A membership organisation that helps to tackle social isolation among older people, Heywood, Middleton & Rochdale Circle isn’t the kind of business you would normally associate with innovation.
But with some creative thinking on a limited budget, HMR Circle has boosted turnover forecasts by 15% following support from the Business Growth Hub.
To help the company build on its existing service offer and explore potential new revenue streams that would help secure its future, HMR Circle Director Mark Wynn wanted to develop an innovative mindset within the business that harnessed creative thinking. Not just in the range and diversity of activities, but also the ‘under the bonnet’ stuff, such as developing their own bespoke CRM system and innovative marketing techniques.
Mark attended a series of innovation masterclasses at the Business Growth Hub which gave him the opportunity to discuss his ideas with a wider audience, as well as giving him access to a range of business tools and techniques.
He also began working with one of the Hub’s innovation advisors, Karen Dudley, who explains: “A company like HMR Circle isn’t the kind of business you would normally associate with exploring innovation but Mark is very forward-thinking, and he could see the potential benefits of taking a range of masterclasses.”
Mark’s business was shortlisted in the Innovation Showcase at Venturefest Manchester 2017, again not a normal setting for the caring profession, and won second place in the growth category.
“It’s about thinking outside the box,” he explains. “Just because we’re not a manufacturing business, or a high tech or digital industry, doesn’t mean that we can’t be innovative. We believe that innovation is a mind-set. You have to constantly strive to improve and develop and as we have a limited budget, we have to be really creative with how we design solutions.”
Mark adds: “Some innovations are incredibly obvious once you do them. In the sector we work in, there is a growing frustration around poor attendances at organised events.
“So we simply asked people what events they would like to see and do and then organised them.
“Now, alongside traditional events such as meeting up for a coffee, going out for meals or to a show, HMR Circle organises more adventurous activities such as hot air ballooning, indoor sky diving and even abseiling down Rochdale Town Hall!
“And guess what? Our attendances are massive! The simple act of asking people what they would like to do is a bit of a cultural shift in a lot of sectors and, as I mentioned, seemingly obvious. But sometimes the obvious is the most ignored.
“Behind the simple is the more technological, with the CRM system we have developed allowing us to track behaviours and trends, capture output and outcomes, and have a complete picture of the positive benefits our service delivers.”
The innovation masterclasses also led to an introduction to Brunel University and the opportunity to tender for new business.
Brunel University was looking for partners to help deliver an innovative new befriending service called Give and Take Care. The service is a time banking scheme, whereby volunteers give time to older people, from shopping to simply spending time having a chat, and at the same time build up their own credits. They can then cash in the credits later in life should they ever need any support, with the scheme supplying someone to help them.
HMR Circle successfully pitched for the contract, which has since helped to boost turnover forecasts by 15% and allowed the company to take on a fifth member of the team to manage the new project.
In the last 12 months, HMR Circle has grown its team from two full-time and two part-time, to five full-time employees. All of the new employees are local people, including the new locality coordinator for the Give and Take Care project.
“Winning the contract has put us on a much more sustainable footing,” continues Mark. “It’s given us real financial security and the momentum to start tendering for wider opportunities.”
The company has also started to deliver support to Trafford Housing Trust, and is also looking to work directly with other housing associations, local authorities and the NHS, while also exploring ways of licensing its model to other deliverers around the UK.
The growth of HMR Circle has also helped its existing members, offering them access to a wider range of support and opportunities, while they have also reported a significant 14.4% drop in the visits they need to make to their GP.
“HMR Circle is a very ambitious, fast evolving and innovative CIC that not only meets the needs of its current members, but is able to identify and exploit market opportunities too,” adds Karen. “Within their sector and market place HMR Circle is gaining worldwide acclaim for their innovative approach to tackling social isolation.”
The Circle model has attracted national and international interest and is now being replicated in other areas. During lockdown, HMR Circle adapted its services to continue to support its 1,000-strong membership.