TOP Blog

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What do the words social enterprise really mean? Back in 2005 we were, we felt, a good fit for being described as a social enterprise.  We started Oxford Wood Recycling (OWR) as a member-owned business with a clear environmental and socially orientated mission statement.  But we weren’t sure if we actually wanted to be labelled as a social enterprise as such. At this time there was a lot of uncertainty about whether social enterprise as a business sector would take off or even how to define the term.  Social firms were a worthy but worryingly small group of UK companies, part of a European network, whose distinguishing feature was to employ significant numbers of staff living with disabilities or who were otherwise disadvantaged in the workplace. This was ideal for us as we really valued the opportunity to help those who may not otherwise be offered career opportunities with practical hands on roles.  We were also keen members of Social Firms UK, even winning an award as European Social Firm of the Year 2010. Social enterprises on the other hand were a nebulous sector identified by Government data as being over 60,000 strong in the UK but using criteria that seemed to stretch the concept to its limit, and bore no reference to usage of the term. For us the jury was definitely still out, but we were happy to play along where the label fitted what we were about. Fast forward almost 10 years and we are clearly identifiable (via the Social Enterprise Mark) as a social enterprise and are content to have side-stepped debate about what is and is not a social enterprise. In common I suspect with most other values driven businesses, we get on with our daily lives untroubled by whether we are worthy enough, and are confident through our governance and business structures that we are creating value for society. I am however, very encouraged that a joyfully messy social enterprise sector, despite or perhaps because of its resistance to accept a definition, does appear to be thriving. This is evidenced by, amongst others,  the continued rise in Community Interest Companies (almost 10,000 in the nine years to August 2014), government support in the form of Social Investment Tax Relief legislation, and by the emergence of local initiatives such as the Oxfordshire Social Entrepreneurship Partnership  (OSEP) We also work closely with Grant Hayward, who is supporting and encouraging Social Enterprise across Oxfordshire. He says: “Oxford Wood Recycling is a stand-out example of a Social Enterprise thriving in Oxfordshire. Through an application from OSEP and our LEP business support programme, Social Enterpise UK has recognised Oxfordshire as the first “Social Enterprise County” in the UK. This achievement has been marked by a series of events and activities across the county during Social Enterprise Week. As part of this, on Social Saturday, 13th September, OWR hosted a visit from Ed Vaizey MP, who talked about the great work the organisation does, and the important part Social Enterprise has to play in the economic and social development of Oxfordshire.” For any entrepreneurs out there thinking about forming a social enterprise but not sure what it means, here is some humbly offered although slightly radical advice. The criteria for holders of the Social Enterprise Mark are clear. Social Enterprise UK also publishes some very useful characteristics of social enterprises on its website. However, if you are totally values driven (social) and you love business (enterprise) and want to use it to achieve your social objectives, then simply enjoy being part of an inclusive, messy, values driven business movement called social enterprise, and ride the wave! Richard Snow is CEO at Oxford Wood Recycling Ltd.


Building Community Three years ago this week I came up with the idea of building a community based around shared values, that would work together to support each other and help to keep trade local. I had no idea what was ahead of me. My first goal was to attract like-minded people who would be able to help me spread the word of what we were trying to achieve, then to build a sustainable business model that could allow me to devote my time to the project without having to provide for my family elsewhere. I had hoped that we could get there within three years, and I’m delighted to say that with a lot of hard work and lessons learned and with the help of many great individuals that has been achieved. Now we have built the largest business networking group in Oxfordshire, with over 300 entrepreneurs in regular attendance, brought together in a culture of support, trust, friendship, collaboration and knowledge sharing. A community of people that give first without asking what’s in it for them. Through the entrepreneurs in the network we have been able to utilize their skills in ways I hadn’t foreseen. A Photographic Library, an E Magazine, a Publishing House, a Community Project, a Wedding group, a Young Entrepreneur support scheme,  are all up and running within our community and now we look to a group for professional coaches and a family project, that will create a support structure for families in the way we have done for businesses already. Three years on, with a sustainable business model in place, people are now holding their hands up and wishing to take the Oxfordshire far beyond its geographic boundary. We are preparing for our first groups in Gloucestershire, Hampshire and a little farther away the Kawartha Lakes Region in Canada! The most amazing part of this journey for me is becoming friends with the people who have helped me build this project, and changed the way I view the world. By Ben Molyneux

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
Team Creativity
An exciting new online hub for creative talent goes live on 12th June 2014 at The School of the Arts University of Northampton
An innovative web portal designed to bring creative talent together under one virtual roof is to go live later this month. and its partner, launching on Thursday, June 12, aim to be the go to places for creative – a creative hub offering support to the Expressive and Visual Arts sector.
Here in this constantly evolving online portal creative will be able to network with like minded, showcase their work in the creative gallery, search for resources in the swap shop market place, explore new digital innovation, form creative partnerships, pitch, tender in the online studio and search for jobs on the fully interactive Team Creativity Jobs board.
 “Team Creativity, working in partnership with Team Creativity Jobs – our specialist job board for visual, expressive and creative arts – will be a one-stop-shop for those in the creative arena with all kinds of products and services available.”
Those visiting will be able to check out the latest job opportunities – everything from marketing, copywriting, design, graphic artists, social media marketing, illustration, photography and modelling to games design, cartoonists, singers, actors, dancers, textile artists, tattooists and much more.
Employers will also be able to search for creative talent by placing their job advert or project live on the site for up to four weeks. This can be shown as a basic listing or as a fully designed advert.
Team Creativity will launch officially at The School of the Arts University of Northampton on Thursday June 12.
Follow @1TeamCreativity and @TeamCreativityJobs on Twitter or on Facebook at and
Free local workshop Are you a small local business looking to grow?  There are government funds available to help you do this.  This free workshop will help you to find out more about how the GrowthAccelerator programme works, how much it costs and what how it could help you. This workshop will commence with our local Growth Manager, Wendy Tinsley, giving an overview of the GrowthAccelerator programme, highlighting the opportunities to SMEs (from start-ups to £40m turnover businesses) by way of government assisted funding. Stephen Huggett  TOP member and GrowthAccelerator coach will then take through how it works in practice and most importantly, what it can do for you and your business.   He will them provide examples of current case studies detailing the financial and business benefits his clients achieved under the programme. Eric Cornish of Lean Costs Management will help you maximise your savings on non-direct costs without impacting on the quality of your product.  James Shand of vfdnet will help you develop a robust exit strategy. Places are limited to 15, please book early. Event:  Growth Accelerator Workshop – Free Venue:  Hackett’s Wesley Walk, Witney  OX28 6ZJ Time:   8am – 10am Date:    13th May Contact: Stephen Huggett  Mobile:  07803 933888  Office:   01993 882990  E mail:

The TOP Guide to Business

Welcome to Charlbury, a charming picturesque town nestled in the Evenlode valley, West Oxfordshire.

The Oxfordshire Project burst onto the scene in Charlbury in September 2012, with the desire to attract home workers out of their offices to create friendships and a business support network for this rural community. I am delighted by how popular our group has become and am getting used to meeting professional, skilled and ambitious people of all trades. These dynamic people are enjoying our diverse, fun meetings and their businesses are benefiting as a result.

A recent recruit to the Charlbury group is Andrew Chapman who runs his publishing business Prepare to Publish from his home office. Andrew gave a lively and amusing talk on the state of the publishing world at a recent meeting and offered to help The Oxfordshire Project publish its own e-book. A core team of Andrew, Jan Harvey & myself will be running and judging the ‘TOP guide to business competition’.


We launched at our October meeting and are currently seeking wise words from Oxfordshire business owners and creative types to create a funky little e-book to inspire and motivate existing businesses and new start-ups. I am certain that each and every project member has something to say about the joys, successes, pitfalls & mistakes from their own area of business, and can spend a few moments jotting down some essential ideas. I’ve provided a list of 20 categories, but you may suggest your own if you think I have missed something relevant.

Entries are steadily rolling in and you have until the 16th Jan 2014 to submit up to 5 entries, each up to 50 words.

  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Social Media
  • Advertising
  • Selling
  • Accountancy
  • Profile
  • Lead generation
  • Mentorship
  • Motivation
  • Personal inspiration
  • Professional development
  • Growing your business
  • Creative thinking
  • Recruitment
  • Staff motivation/retention
  • Being tax efficient
  • Selling your business
  • Planning for Retirement

So, please find time to get involved in this exciting project and I look forward to reading some TOP tips and stories!

Nicola Leyland

Should we expect more from our press?

I confess that I have never been one to read the national newspapers. When I was at college I worked in a petrol station on a Sunday morning and would have a flick through them before people started arriving. I usually didn’t get much further than the sports pages though. I used to buy The Oxford Mail for the excellent football coverage, being an Oxford United fan, but now I get their news via their website.

There are many reasons why I haven’t been a newspaper reader, but price was never the factor. I always found their views to be extremely biased, one way or the other, and realised this at an early age.


Celebrity gossip has always seemed to me a pointless waste of time, and a newspaper that pays money to immoral photographers who spend their lives like parasites chasing others and journalists that break the law by hacking people’s phones or making up stories should be ashamed of the career they have carved out for themselves. However shame always seems to be something that national newspapers never feel. No matter what their conduct they will always find a way to justify their actions. Just look at the recent attack on the Miliband family by the Mail. What right do they have to go looking for stories at Ed Miliband’s uncle’s memorial service?

Another reason I do not read the papers is because of the endless negativity they pump out into the atmosphere! I wonder what the percentage of positive stories to negative stories they contain.

Can you imagine how many talented people have been put off of entering politics because of the press we have in the UK? If the press showed the politicians, celebrities and sport stars respect we’d have a lot more to feel proud about in this country. At present the press holds everyone accountable and demands the highest standards from all. Yet in my opinion they fall a million miles short of the standards they expect from others.

It appears that the printed press does have an expiry date, and that day is quickly approaching. It may have been a different story though if they had keep to the facts, kept within the law and treated people with the respect which we all deserve.

I would like to add that I believe the local press do a great job and fulfill a vital service to their communities.

What do you think?

Ben Molyneux

How to Row from California to Hawaii (via Oxfordshire)

By Darren (Billy) Taylor

On October 4th, the Oxfordshire Project kindly selected Pacific Row 2014 as the winner of a £250 social media training package that was donated by Black Dog New Media. This is what happened when the two got together…

As people who know me will undoubtedly agree, my I.T. skills are somewhat lacking. I have never really been a big fan of facebook, and have always left tweeting to our feathered friends. Instagram has passed me by and “face time” is a term that I would use when trying describe the process that my partner goes through when we are getting ready to go out. Suffice to say, a computer whizz I am not, so I was very happy indeed when I learned that I had won a package to help me get to grips with social media.


Due to an event that I am taking part in next year, I find myself in the unfamiliar territory of trying to raise corporate sponsorship. This is something that I have never needed to do before now, and I soon came to realise that it is by no means an easy task. No matter how worthy you believe your cause is, getting companies to part with their hard earned cash is a difficult thing to do, and after another unsuccessful attempt, the company in question suggested that I needed to raise the profile of my campaign to make it seem more attractive to potential sponsors. Then they asked me why I wasn’t using social media.

I was unaware of just how powerful social media is in this day and age. If you want to make yourself heard, then you have to have a voice, and these days, sites like facebook and Twitter are the voices that everybody seems to be listening to. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to get them to start talking about what it is that I am trying to do, and the reasons behind why I am trying to do it. I needed some help. Then Shaun from Black Dog New Media was introduced to me through The Oxfordshire Project, and I began to understand…

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to meet Shaun at the local pub. He had explained over the phone that the package really just involved him giving me some one on one time to try and guide me through how to use social media to its best potential. Now, I have met some I.T. guys in my time, and most recently I have had nothing but trouble when trying to get a website built. I may be being a little unfair, as these guys were donating their time for free. However, the common theme seemed to be that they would absolutely, positively guarantee that something would be achieved by such and such a date, only for that goal not to be reached on the date in question, or soon thereafter.  As I mentioned, this may be unfair of me, as I have no idea of what building a website entails, and they have paying clients that obviously take priority over us, but my partner has been having the same issues with a company that is being paid to build and host a website for the company that she has recently started working for. I don’t think, therefore, anyone would blame me for being a little apprehensive when meeting yet another member of the I.T crowd who was supposed to be giving me something for free. I could not have been more wrong…


It turns out that Shaun is about as far away from my (incorrect) stereotype of an I.T. person as it is possible to be. I will not bore you with all the teccy side of what he taught me, you will either already know what I would be talking about, or you would not understand it ( I was most definitely in the second category ). Instead, I would like to tell you about Shaun and Black Dog New Media. To get things going, Shaun asked me to tell him what it was that I wanted to get out of the session. I explained what the event that I was taking part in is, and why I was taking part in it.

When he had this information, he began to explain to me exactly what it was that I should be doing, but more importantly, he explained why.

Shaun is such a genuinely nice guy, and his love of what he does means that he wants the people that he works with to get the best service possible. He could have simply turned up, gone through the process of how to use these different social media sites, given me a tick list of what buttons to press and icons to click on and been on his merry way. He would have delivered something that would have helped me, but not an awful lot. Luckily for me, this is not what happened.

To start with, after 20 minutes chatting, he told me that he would like to help us much more than this first session. He was not asked for help, and it was an unexpected offer, but it was gratefully received. Black Dog New Media’s ongoing and future involvement is of a huge help to us, and hopefully this will correspond into potentially helping thousands of people to a better quality of life, and I know this is the real reason behind them wanting to get involved. Since then I have been in touch with Shaun fairly often, and not as a result of myself chasing him up, but because he has been asking information of me that will allow him to better help us. His dedication to what he has pledged himself to do is outstanding, and such a difference from everything and everyone else that I had worked with previously in this field. I fully believe that this dedication transfers over to his paying clients as well, and that he takes an enormous amount of pride and enjoyment out of being able to help people achieve whatever goals they, or their companies, set out to reach.

Black Dog New Media have been honest with their capabilities, and never promised anything that they are absolutely sure that they would not be able to achieve. They have taken on an unfinished website that was started for us some time ago, but explained that they will be “upgrading and evolving” what has already been started, and that it will take some time. This is so much better than being told that something will be finished by a certain date and relaying that to a potential sponsor, only to arrive at a meeting to show them that the finished product that is far from finished.

Our voice is now being heard on the social media airwaves, and again, this is thanks to Shaun. It is not even anything that he has physically done, but more due to the pointers that he has given me in relation to this. I know that I can call on him and ask for advice and that when he gives that advice, it is because he wants us to succeed, not because he feels obligated to do so. There is a lot that I have to learn yet, but it feels as though I have found that favourite teacher that everybody remembers from their school days. You all know the one I mean, the teacher that everybody looks forward to hearing lessons from, and that inspires you to learn by actually making the subject enjoyable and memorable. Shaun is that teacher. His obvious enthusiasm for social media is contagious, and makes you enthused in turn.

In short, I am extremely glad that The Oxfordshire Project introduced us to Shaun and Black Dog New Media. If there are any of you out there that are having problems with technical issues, I strongly recommend that you give them a call. Even if they cannot help with your particular issue, by the time you get off the phone, some of that enthusiasm will have come your way and put a smile on your face.

To find out more about Pacific Row 2014 and our involvement in the New Ocean Wave Great Pacific Race in 2014 please visit our website (currently being revamped!) or follow us on our multitude of social media channels (just search on Pacific Row 2014).