Welcome back to the FuseBox, our interview series where we speak to good people at the front end of the Social Enterprise sector. If 2020 is the gift that just keeps on giving then the least we can do is bring more compelling stories from the SocEnt sector for you to get your teeth into.
This month we interview Jill Wheeler from Family Fund Business Services. Like many other service-providing organisations 2020 has been a huge challenge and one which has driven home the dire need for socially minded organisations to step up and provide a fair service for those people in greatest need. With the use of food banks on the rise and incomes being squeezed, resulting in the impact of appliance poverty being felt more greatly, operations like Family Fund Business Services are needed like never before and seeing a huge rise in demand.
Without any more rambling, let’s dive into our chat with Jill. You can also find out more about Family Fund Business Services here
Who are you and how did you get here?
Hi, I’m Jill Wheeler, Managing Director of Family Fund Business Services (FFBS), the trading subsidiary of Family Fund, a national charity supporting families raising disabled and seriously ill children. I’ve worked for FFBS for the past 6 years, taking up the role of MD three and a half years ago. Prior to that, I worked across public, private and not for profit sectors in a number of finance and business development roles. I started my career with the NHS, as a graduate trainee in financial management, which has invariably given me a strong sense of financial acumen, which I have relied upon throughout my career. But business is not just about finance, it’s about vision, strategy, communication, common goals and loads of common sense!
For those who may not know, how would you pitch the work that Family Fund Business Services does?
In simple terms FFBS offers a group procurement service supporting the public and not for profit sectors. We contract with a broad range of goods and services suppliers, to deliver essential everyday items to those most in need, across our society. Using the collective buying power of our customers, we are able to negotiate discounts with some of the UK’s biggest suppliers. We share these discounts with our customers, ensuring that they are provided with consistency of product and service alongside tangible value for money. Our work creates social value, not only for our customers, but also for our parent charity Family Fund as our profit donations support their work, to help in excess of 100,000 families every year who face the very real financial, social and emotional challenge of bringing up a disabled or seriously ill child.
Would you love to see a day when the Family Fund Business Services isn’t needed? Or do you see your role to disrupt and shake up the way these services are provided?
What really struck me when I started to work in the charitable sector, was how insular some organisations were. Having worked for DWP and Local Government and being part of those early days when departments began to work together to deliver efficiencies, I saw first-hand how by embracing collaborative ways of working, everyone could benefit. So I see our role as bringing together the not for profit sector to collaborate for the greater good.
Individually our customers’ spend would not attract the supplier terms we are able to secure by aggregating their procurement needs into one single contract, so I think for the foreseeable future there will continue to be a need for our services. Besides, we love working with our customers to help them to help more. It’s true that we are “better together”.
COVID has had a huge impact across the whole economy and presented operational, psychological, and financial challenges many have struggled to cope with. What has 2020 taught you and the team at the Family Fund Business Services?
Covid has taught us to expect the unexpected and always be prepared! Investments in our technology over the past two years meant that the team were able to transition effortlessly to home working in March. This ensured that we could not only maintain our service levels but also increase our business volumes by up to 600% in some cases, to support our customers and their beneficiaries though the pandemic. As a nation we saw a mass closure of “non-essential” stores during lockdown, including many clothing stores; and the installation of certain household appliances was forced to pause. However, for someone fleeing domestic abuse, access to clothing is absolutely essential; and for someone trying to self-isolate at home, doing so without working appliances to cook meals or store food, poses a further risk to their health. What is essential when you are facing hardship is certainly broader than we all think, and throughout the last seven months, the FFBS team has worked tirelessly to ensure those communities worst affected by Covid, have been able to access the financial help they need, quickly and effectively.
We have strengthened relationships with our suppliers and worked in partnership with all of our stakeholders to deliver the best possible service in the most difficult of times. But most of all, the team have pulled together to support one another, in ways which I could not have imagined, and I am immensely proud of them all.
You mentioned recent investments in your technology and service. Any examples you can share?
During the latter part of 2019 we developed a partnership with SVM, to help address a gap in our provision for local authorities and charities. SVM is a voucher provider based in South Yorkshire, providing supermarket and clothing retailer vouchers. Whilst food banks were doing a fantastic job in many areas, there was evidence that some were beginning to suffer from shortages and fresh food was often impossible for them to source and distribute quickly. We thought that, by offering supermarket vouchers local authorities would have an alternative to local food bank provision and it was support which could be distributed quickly and effectively, to alleviate immediate need. Little did we know, just how important our partnership with SVM would be! Since January 2020 we have distributed over £2 million worth of supermarket vouchers on behalf of our customers in response to the pandemic. We are continuing to work closely with SVM, supporting a number of local authorities with Covid Hardship schemes and school meal vouchers and this work will continue well into 2021.
Apart from the Family Fund Business Services, do you have any favourite social enterprises?
I’m a huge fan of all social enterprise initiatives. From the days of the old co-operatives, social enterprise is rooted in society and there’s nothing better than seeing people come together to make a difference to lives of many.
It’s a classic interview question, but where would you like to see the Family Fund Business Services and the Social Enterprise Sector in five years?
I’d like to see us working with even more organisations to achieve an even greater level of social value for everyone. After all, the more buying power we have, the greater the collective benefits. By buying social, we are all winners and that’s something to celebrate.
What are you and your team most proud of?
I think the team are most proud of achieving our goal of £1 million profit a year ahead of target (in April this year) and also of the way they have adapted to and embraced home working, even though at times it has been challenging for those who thrive on social interaction. I am tremendously proud of the team and what we have achieved together over the past three years. More importantly, in working collaboratively with our customers we have returned over £1m to their procurement funds, helping them to help around 6,800 additional UK households with essential goods and services. And delivering social value every day, is something to be really proud of.
Do you have a business or life hero and do you think they would be proud of the work you do?
I don’t have a business hero per se, but admire the work of many; Bill Gates, Karen Brady, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, to name but a few and they have all added so much to the modern business world. But in business and in life, I think it is more important to have strong ethical values, drive, commitment and respect for those around you than strive to be someone you are not. I am proud of the work we deliver as a team and that’s more than good enough for me.
The best piece of work or life advice you ever received is....
I’m not sure anyone has given me this exact advice but I have two fundamental mantras. Communication is the key and Life is all about balance. Both are difficult to get right, but are vital in creating a cohesive and happy environment in which people can thrive.
We'd like to thank Jill and the team at Family Fund Business Services for taking the time to contribute to our blog, if you'd like to take part in the FuseBox blog then please follow us on Twitter @FuseEvents_UK and drop us a message, or alternatively please drop the team a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
We're passionate about supporting and promoting the Social Enterprise sector, so if you have a story to tell or something inspiring to share then please get in touch.