We are supporting a charitable foundation, the Guildford Heat Basketball Club, which is all about going into estates and mentoring children, teaching them about healthy living and promoting physical activity. The foundation tried to get me involved two years ago, and I said no because I wasn’t a fan of basketball. I’ve since realised that it’s about a lot more than that and so agreed to help. I designed a corporate sponsorship package called the Heat Business Club, which gives companies real benefits because they commit to trade with each other and receive positive PR. There are 15 businesses involved, five of which have invested £10,000 for three years to secure sector exclusivity. We’ve also committed funds, as well as sponsoring business functions and mentoring one kid who is quite possibly a basketball star of the future. I donate to other charities in a personal capacity, including the NSPCC, Oxfam and Amnesty, but I believe businesses have a responsibility to support good causes.
We’ve been in business for ten years. In the early days, we had more than enough on our plate than to worry about external issues, but as the business has grown and become more profitable, we’ve had the time and also the drive internally to do more about how we operate within the local community. We have a preferred charity every year: this year it’s The Prince’s Trust, for which we raised £4,500 in a sponsored walk and cycle ride this year. We’ve also been working with a local special needs school, showing them how to build and market a website – something completely different to what they’re used to. Apart from doing something altruistic, we get a lot more out of it: team-building, management training for some of our junior staff and strengthening our ties with the community. Without wanting to sound too mercenary, I also believe it will help us get planning approval for an upcoming application and do more business with the public sector.
Our sponsorship of Kivuli, a Kenyan charity for handicapped children, started quite accidentally. A good friend of ours was setting it up and happened to mention that it was going to cost about £6,000 a year to run this hospital for mentally and physically disabled kids who would otherwise not be educated. We said, hang on, this fits exactly what we want to do – support a very small charity where we know our money is going directly to the people it is meant to help. In Kenya, handicapped kids are often hidden away and at worst abused. My business partners and I all have young children so we know how precious and fragile they are – so we provided the funding for the hospital, which left the charity free to go and raise money for another. I think it makes a lot of sense for a business to be involved in its local community – but for me a child in need is a child in need, whether they live in Brixton or Kenya.
Four years ago I was approached by MedicAlert, a charity that supplies tags to sufferers of hidden medical conditions so they can go about their daily lives without worrying about what would happen if something went wrong. They had an ongoing project to update their membership database, which was stagnating, and felt they needed a trustee to guide the project. I have to admit, my first reaction was: ‘I’m running a business – I don’t have time for this.’ Then I was persuaded otherwise: there are stories of people’s lives being saved by it. The other charity I’m involved with is called the Perthes Association. That’s very personal, because my son had the condition. Recently, I did the London-to-Paris bicycle ride with a friend, and we raised £4,000 for the organisation. It was over 100 miles a day and it was managed like a proper cycle tour event, which made it much more exciting. I like the fact that running my business has given me the opportunity to give something back.