Rickardo Stewart is a youth practitioner and social entrepreneur with over 12 years’ experience of working with some of London’s most vulnerable young people. He set up Community Souls, a North London-based social enterprise that works with people living in areas of high deprivation, empowering them and their communities to take control of their own positive futures.
Council Estates have a bad reputation but there’s a lot to be said for how they foster community spirit. People from all kinds of backgrounds, upbringing and beliefs live side-by-side and the “hustler spirit” of turning nothing into something inspired me to set up Community Souls.
At first, the focus was on supporting at-risk young people in isolated communities and pupil referral units, and working with the charity Art Against Knives to bring their creative approach to youth provision and open access engagement programmes to the Borough of Barnet, establishing pop-up nail bars and music studios.
Through my work as a Youth Practitioner, I saw how difficult it can be for the parents and guardians of the young people I came into contact with to find secure flexible local employment and the impact it has on their ability to support themselves and their families – financially, practically and emotionally. If we are to break the cycle and help disadvantaged people access more opportunities, a more holistic approach is required. Firstly, we need to ensure people can access fairly paid, local jobs. Secondly, we need to recognise that those who often most need the work, also need the most support in order to overcome the barriers and challenges preventing them from doing so.
I started off with a clear vision yet no idea how to set up and run a cleaning business. But with training and support from organisations such as The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), UnLtd and Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) and from my peers and contacts built up from my years working in the third sector, I started small and went from there.
Community Souls Cleaning began trading in 2014 as a socially-conscious cleaning company employing people dependent on benefits and low incomes. Since launching we have employed 23 people with 85% going on to further employment or education. We are an accredited London Living Wage employer, paying £10.55 per hour, and each member of staff is supported with in-house personal development and mentoring programme, connecting them to appropriate wraparound services available in the community.
We operate as a Community Interest Company with all profits reinvested into our staff and youth provision programmes. We see our business model as a win for everyone; our clients receive a professional service with a tangible social benefit, our partners help us connect people to other provision services and it’s a win for our employees for whom Community Souls is a platform to build themselves up.
So far our clients have come from the third sector – community centres, libraries and office spaces – but we’re looking to bring our services to more businesses and organisations in the area, offering an opportunity to elevate their social impact and help change lives within the community.
Visit www.communitysouls.co.uk for more information or a free quote citing this article to receive 10% off the first month.