27th Of October by Sam Torr
Q&A with P&A Group & Caia Park Partnership, Wales Enterprise Growth Award
Alison Hill, Chief Executive of Caia Park Partnership, and Steve Morgan, MD of P&A Group, talk about their mentoring relationship, arranged throughBusiness in the Community’s Mentor Iontach Nua programme.
The two were originally introduced in 2012 while Alison was studying for her MSc at Bangor University. Two years on, their mentor-mentee relationship is still going strong.
Alison was recently crowned Social Enterprise Champion at the 2014 Wales Social Enterprise Awards for her work at Caia Park, whilst P&A Group won BITC’s Wales Enterprise Growth Award in 2014.
Alison, tell us about Caia Park Partnership.
The Caia Park Partnership provides tenant support, employment and training to local people. We started out 20 years ago as a grant-funded organisation but have diversified in recent years, developing seven social enterprises and becoming self-sustaining.
Why did you decide to get a mentor?
I was offered a mentor through the Menter Iontach Nua programme. When I met Steve I quickly realised he had business experience from which I could benefit. My primary focus was to keep one of our enterprises, Caia Craft, from folding and it was clear that he’d been through a similar challenge previously. Neither of us had done mentoring before but we had similar styles of working and I saw that we could probably work well together.
How has having a mentor helped you?
Steve has a very practical approach and genuinely wants the partnership to be a success. If he’s helped me with something he demands to see what the impact has been and that holds me to account.
How has the working relationship developed?
It has grown a lot. Steve has been very generous with his time and has also offered support from his wider team, particularly in marketing and finance.
Would you recommend other businesses to seek the support of a mentor?
Definitely: it can be incredibly useful having external, objective support. It has helped me adopt a much more business focused approach. Coming from a third sector background, it’s important if we want to grow a thriving social enterprise sector to become very business savvy.
Do you think having a mentor has made a difference to your business?
A huge difference. We’ve prevented the failure of Caia Craft. We’ve changed the customer base and the way we do things. We have improved our marketing strategy, our productivity and our operational effectiveness. It’s involved so many aspects of the businesses, far more than I first anticipated.
What part will mentoring play in the future?
Steve and I aren’t planning on finishing our partnership any time soon, because it’s been valuable for us both. The winner of the Young Enterprise Award at Social Enterprise Awards 2014 has asked me to be her mentor, so I will become a mentor for the first time too.
Steve, tell us a little about your career background.
P&A has its roots in timber products and now has six divisions, including timber buildings, warehousing and a garden centre. I took over in 2006 and in my first year we went through several ‘disasters’ that really rattled the business – and me personally. We got through the tough times and now P&A Group is a thriving organisation.
What made you get involved as a social enterprise mentor?
Being a family business, supporting community initiatives and charitable causes is second nature. On a personal level, I struggled through the education system. I’ve overcome this through leadership and management training and life experience, and this has left me with a strong desire to help other people succeed.
How would you describe your mentoring relationship?
It’s really relaxed and informal. We meet monthly and Alison has a list of things she wants to talk about which helps keep us focused. She uses me as a sounding board as well as to troubleshoot problem areas. Our conversations have been about improving the professionalism of the business, financial performance, and marketing.
What were your first thoughts about the social enterprise and how you could help?
Initially, I struggled to understand the different aspects of the business and how I might be able to support Alison. I quickly realised that Caia Crafts would be an ideal place to start due to the similarity to our timber business. I’ve also focused on helping Alison to get some systems in place to improve business performance.
How has the experience been for you?
It’s been nearly two years since our first meeting so it’s clear that we must both still be getting something out of it! I’ve found it very rewarding to help someone achieve their potential and to see the impact this has on the community.
How has the mentoring benefited P&A?
It has improved employee morale and pride in our organisation, and has enriched our jobs through team building and improved working relationships. Meeting Alison regularly has made me far more aware of Welsh Government initiatives and even funding opportunities. So mentoring has benefited P&A as well as helping me with my own personal development.
About Caia Park Partnership
Caia Park Partnership provides services, facilities and employment to the residents of Caia Park. Caia Park Partnership delivers a wide range of services including tenancy support, youth work, employment support and lifelong learning opportunities. In addition Wrexham Community Enterprises, its trading, arm provides childcare, textile recycling, catering, wood manufacture, training and consultancy.