To coincide with National Volunteer Week Alumni Voices caught up with alumni, Fred Alldridge (President) and Abbie Wright (Vice President), from Enactus York about the social enterprise projects they have been running around York.
Abbie: “Enactus York is a University Society focused on social enterprise. We take issues in the local community that we’re passionate about and come up with innovative projects to help solve them. I got a newsletter email from my department advertising the society. This was in January of 2021, when we had no classes in person and were in the middle of the third national lockdown. I was in desperate need of a community and a purpose. Enactus seemed like it would offer me both of those things.”
Fred: “It was less to do with inspiration at the time, and just because my friend told me to join! This was way back in March 2020 when we had less than 10 members and no functioning projects. The inspiration came later, seeing everything our brilliant members would do.
We have 4 projects right now, each one helping a different group of people.
● Our newest project, Community Roots started out the academic year by running gardening sessions with the elderly to decrease feelings of social isolation and increase physical mobility. However, the project has now pivoted towards helping homeless people by providing them with hygiene kits. This is in the design stage now and will be in its implementation phase by September.
● Restitch helps refugees find community and financial support. It holds weekly embroidery sessions for recent refugees. The products made at these sessions are going to be sold to fund the project.
● Digital Bridge helps people who are disadvantaged due to a lack of access to technology. They have laptops and VR headsets which are going to be used to boost employable skills in secondary school pupils from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Alongside this, Digital Bridge has run sessions with York IT Reuse, to teach people how to diagnose and repair old laptops. The laptops that are repaired are donated to refugees who have recently arrived in York.
● Pantry Parcels helps people struggling with food poverty. They create recipe kits (a bit like Hello Fresh) from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, which are distributed at local food banks. They have also started to help people through the energy crisis by holding slow cooker cooking classes and by training up energy auditors.
Fred: “Our project, Pantry Parcels, has formed deep relationships with the wider community. One of their beneficiaries is an elderly woman with autism, who has to use food banks. Before encountering Pantry Parcels, she often found food banks overwhelming and struggled to make healthy meals. Now she has four guaranteed nutritionally balanced meals a week and feels more confident cooking in general.
Like most organisations, Enactus was on zoom throughout the pandemic. We still managed to make good things happen during this time, but it is definitely easier to make an impact now we’re back to in person meetings. The engagement of our team members is much better in person – I think being around other people who are also passionate about similar issues is hugely motivational. As well as this, we are now able to go into the communities we want to help, which allows us to make a much deeper impact. For example, our Community Roots project would simply not have been possible in a socially distanced world.
Due to the cost of living crisis we are seeing more heating and eating issues – in our needs assessments, our beneficiaries are responding with more basic needs than we’ve seen in the past two years – staying warm, shelter, hot meals etc. We’re racing to have a much deeper impact because our beneficiaries need it. There is a greater demand for our Pantry Parcels meal kits than ever before. There hasn’t been a week where any of the pantry parcels have remained by the end of the day, and usually people are queuing up for them from the start of the day.
The obvious answer to these challenges is that there needs to be greater government provision in these areas. However, with regards to the work of Enactus York and other social organisations, the meeting of non-financial development goals are crucial. Getting different social organisations in contact, seeing how their services can complement one another is crucial.
Volunteering allows you to gain a practical, personal understanding of societal issues. It’s one thing to know the percentage of people in food poverty in a city, but it’s another thing to have spoken with a single mum who is foregoing meals so that her children can eat. Bringing an issue out of the abstract allows you to understand it on a much deeper level, and think more broadly about what can be done to tackle it. And from an organisational perspective, Enactus York has done much good over the past two years, none of which could have been done without volunteering. There is an innate opportunity in volunteering because, by and large, people want to help others – but they often don’t know how. Other organisations should try and tap into this when trying to widen their positive impact.”
Abbie: “My favourite thing about working with Enactus York has always been the people. I am surrounded by some incredibly talented people with an amazing drive to succeed. More importantly than this, Enactus members care about making a positive difference in the world. They are also great fun to hang out with. I would never have made my best uni friends without Enactus.”
Fred: “I completely agree with Abbie that the people I’ve met must be my favourite thing, but for the sake of diversity of opinion I’ll approach it slightly differently. Seeing our members grow as people and realise just how much is possible by sending a few emails, and watching that snowball into a legitimate social enterprise, has been a delight to behold.”
Fred speaking at the University of York’s Professional Network event: Ethical Business in Practice.
Abbie: “I think the biggest challenge I’ve come up against whilst working with Enactus York is trying to balance everything. It sometimes feels like I have to be switched on to Enactus 24/7. Whether it’s problems financing a project, or trying to find people who are free to attend important project pitches in the middle of a university day, challenges can crop up any time.
Until recently, if I got an Enactus-related email whilst doing degree-related work, I would stop what I was doing and focus on the email. Now, I separately block off Enactus time, degree time and relaxation time to make sure all my focus is in one place. I think my degree in Psychology helps me think critically about project design. I can look at a project plan and figure out where we might face challenges. I also think Psychology is great for developing empathy and an understanding of the problems people face. This is a crucial skill for Enactus, which is driven by the needs of those we help. ”
Fred: “I’d agree with Abbie, time-management is absolutely key. We’re leading an organisation with four bona fide social enterprises on the side of doing a degree. We always seem to have a lot of plates spinning! The biggest lesson I’ve learnt whilst working with Enactus is that so much can happen from sending a few emails. To get started creating a social enterprise, you don’t need money, or even expertise in the field; just ask those who are already in the space what you could do, and move from there. My degree in Economics greatly improved my grasp of statistics, helping to turn our projects into more data-driven social enterprises. However, I’d say that because our work is personal and people-driven, soft skills matter a great deal more than the hard skills I’ve taken from my degree.”
“Volunteering allows you to gain a practical, personal understanding of societal issues. It’s one thing to know the percentage of people in food poverty in a city, but it’s another thing to have spoken with a single mum who is foregoing meals so that her children can eat.”
Abbie: “I hope Enactus York continues to grow. I want the projects to become self-sustaining and expand so they can make a deeper impact in a greater number of people’s lives. I would like Enactus York to be a society that people at the university know and care about. I think we do great work, and the more people that can get involved the better. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life before Enactus. Now, I’ve realised a passion for business and for people. Next year, I will hopefully be working in a graduate job where I get to use my passions!”
Fred: “I hope Enactus York becomes more deeply integrated in the wider field of social entrepreneurship in Yorkshire. We already have many members willing with an insatiable appetite to do good, with the increased know-how and funding that would come from establishing ourselves in that network, it could supercharge what Enactus York does moving forward. I’m not sure what’s next for us at this stage! I’m ready for the world of work following my Master’s but I’m casting my net as wide as possible at this point. All I can say for certain is that I want to be in a situation where I can meet more incredible people, like I have done at York and through Enactus.”
Enactus York is now led by Jana Videka (President) and Annalise Hodgson (Vice President).