In the heart of Coventry, The Highlife Centre strives to develop communities, improve social outcomes, and break barriers through three pillars of work:
Youth Leadership Development: Creating opportunities for young people to overcome barriers, empowering and enabling them to be leaders who affect social change.
Community Development: Reducing social isolation and improving cohesion through arts, cultural and heritage events.
Business and Entrepreneurial Development: Support for individuals, social enterprises and community businesses to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to start and grow a business/organisation.
Founded by Christabell Amoakoh, The Highlife Centre has offered culturally appropriate business support for over a decade.
The Highlife Centre: A Business with Purpose
During her time at the Chamber of Commerce, Christabell observed a concerning trend. She noticed that "clients with culturally motivated or culturally inspired businesses were often misunderstood." Whether intentional or not, the lack of understanding of culturally diverse businesses created a gap in the support system. Taking matters into her own hands, she took voluntary redundancy to start The Highlife Centre with a mission to provide business support tailored to those who experience barriers due to cultural differences.
Navigating the Challenges of the Business
Like many charities, The Highlife Centre faced the challenge of relying on grants to sustain its activities. Their reliance on grants meant unstable income streams, being influenced by the aims of external funders, and limitations on their ability to scale their operations and impact on their community. Their need was clear: transition from relying primarily on grants to generating income through trading activities and contracts. Christabell noted, "Organisations need to be creative, innovative and ambitious enough to step out of their comfort zone."
In 2018, she began putting in place plans to make the transition to a more independent business model. However, as 2020 rolled around, those plans had to be paused due to the unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to 2021, and The Highlife Centre was ready to begin working toward its vision.
The organisation won a competitive bid for premises from the local authority, marking a significant step toward their goal of income generation. Still, they required significant upfront investment to scale their operations and establish the premises as a sustainable asset within the community. This necessity brought Christabell to Flexible Finance through The Ubele Initiative.
Seeking Alternative Funding Through Flexible Finance
The process of securing loan finance can often be daunting. To smooth the process, the Ubele team was on hand to help navigate the assessment process. Christabell says the support she received was a crucial element of their success. "The support from Ubele was amazing," she recalled, emphasising the clarity of the process and the invaluable patience of the team.
There is an element of due diligence required in securing a loan, and organisations are asked for paperwork such as their annual accounts, cashflow forecasts and expected income streams. Christabell explains that whilst there was an element of required paperwork that was eased by having oversight of business records, "Because we are on top of our work... it wasn't that tasking or laborious."
Through Flexible Finance, The Highlife Centre secured £230k to invest in the organisation. With the finances secured, she immediately allocated the funds towards hiring an Operations Manager, a Centre Administrator, marketing, and rent over a three-year period while making the transition to becoming financially resilient. These investments aim to strengthen their infrastructure, streamline operations, and enhance outreach, with the ultimate goal of maximising their impact in the communities they serve. Hiring an Operations Manager, in particular, enabled better oversight of projects, ensuring that initiatives are executed efficiently. Investing in marketing boosted the centre's visibility and attracted more people and businesses who could benefit from their services.
Advice to Prospective Applicants
Christabell offers insights from her journey to others contemplating applying for loan finance. "Take a step back and reflect on your organisation." She emphasises the importance of documentation, a clear vision, and ensuring that returns from investment propel the organisation forward. She also suggested a 'conversational approach' to fundraising, underlined by the fact Christabell discussed and refined her plans with Ubele before submitting an application for funding. She notes, "When it's just a blank application that you submit without conversation... it's much more difficult for funders to understand."
The Highlife Centre’s experience of obtaining loan finance through Flexible Finance underscores what can be possible with this type of business and financial support.
For social enterprises and charities led by Black and racially minoritised teams working to make a difference in their communities, Flexible Finance offers not just financial support but also a partner in their journey of growth and impact.
To discuss whether you're eligible for a loan of up to £1.5m, match grant funding and application support through this scheme, email email@example.com.