
And it’s a great way, perhaps, of being able to provide some support, particularly, you know, obviously at the moment, the climate in this different climate. We’re using different methods of working. You know, we’re all remote at the moment and there will be return to the office space, but the office space of the future is going to look quite different. Maybe we won’t need so much. And perhaps that’s a way to offer additional support among those charities who are trying to do so much in the local community.[00:08:38.740] – Cindy Withey
I think charities we’ve all suffered during the pandemic. Obviously, it’s been a hard time for everyone. Businesses haven’t been able to operate and charities in particular, they either are run by people who are in that old and vulnerable category and their volunteers are in the old and vulnerable category or their clients, the people they service, are in the old and vulnerable category. So a lot of them had to shut down and they’re just beginning to open again now. They probably would very much appreciate any kind of support from anyone. [00:09:16.280] – Cindy Withey
And the pandemic has shown, opened people’s eyes more about being local and the local support. You know, how many hundreds of volunteers have stepped up to deliver shopping and check on their neighbours? [00:09:29.760] – Jane O’Gorman
Yeah, I think it’s definitely you know, that’s one thing or one of the positives I can see that we’ve seen come out of this is that more collaborative nature. And in a way, that’s what Connect Dacorum is all about really- connecting people and offering that mutual benefit and learning. And and I know also part of what Connect Dacorum does and something that’s you’ve been very passionate about is the support that you give to local schools and the employees of the future. [00:10:03.680] – Jane O’Gorman
Can you tell me a little bit about some of the benefits that this can bring to the future working generation and for businesses who are willing to support them? [00:10:14.000] – Cindy Withey
Yeah, thanks Jane. We we have a couple of exciting projects which involve the local secondary schools. The first one is employability days. Where we get volunteers to go into a school and do some work on CV writing and interview skills. We target people through around 14, 15 years old. So they’re just starting to think about their journey into employment and we open their eyes about what they should do to make their CV stand out from the crowd as businesses doing recruiting, you know about the sorts of CVS that you get through and the quality of them.
So if we can catch them early and make sure they’re getting it right, right at the beginning, it’s very interactive and fun, as you know, because, yes, I’m fairly certain you’ve been involved.[00:11:05.270] – Cindy Withey
Another project I run is called The Dragon’s Apprentice Challenge, which is another project that Ten2Two has been involved in as well over the years. Indeed. So that challenge offers Year 12 students the opportunity to experience setting up and running a business, gaining organisational and job related skills. [00:11:27.110] – Cindy Withey
But it’s also about learning about the work beneficiaries of their designated charity and raising their profile as much as much needed funds for that charity. So how it how it runs is basically the students are given 100 pounds and they’re tasked with turning that hundred pounds into a thousand pound or more for their charity under the guidance and support from their business mentor, their dragon as such. And it provides opportunities for businesses to use their business skills to mentor a group of young people. [00:12:04.280] – Cindy Withey
The local community benefit because the money raised goes into the local charity and benefits the people using that charity. And then it also benefits the pupils by developing soft skills such as communication. Perseverance is a big one. Keep them going. But finance, marketing, resourcing, planning, etc. [00:12:30.000] – Cindy Withey
So our next challenge will kick off in late September. So if anyone’s interested in becoming a dragon and mentoring a group of young children, you know how worthwhile it is – it’s great fun so let me know. [00:12:48.150] – Jane O’Gorman
And I agree. And I think one of the great things about both the employability days and the Dragons apprentice is that, you know, it’s absolutely oh, it’s so heartwarming to see the enthusiasm and the abilities of, you know, these young adults planning and putting their ideas together, but it’s arming them with, you know, learning skills for the future, which in turn will benefit local businesses because at very early stage, we’re giving them the opportunity to think about their career path. Think about what they want to do. And then certainly from the Dragons, that that allows them really to think about all of the elements that are involved in running a business, and also creating something that gives back at the end of it. [00:13:46.950] – Cindy Withey
Yeah, definitely. I mentioned communication and perseverance, which is always the hard part. When we do the award ceremonies at the end of each challenge, that is definitely something that comes out from all the teams. It’s about keeping going when they’ve come across an obstacle or, you know, communicating with the rest of the team. [00:14:11.370] – Jane O’Gorman
And it and I think as a business and as a growing business, being involved in that from a very micro level, suddenly being aware of all of those elements at the very early stage, again, is quite refreshing to have that input from these young adults who are, as I say our future working generation. They can have some incredible ideas and it can be quite thought-provoking for the business as well. And also another great opportunity to to meet other business partners at the same time. So there’s there’s learning to be had there. [00:14:47.190] – Jane O’Gorman
You seem to be involved in so many worthwhile projects. And I know that currently the Staying Connected, which obviously at this particular moment in time and with the you know, the previous months that we’ve all had to deal with is a very important one for you Cindy. Can you can you tell us a little bit more about Staying Connected and how businesses could offer support here? [00:15:15.420] – Cindy Withey
Yeah, of course. So we are coordinating a new two year Hertfordshire wide project that’s been funded out of NHS charities moneys which were raised by the late, great the Captain more, which is fantastic. [00:15:32.820] – Cindy Withey
Amazing. I’ve put my glasses on and basically read out the blurb so the project will focus on corporate social responsibility approaches to repurpose I.T. equipment for the benefit of those where digital exclusion has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing. [00:15:52.680] – Cindy Withey
So basically it came to light during lockdown that some residents couldn’t even access their own money or order food or claim benefits. And with so many support services now online, it’s is essential that people identified as facing additional challenges because of the lack of access to digital will be able to get that access to I.T. that they need and then the training and support to use it. [00:16:19.050] – Cindy Withey
Basically, so those that don’t have any connectivity, such as broadband, are also generously being supported by Tesco Mobile, who are donating 50 dongles from Tesco Mobile We Connect scheme, which is fantastic.
So we would be delighted to take any unwanted equipment such as laptops or tablets that people have either companies or individuals, and we will securely wipe them and make them ready for redistribution. And then we will get referrals for the equipment, which will be done via the NHS link workers where they identify people in need, and we’ll be training an army of volunteers that we’re calling digital champions to show the recipients how to use their new piece of equipment and then ongoing support will be offered to keep them on track and engaged.[00:17:16.850] – Cindy Withey
So there’s kind of three or four things that businesses can help with. Any unwanted equipment, whether it’s work or personal, and rest assured, we will legally and responsibly wipe and make it factory setting ready to go out. So we will take donations of equipment. If anyone can support in any way with any other kind of connectivity issues, that would be great. And also, if you or your staff would like to volunteer as a digital champion and help show people how to use their new piece of equipment and do a bit of volunteering, it’s not a lot of time, anything from a couple of hours a month to as much time as can be spared then then let me know. We’re recruiting at the moment. [00:18:11.260] – Jane O’Gorman
Amazing. That’s all such important and very good work, Cindy. And there’s no doubt if the last year has taught us anything, is that being digitally capable is really important and it’s touched on all of us. You know, there’s no doubt, you know, the younger demographic are all over digital. We use our computers on a work basis on a daily basis. But the Covid situation has certainly highlighted the fact that for connectivity, being able to use that software and you have the hardware to do it in a situation where many have been isolated, is a really important factor.
And even beyond, I think it’s something that what it has highlighted is for those who are perhaps living alone and need that little bit of support, we’ve almost forgotten that actually there’s a real big benefit in bringing them up to speed and helping them stay connected. So I think that’s a really, really worthwhile project. And fingers crossed, there’s some great success with that. And it’s lovely to hear that Tesco are getting involved in supporting you with that, too.[00:19:32.120] – Cindy Withey
And like I said right at the very beginning, it’s all about helping people. And as you can see from what we’ve chatted about today, it is exactly that. It’s all about helping people. And that’s what makes my job so fun. [00:19:47.440] – Jane O’Gorman
Wow. And Cindy, it definitely comes across. [00:19:52.900] – Cindy Withey
Do I enthuse too much? [00:19:54.430] – Jane O’Gorman
Not at all! I think it’s really important and it’s lovely to see. And and I think, you know, businesses and the charities who are involved already see the benefits of that. So so thank you for all your hard work that you do. And here’s to the projects of the future and to their success. Thank you. Thank you for joining me today. It’s been incredibly valuable. And a pleasure to talk to you as always. [00:20:23.590] – Cindy Withey
Thanks for your time, Jane. It’s been great. [00:20:25.960] – Jane O’Gorman
My pleasure. [00:20:27.340] – Jane O’Gorman
And to our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our Talking SME. Look out for future episodes coming soon.