BITC’s Birmingham Community Conversation

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two of the iSE City Drive 2018 events in Birmingham, during BITC’s Responsible Business Week 2018.   City Drive is a week-long celebration of social enterprise in Birmingham, ‘bringing together the do-ers, the believers, the supporters, the funders, the thinkers, the buyers and the deliverers.’

The first event, which I shall write about here, was the Birmingham Community Conversation, run by BITC and hosted at DWF. BITC invited businesses to join with people from across the Birmingham community and public sectors to share knowledge and insight into local issues and explore opportunities for local collaborative action. 

We sat in groups that had been pre-arranged, each of which contained representatives from a good mix of sectors, listened to the key speakers, and then had table discussions, with a whole-group feedback session at the end.

One of the key speakers was Nick Venning, Chair and Founder of Thrive, a volunteer-led network promoting Responsible Business in Birmingham.  He made quite a few salient points with regards to employee volunteering; young people and youth organisations; and employability and education – all of which are the key aspects of S4TP’s Big Ideas programme:

“It’s a huge advantage to take your employees outside their comfort zone, and they can bring their experiences back to the workplace.”

“It’s the young people who inherit the earth.”

“Employment is one of the best ways of sustainably killing poverty.”

Another speaker was Matt Berry, Vice Principal of Shenley Academy, where they are passionate about “developing the all-round person”.  At Shenley Academy, he said they recognise that their students are the “parents, neighbours, citizens, employees, and entrepreneurs of the future,” and they have developed a character education programme called Shenley Horizons, through which they develop ‘students’ resilience, kindness, integrity, respect, self-belief and altruism.’

Shenley Academy, like S4TP, believes in facilitating employer encounters for their students.  Matt said that when they have had business mentors come in and work with the students, “all the interactions have a great impact on our young people” and that they can see this impact in improvements in students’ motivation and attitude.

That resonated with me, because it directly affirms what we do at Solutions for the Planet on our Big Ideas programme and why we do it, and is supported by our data and Impact Reports. In December 2017, the government published their Careers Strategy, which includes a section on how schools and colleges should use the Gatsby Benchmarks to improve their careers guidance provision by 2020.  In their Careers Guidance for schools, the government recommend for Benchmark 5 that ‘every year from the age of 11, pupils should participate in at least one meaningful encounter with an employer – this means at least one encounter each year from years 7 to 13.’  We at Solutions for the Planet recognise this and fully support it – in fact, students on our Big Ideas programme get at least one employer encounter, and those that enter our Big Ideas Competition often work weekly with business mentors.

In our group, which included Matt from Shenley Academy, Dave Hughes and Wade Lyn from BITC, and Emma Woolf from Birmingham Community Matters, we focused a lot on young people in our discussions, and put forward some suggestions to the whole group:

  • organising similar Community Conversations with young people involved
  • bringing in community organisations as well as corporates to work with schools
  • finding ways to empower young people to make changes themselves
  • encouraging more mentors that students can identify with and be inspired by, to raise their aspirations – similar background; culture; ethnicity; struggles (eg a survivor of bullying).
  • we need to get young people’s voices heard; business and communities need to listen to what young people care about.

Solutions for the Planet is proud to be a member of the social enterprise community, and it was wonderful to be involved in these workshops.  We look forward to hearing the outcome of the discussions and to future collaborations with other businesses and organisations to help our young people and our communities succeed.  I think the slogan on the back of the BITC business cards sums up what we are all striving for:


Written by: Sarah Milburn, West Midlands Programme Coordinator and Communications Lead

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd.