The Social Business

Revive, and the Vision for Leeds

I went along to Revive Leeds this morning for the launch of the Vision for Leeds 2011-2030 – Our vision to be the best city in the UK.

More on the Vision later, but first a few words about Revive.  It’s an idea that’s been a long time coming – I chatted with someone there who was exploring this idea eight years ago, and someone else reckoned he’d been talking about it fifteen years ago.

Revive Leeds is a Re-Use Shop which is based at a tip (sorry, recycling site) in East Leeds.  It’s run by a Community Interest Company – which in turn is a collaboration between three well established Leeds social enterprises – Emmaus Leeds, St Vincent de Paul Society and Slate.

The idea – and it’s a good one – is that people can drop off stuff that can be re-used whilst they’re dumping other stuff at the tip.  As someone who despairs whenever I go to the tip at what people are throwing away, I’m delighted to see this up and running.

First impressions?  The shop is attractively laid out and has a good range of stock.  The stock was generally good quality.  I think there’s work to do on pricing – as a charity-shop regular I think some of the pricing was a bit on the ambitious side.  £10 for a second hand iron, £175 for a decent but unremarkable three piece suite, didn’t strike me as realistic.  But these things take time – and they’ll have had to second-guess who their customer base will be.  They’ll know better who their customers are in six months time – and I’m sure their pricing will reflect that.

It made me think of my visit a few years back to another Revive (unrelated) in Liverpool – part of the FRC Group.  They take stock primarily from their Bulky Bobs bulky waste collection service (which I notice has today been successful in the Big Venture Challenge) and sell it in their high-street shop.  Shaun Doran, who was responsible for Revive, was frank about they got it very wrong in the early years at Revive.  In short, they took little notice of who their customers were – who was walking past their shop front in that part of Liverpool.  Once they realised who they were really serving, the shop became more successful.

I liked their emphasis on quick turnover of stock – I can’t remember the detail but let’s say it was something like “Have an item for two weeks at full price, two weeks at half price, then move on”.  It’s important that customers see fresh stock regularly – it’s what keeps people coming back.  You might make a bit less on each item, but you’ll sell (and divert from landfill) a lot more stuff.

I also liked their pricing strategy – with different prices for products depending on whether you had just walked in off the street, were on benefits, or had been referred by a FRC partner organisation.  It sounds like a logistical nightmare, and could be a bit embarrassing for people if it was implemented poorly, but it seemed to work well.  The £175 three piece suite brought this pricing strategy back to me – who’s the customer with £175 in their back pocket?

But let’s not take anything away from the people who’ve worked really hard to get Revive Leeds up and running.  They’ve done a great job and I wish them every success.  And it’s been a long road.

Which brings me to the Vision for Leeds.  This was the softest of soft launches I’ve ever witnessed – I’d be interested to know why the Council has gone for this approach to launching the Vision.  At most there were 50 people there – perhaps 10 of whom were unrelated to the Council or to Revive Leeds.

I’ll be honest, I really struggle to get excited about long-term visions.  The ten minute video which accompanies the Vision (not online yet) is all very nice but voxpops with loads of people saying how great Leeds is (it’s friendly, it’s diverse, it’s a great place to do sport/learn/do business etc) just leave me cold.

But, let me try my best to suspend the scepticism.  There’s something quite refreshing in the idea of trying to be the “best” city in the UK.  As the Vision says:

“Not the richest or the biggest, but the best for all who live and work in Leeds – our children, our communities and our businesses.”

Maybe that’s something I can get excited about over time.

It’s worth reflecting on the story of Revive Leeds, alongside the Vision for Leeds.  Revive Leeds will hopefully do well, but we can’t wait another 8 years for the next great innovation.  The Councillor at today’s event was very proud of the Council’s collaboration with three local social enterprises – and that is undoubtedly a step forward.  But we have to get better – and quicker – at coming up with creative ideas which make a real difference.

And this is where things might just get interesting.  Leeds Council – according to this article by the Council Leader in the Yorkshire Post – seems to be opening up and suggesting that in the future it needs to become more entrepreneurial – for example by collaborating more with other organisations.

As someone who’s worked with the Council closely for a number of years, let me just say they’ve got a long way to go before I’d use the words entrepreneurial and Council in the same sentence.  But acknowledging that things need to improve is a starting point, at least.  The hard bit will be moving from nice words to messy practice.  Councillors and Council officers have a steep learning curve ahead of them.

Categories: Climate Change, Customer service, Green issues, leeds, Public services, Social change, Social enterprise, Social entrepreneurs, Voluntary sector

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1 Comment

  1. Pricing apart, who goes to the tip to buy stuff? I think they may find it hard to convert people getting rid of stuff into shoppers. I hope I am wrong.

    I think that vision could be something to get excited about. But it would require a council that understands and is committed to city wide vision based leadership. A process of engaging 800 000 people in what they can do to make it happen.

    But I will wager it becomes a simple and pragmatic planning and reporting tool that the council and its partners use to map their progress. If they bother to report on it (they haven’t on the previous 2 visions) the report card will say ‘much has been achieved, but much remains to be done’.

    My fear is that the vision wont be used to engage people in a mission. It won’t be used to produce creative tension and social innovation. It will be used to manage business as usual.

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