Name: Caroline Burrows-Wren
Company: Wren Consultancy cic
Inclusion is a nice word. Sometimes however, the systems we all live in have weaknesses and people find themselves needing a hand to join everyone else. One person who identified a weakness in the employment system and refused to let people fall behind is Caroline Burrows-Wren, a lady who found that through her commitment to others she could create not only a viable business, but an award winning business which adhered to her values and ethics.
Before starting her business journey, Caroline had been a tutor and curriculum manager in further education for over 15 years. It was here that she noticed a gap in local provision for a service that supports adults in making the transition from further education to employment. Having been approached by a high number of adults requesting support, she found that there was not sufficient resources at the college she worked at to provide the service they wanted and needed. This, combined with a risk of redundancy from the college led her to make the life changing decision that all entrepreneurs take at some point, to start out on her own.
Beginning work independently of the college was made a little easier as she had always been proactive in the Braintree community and soon Caroline found that it wasn’t just college leavers she could market her service to.
Caroline said: “Many adults are looking to go into full time employment for the first time or indeed they are returning to work after being unemployed long term. We recognised a requirement for professionally written CV’s and Cover Letters. We also discovered after some research that older people, 45 and over, were fast becoming the forgotten generation when addressing digital inclusion. Wren Consultancy cic, was set up to address these issues.”
The first challenge Caroline faced after registering her business, initially as a sole trader, was finding accommodation and gaining the trust of the bodies she was hoping to receive funding from. After several meetings with countless organisations and charities she finally found a sponsor who provided her with a room to hold her consultations in and a partner to apply for funding with. This got her off to a great start as the funding application was successful and she was able to support over 600 adults in the Braintree area.
Ignite entered the picture when her next challenge arose.
Caroline said: “Unfortunately the charity sponsoring me decided to cut the funding to an unmanageable level, they also restricted the availability of the room to four hours a week.”
This obviously had a negative impact on the service she was providing for the community, so she approached the funding body, who agreed to fund Wren Consultancy directly. But what to do next was the question she found herself asking Ignite’s advisors. Fortunately, Ignite were in a position to offer her accommodation as well as the sound business advice she was seeking. They put her in contact with a “good accountant” who supported her in registering as a cic (Community Interest Company). This protected her funding and legitimised her funding applications.
Wren Consultancy cic has since successfully applied for further funding enabling them to support over 2000 unemployed clients and over 400 above the age of 60 with their computer development skills and employability. Their current success rate for employment at 82% speaks volumes for the standard of her service.
Since dealing with Ignite and registering as a cic, the company has also gone on to win a wide range of awards. Wren received Highly Commended new business of the year 2014 for Mid Essex, they also reached the finals for Private Community business countywide in 2015 and Caroline was awarded a star award by lifteffects 2015 after being nominated by her clients. The company was also recognised at the Essex Green awards 2015.
Going from strength to strength the company has been invited to provide the service for Gingerbread charity and Caroline has just announced that it is about to enter into Foundation status for the District of Braintree.
Caroline said of Ignite’s support: “I have received endless sound business advice and guidance over the last few years. Also, regular catch up meetings and mentoring as well as website development know how. I have gone on to achieve a Level 3 Social Media qualification and Level 2 Sales qualification as a result of the courses hosted by Ignite.”
Caroline’s business story has seen her identifying a need for a valuable community service, starting out on her own as a sole trader, overcoming accommodation and funding challenges before developing into a cic and then a Foundation. After all this she is extremely well positioned to offer advice to anyone with similar intentions.
She said: “Always listen to business advice given. Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed with everything, but just stay with it, take each piece of information at your own pace, make notes of what went wrong and why. This gives you the tools to put it right before it is too late.”
Trust is also a key issue, after all, nothing is more personal than business, which Caroline has learnt and has a cautionary tale. She said: “What I would do differently is not give too much away, always keep a little gem of information back for yourself. I trusted the wrong organisation at the start, they knew I had something good and they tried to nullify me so they could use my idea for themselves.”
This can’t be said for Ignite, who Caroline feels very different about: “I’d like to say a massive thank you to the Ignite advisors, they only have your interest at heart, they are here for you.”
After quite a journey with some harsh lessons dealt, Caroline has battled through to make sure that everyone can be where they want to be. It is just a pleasing by-product that she finds herself where she wants to be too.
Wren Consultancy cic
(01376) 340770 or (07887) 504427