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Birthday vibes …5 years on

So, it was the BEC’s 5th birthday on Sunday 27th February, like the rest of the world it was not the birthday we had planned, no grand celebrations or get togethers, but as my dear Pops (father-in-law) would have said in his broad Jamaican accent ‘soon come’.

The BEC being 5 has left me feeling quite nostalgic. I went into the BEC for a few weeks in April 2015 to help when the manager left alongside my day job! I started the modelling for a social enterprise soon after and nine months later we had it achieved. I am proud of how far we have come, how it has built and grown momentum. The BEC is part of the fabric of Barking and Dagenham and wider across London in supporting start ups and SMEs, and it is seen as a key resource for local people (and Londoners in general) who are looking for business support.

If at this point you are unsure of what the BEC does, well we pride ourselves on being more than a workspace provider. We deliver truly affordable workspace, as well as business mentoring, training, and general wraparound support. In the old days pre COVID-19, we offered lots of face-to-face, business-to-business networking events, and I am sure given the news lately, it will not be long before we can do that again.

So back to my nostalgia, I was thinking about our relationships we have with our partners, the local council, Be First, BD collective and Care City, to name but a few. When I say partners, I am not being polite, I truly mean partners. I think this has been one of the most significant shifts with working with public sector organisations. That our partners treat us as equal players and our contribution and expertise is valued and appreciated.

I was reflecting on our staff and how they have grown and developed and are committed to working in the BEC family, and over the last few years we have built up a network of consultants and mentors who still run their own business, but are passionate about the BEC and very much part of the BEC family.

Our local economy, like everywhere else, is really struggling with the impact of COVID-19, and our small businesses have suffered deeply. I am glad that the BEC has always had a ‘look local first’ policy and I am delighted that we spend 85% of our income in our local area. I am proud that we achieved our London Living Wage employer status late last year. It is an area that as responsible businesses, should be seeking to support. This means that our two young people from Kickstart will also be on London living wage which is just the best news.

It's not all glory, there are some things we are not great at and still learning but the most pressing thing is we are not good about shouting about our success. I watch other organisations who are so good at telling the world how great they are, but we really struggle with this. I think it is a case of imposter syndrome, a girl from Dagenham who feels uncomfortable about ‘bragging’ and does not want to be pretentious or self-centred.

However, here goes…. we have helped 693 people start a business in five years, the recorded national data in our area says that businesses have a survival rate of 36% but we know that the businesses we helped to start 74% of them still are running. We like to buck the trend!

We have delivered 2978 hours of business mentoring to individual businesses, which means we have invested £213k in supporting businesses on a one-to-one basis. We have supported nearly 8000 people to have training for their business, which is an investment of £394k over five years. We have seen the rate of female business owners go from 42% in 2016 to 68% in 2021 and consistently our buildings are at 96% capacity. Despite the uncertainty of the workspace market, we need more workspace opportunities (hint hint).

Moving forward into year 5 to 10, we do not want to forget our roots, but we are keen to expand into other areas. I tell others to dream big, so my aspirations are for a BEC in every borough, well every borough that sees affordable workspace and wraparound support as a priority!