Hilary Asumu is an entrepreneur, charity ambassador and mother, with a commitment to create businesses that serve the community. Here she explains how Innovation support has helped her to pivot her business during COVID-19, moving online before launching a new Community Interest Company (CIC).
I originally set up Safehaus UK in 2012.
The idea was to provide childcare services to families across Greater Manchester, including last minute emergency support to help out in a crisis, when there was no alternative and no-one else to turn to. From the start there was an emphasis on working with ethnic communities, as they suffer most in terms of not having family nearby, especially when both parents work shifts.
The idea was based on my own personal experience and the problems my husband and I faced when I was ill in hospital.
The business started doing well but then COVID hit.
Normally I would visit a family who had contacted us about childcare, carry out an assessment and then draw up a care plan. But overnight, face-to-face visits came to an end and we weren’t able to trade because of social distancing rules and the lockdown.
Hilary Asumu, Director and Founder, Safehaus UK
So we decided to completely rethink the business.
This is when I started working with Steph Stafford, Senior Innovation Advisor at the Growth Hub. I’ve enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with advisors from the Growth Hub.
They have helped me every step of the way with my business ideas, from understanding the business environment, to help with my own personal training and signposting me to all the support that is available.
Where Steph has really helped is by encouraging me to take a step back and evaluate what I'm doing more strategically and then set achievable goals.
To get round COVID, I wanted something that was virtual, and I thought going online could be a solution.
I’d seen a gap in the market for accessible online training courses. When I was working with families, especially from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, I’d seen that they lacked certain skills, often around language.
Steph worked with me to create a model that was commercial but also sustainable, mapping out the new offering and defining and developing a compelling value proposition.
We created an online learning centre that offers tutor-led training courses aimed at both adults and children. I spent a lot of time researching the market in order to make sure that the content we offered was new and different.
In early 2021, I received a COVID-19 Small Business Recovery grant which supported the build and the setup of the online platform, and in June the Safehaus UK Learning Centre was launched.
I created the centre because I passionately believe that high quality education should be accessible to everyone and by going online we could achieve this.
This is especially true among black communities who often didn’t access this kind of information, or even think it is geared towards them. Making sure the trainers are from similar backgrounds can help get round this.
I also wanted to provide a space for training providers to offer alternative content, such as material delivered in local Nigerian languages, as well as specialist parenting advice, homework support and first aid courses.
There is a focus on some of the softer skills too, tips on how to navigate the system and claim what is rightfully theirs and knowing your rights when you go to hospital.
Now I think the time is right to take things in a new direction.
I want to keep making a difference, so my next step is to re-focus the business model again, and this time create a Community Interest Company (CIC) to give things more of a community focus. The plan is to incorporate the Learning Centre into the CIC, while still offering the childcare, too.
The idea of a CIC is that all profits are put back into the organisation. Running things this way means that can I get funding and contracts from the NHS, local authorities and private agencies, revenue which I can use to reduce what parents need to pay for childcare.
As a Kidney Care UK ambassador, I’d had some experience working with charities, but it was good to have support from the Hub explain exactly how a CIC works and how it can be a business and a not-for-profit at the same time!