When I launched TOP, it was always my intention to create a platform for people to support their community and those communities farther away that were also in need of our collective effort.
We had a great opportunity to help others as plenty of business owners were attracted by our values which were: support, collaboration, community and education and the people who felt drawn to these values are very much the same people who enjoy helping a good cause.
It was easy enough to connect the dots, good people with good causes, although initially a few people felt compelled to warn me that by spending a few minutes of a 2 hour meeting supporting charities we would give out the wrong message and scare important businesses away. Perhaps they were right and some businesses never returned to our network, put off by our good intentions, but I was always of the philosophy that like attracts like and if I scared off a few people who didn't see the point in giving and community, then I was strengthening the core of what I was creating.
Our first project was collecting food for local foodbanks, at each meeting we would ask our attendees to bring along food with them, and after the meeting I would drop off our collections to the local foodbanks. We also asked their representatives to come along to our meetings and give a talk in order to educate our members.
A collection from just one of our meetings
Our next project was suggested to me by Bharesh Mandalia of the Happy Computer Company. Bharesh suggested that we ask people to donate their old or broken computers and he would fix them up, clear them of any of the person's personal data and then we could donate them to local schools and nurseries. We had a lot of success with this project and soon Bharesh and I were dropping of computers all over Oxfordshire.
Overtime we were supported with this endeavor by a local charity called The Alfan Foundation who worked with us to send the computers to schools in Ghana. I remember fondly how Alfons gave a talk at one of our meetings when he said the schools they supported hadn't a computer to teach IT lessons on and would use the blackboard instead. Within a couple of years we had sent enough computers for them to dedicate a whole room to their IT lessons. Through one of our members we connected up with the Oxford University who cleared out over 100 of their old computers which were then shipped off to Ghana. People were very keen to be involved and it only took a single post on social media to generate more interest.
Bharesh Mandalia after delivering a recycled computer
Supporting young entrepreneurs was another of our keen values. We created a scholarship program that gave free membership and support to anyone running a business under the age of 22. This included business coaching, marketing advice, free photography and videos for their websites, social media training and more. It was such a pleasure to have those young men and women at our events and to see them thrive within our community. The most pleasing aspect of all though was to see them offer to give back, to make their own contribution to our community.
Zoe Smith, our first Young Entrepreneur with her hand painted silk scarves.
Our work with Alfan expanded beyond computers, we were soon collecting stationary to send to schools in Ghana as well. Before long at each of the meetings we put on across the county, often as many as 20 a month, we were collecting pens, pencils, notepads, art supplies and whiteboards. We sent tens of thousands across to Africa, people were so pleased to be given the opportunity to give. Our members were popping into High Street Banks and asking for boxes and the banks would pass them over.
In Banbury we were lucky enough to work with BYHP, The Banbury Young Homelessness Project and Nicodemus . Their representatives would attend our meetings, give talks and our members would get involved in their projects. I remember an art project where two of our photographers got involved with photography for BYHP. We also raised enough money to pay for a graphic designer to design a leaflet campaign which was a great win win as the graphic designer gained from the project as well.
When the Witney based charity A Gift of a Future, arrived in our network they received a good deal of support from our community. The charity raised money to send girls to school in Uganda, it would cost a little over £200 to send a child to school for a year and they concentrated on sending girls, as often a family could only afford to send the boys to school. Our members dug deep into their pockets and raised the money to send half a dozen girls to school. Tony Milhofer even sold the girl's necklaces at the Chipping Norton market and sent the proceeds back to help pay their fees.
Throughout our time we have helped many good causes at TOP, and it never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to dig deep into their pockets, or give of their time. We have a wonderful resource of good people here in Oxfordshire who just need the opportunity to belong to a community ready to serve.
Written by Ben Molyneux