Does it matter WHY we help our communities?

Andy Preston and his Fork In The Road team

Does it matter WHY we help our communities?

North East businessman behind charity restaurant says every business should give away some of their profits

The CSR side of our North East businesses – what we do to help the people who buy our products – can probably be split into two camps.

There are those who genuinely go out of their way to help the struggling communities and charities around them and those who do it because they think it is a good thing to be associated with.

But one of the region’s most high-profile CSR advocates says all companies should give a percentage of profits to charity – and he doesn’t care about their motives.

Andy Preston, chairman of the national CEO Sleepout campaign and of the Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, set up The Fork In The Road restaurant in Middlesbrough, run by catering professionals who mentor trainees including ex-offenders, those in recovery from addiction and the long-term unemployed.

The unique restaurant also helps to fund Bar Zero, a dry bar situated upstairs that provides an important social facility for Teesside’s recovery community.

Preston told BQ: “There are a very few charity-focussed business being set up, but a growing number of businesses have a strong charitable aim, while regular businesses are becoming a little bit more community-focused.

 “I think some are becoming aware of the power they have to influence the community in a positive way, while others are being shamed into it. If their rivals are maybe giving a small percentage of their profits to the local youth club others think they should too, and rightly so.

 “Why businesses support charities is down to a combination of three things – some do it purely because they want to do some good and don’t even seek publicity for their actions.

 “Some do it because they want to be seen to do good. They think it’s good for their brand and for their profits – and I think that’s fine.

“And I think some do it because they feel it helps them with staff recruitment and retention. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter, as long as some money flows from businesses to the community then it’s redistributing wealth and prosperity, which can only be a good thing.

“Personally, I think every single business should give a percentage of profits to charity. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t do that.”

It will be interesting to see how other businesses take to the Fork In The Road model. At the moment some can’t see past Preston’s own considerable resources, but perhaps they are missing the point. He can make a big impact on his community on a scale that can change a town centre. But a few hundred pounds can make enough of a difference to make it worthwhile.

Preston told us: “Starting small is dead easy – firms can organise  staff fundraising event or get involved in a sponsored event. You don’t have to have huge resources to give to your community. Even £500 can make a big difference to a local community group or charity.

 “And smaller businesses can join forces to form a bigger group to make a real impact, much the same way as Teesside Philanthropic Foundation works.”

 The restaurant is also very much a going concern, and is now Tripadvisor’s number one spot among its Middlesbrough rivals, topping the online review website’s list of 279 Middlesbrough restaurants and food outlets.

“There’s been an incredible effort by everyone behind the scenes in terms of marketing, creating a place that looks great, creating a fantastic atmosphere and serving great food,” said Preston.

“We’re incredibly proud to be changing lives whilst serving awesome food. We set out to be the best restaurant on Teesside and serving fantastic food is naturally a big part of that.

“But I think our positive reviews are also about our USP that we are creating training and employment opportunities that are giving people a chance to change their lives. We’ve quickly become part of the fabric of the town. People like what we do and what we stand for.

“When you’re setting up any kind of new business, you have to seek to win some business from others – and to do that you have to do things better than they do.

“We’re building the brand and it’s now known for its quality, so that’s really positive. We’re looking at the “What next?” but that might mean just consolidating what we’ve got to ensure we have a robust, sustainable venture that continues to change lives.”

“We’ve held a number of really successful events at Bar Zero, while it’s proved a particularly popular destination on Orange Pip Market days. We’re trialling new things all the time. Our aim is to have it as a regular venue that people call in for a non-alcoholic drink.

“In the Tees area there isn’t a really strong single recovery community, so reaching them isn’t going to be simple but we’re making inroads, and we’re reworking our offering to do that.”

Along with money from CEO Sleepout, The Fork in the Road and upstairs Bar Zero project gained funding from Public Health England, input charity Recovery Connections and Middlesbrough Council’s Public Health Department.