ToolShed by New Meaning

www.nesta.org.uk/case-study/toolshed-new-meaning/
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Here, co-founder and Operations Director David Lett discusses the importance of finding meaningful work, and how the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) helped fuel a new avenue for ToolShed through house building – offering new opportunities for its construction skills graduates.

ToolShed students at construction site - Inclusive Economy Partnership

ToolShed students at construction site

Can you tell us a bit about your Inclusive Economy Partnership project. What are you looking to achieve and what do you want to change?

Our aim was to use the funding and harness the networking opportunities to progress with our ambition to build houses, therefore shaping positive transition-to-work pathways for the construction skills students that complete our training programme. This social enterprise model is the strongest commercial model that exists because of its inherent ‘profit with purpose’ focus or intent.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the transition to work for young people in our society today?

The availability of meaningful work. Most work has been proceduralised or systematised to the point where there is little meaningful challenge (or purpose) in it. Young people’s minds are shaped or “turned on” through years of learning – to then be presented with a work-based system that offers little more than “trading time for money”.

Young people rightly have strong ambitions and need to learn to keep resiliently on their course to find a meaningful working role, and one that offers them a chance to deliver positive social outcomes. The ToolShed wanted to build homes for this reason – our young people work hard as a team to create homes that people can love to live in.

ToolShed student saws a plank of wood - Inclusive Economy Partnership

ToolShed student

Tell us a bit about one of the partnerships you formed during the IEP. Who are you working with and what does each party bring to the table?

One of the key partnerships was with the IEP team – they offered a flexible project model that was very engaging and supportive of an innovation process. Another key partnership was with UnLtd, who we secured a growth loan through. The process we followed to get the loan was very useful and helped us strengthen our business plan. Another key partner was Barclays Foundation, which offered to support our ambitions through a grant that was tied to outcomes that both organisations wanted to achieve.

What impact has the IEP made on your project and goals?

The IEP enabled us to speed up and realise our ambitious targets at least 12 months ahead of what we had originally planned. This strengthened us as a social enterprise and better safeguards the transition-to-work role that we play. It has also meant much more interest in the ToolShed model and we expect to open ToolShed 2 in the next six months – IEP was key to this fast-track boost.

The IEP enabled us to speed up and realise our ambitious targets at least 12 months ahead of what we had originally planned. This strengthened us as a social enterprise and better safeguards the transition-to-work role that we play.

David Lett, co-founder and Operations Director, ToolShed

What have you learned about how to build a successful partnership?

  • Make sure partner goals/aims are aligned.
  • If they are not, be honest and part company. Don’t try and squeeze a partnership together because you feel you should or in the hope that something is better than nothing.
  • Partnerships are 80% give and 20% get – these work and result in synergistic outcomes.
  • Spend time getting to know each other, including your individual and shared meaningful outcomes and aims.

Where do you plan to take ToolShed from here?

We plan to grow our house building so that in 12 months we have four teams of five people building Passive Homes (which are highly energy efficient) for people to love. We’re also planning to open two further centres in the next 12-18 months.

Find out more about ToolShed.

The Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) is a pioneering initiative changing the way that government, business and civil society work together to address some of society's toughest challenges. Between August 2017 and September 2018, Nesta worked with the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to run the Inclusive Economy Partnership Accelerator, supporting 18 IEP grant winners across three challenge areas (financial inclusion, mental health in the workplace, and the transition to work for young people) to scale their solutions through meaningful partnership with business, civil society and government.