Southwark Social Enterprise Gets More Out Of Getting Online

01 Oct 2016

Social enterprise Edible Avondale SE1 – which teaches groups of young people food growing and DIY skills – is growing its own reputation, business and influence thanks to some new digital skills.

Operating out of a 20ft shipping container on the Avondale Square Estate in the South Bermondsey area of Southwark, Edible Avondale is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Christina Wheatley. Her vision was to increase the confidence skills and wellbeing of local residents, giving her volunteers the skills and opportunities to go onto further training or employment as a result.

“I wouldn’t have been able to set up Edible Avondale SE1, win funding or recruit volunteers without the internet,” says Christina. “Small organisations or start-ups like mine – especially charities or social enterprises – simply don’t have the budget for traditional marketing or business development activities. Digital options offer affordable ways to sell, advertise and communicate – you just need to know a bit about how it’s done.”

Online Learning

For Christina, learning about those digital options was something of a steep learning curve. “When I was at school we did have computers, but they were massive, clunky machines that just didn’t feel relevant to me,” remembers Christina. “At my age, I wasn’t too keen to go back into an educational environment either, so being able to learn what I needed to know online was ideal.”

Christina started off doing a Community Development course with tech-for-good charity Good Things Foundation and went on to learn more about digital tools for businesses.

“Learning online meant I could learn what I needed to know when I needed to know it,” says Christina. I’m a carer for my mother and I do other community work alongside my work at Edible Avondale SE1, so I needed something that I could pick up and put down easily, and fit in with the rest of my life.”

Digital Solutions

Now Edible Avondale SE1 has its own website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Christina explains: “The Edible Avondale SE1 website was actually built for me by students from the local college as their end of year project. All I had to do was learn a bit about WordPress so I could update it, upload my own pictures, plug in my social media feeds and work out the analytics. It’s all easier than it sounds – honest! These things always sound bigger and scarier than they actually are.

“I’ve found Facebook and Twitter particularly useful because they allow me to update and evidence Edible Avondale’s work on the go from my smartphone. I’m still getting to grips with the smartphone itself, but it’s a great piece of equipment. That evidence is vital in securing future funding, and it gives me somewhere to point funders and stakeholders to showcase our achievements.

“The internet is also the best research tool there’s ever been. I spend a lot of time planning our next developments or activities, and there are all sorts of questions that crop up. Should we get a polytunnel or a greenhouse? Look it up online and the answers are all there, instantly. Comparisons are easy too, so I can make sure we’re getting the best deals.

“All in all, technology has given us the opportunity and the platform to get our name out there and raise our profile. It’s also helped us advertise the things we make – like bird boxes and wine rack holders – and it helps us recruit new volunteers for the project. We’d never be able to afford things like posters or leaflets to put up or drop round the estate, whereas a few tweets and a decent Facebook page are much cheaper and easier to achieve.

“Next on my list to learn about is LinkedIn, but things are really busy at Edible Avondale SE1 so it might be a little while before I get round to it! But that’s what’s great about learning online. I’m also planning to get some of our young volunteers to take ownership of the website and social media feeds. Now I know the basics I can oversee their activities, but they’re the digital experts, and I’ve found that a sense of ownership can really help them to thrive.”

Inspiring others

As if she’s not busy enough, Christina’s also decided to try her hand at modelling – for this year’s national Get Online Week campaign. The campaign aims to encourage people who lack basic digital skills to give the internet a try and see what it could do for them.

Christina explains: “I’m really proud to be representing small businesses for Get Online Week. I really believe that digital skills can help small organisations do big things. I’d encourage any kind of organisation to get along to a Get Online Week event and see what they could learn. The internet can definitely make life easier – and businesses better.”

See more from Christina in the video below: