EDEL HARRIS ~ CEO CORNERSTONE

I heard Edel speak at a recent Women in Business lunch in Glasgow and was impressed by her personal story ( a woman having survived in the Metropolitan Police is admirable in itself without considering her other achievements!), her clarity of vision for Cornerstone and her explanation of how profits need to be made in the ‘not for profit‘ sector of the economy.

I spoke to Edel and first of all got some background information about Cornerstone.
Cornerstone is one of Scotland’s largest charities and a leading provider of services for people with disabilities and other support needs. Founded by Nick Baxter in 1980, when he brought together a group of parents and professionals who were concerned about the lack and quality of services available to people with learning disabilities, Cornerstone now supports 1,249 people, operates 197 residential services and supported accommodation sites, employs over 1,300 staff and has a turnover in excess of £28 million. By any standards this is a large organisation.

And how is the organisation funded?
“96% of the income comes from the public sector as we have contracts with the public sector to provide care services across Scotland. 4% comes from other sources and we aim to increase this over the coming years, particularly as local authorities are likely to be making spending cuts across all sectors and this is bound to have an impact of contracts for care services.”

I was interested to hear you say that you disliked the term ‘not for profit‘ in relation to social enterprises and charitable organisations such as Cornerstone. Could you explain?

“Many charities don’t like the word profit but like every other business if we don’t make a profit then we don’t have a business. It is important that we are financially secure. It is what happens to the profit that distinguishes social enterprise from purely commercial operations. All of our profits are re-invested in Cornerstone to improve the quality of care services we are able to provide. While we are, quite rightly, limited to the amount of money we can raise by activities that are not considered core to our operation as a registered charity, we are looking at a number of ways to raise our income.”
“Firstly we are putting a larger resource into fund raising. Until now this hasn’t been a major source of income. We are aiming to raise £1.5 million, which in relation to our total turnover of approaching £30 million is a small proportion.”

“Secondly we are changing the structure of the organisation to allow us to compete for more specialist care contracts. In the past everything has been managed from our headquarters in Aberdeen. We are now looking to employ 4 regional managers across Scotland, who will been responsible for the operation within their area, and specialists in Employment Training, Childrens Services and Community Justice who can work across the whole of the country to help us access contracts in these more specialist, and often more lucrative, areas.”

“And we are also looking at establishing stand alone businesses that can operate on a purely commercial basis. These businesses will have more freedom than Cornerstone in terms of the their operation and the profits they generate will be gifted back to Cornerstone. Cornerstone’s social enterprise company, Corners Turned Ltd, was established in early 2009 to provide financial support to enable us to support even more people with disabilities and other support needs. We already have a number of businesses operating under our newly formed Social Enterprise, Corners Turned Ltd., retail outlets Gift Corner in Stonehaven and Coffee Corner in Irvine, Woodview Embroidery Services and Bennachie Upholstery services in Aberdeen. Some of these businesses, as well as generating a profit will provide valuable training and work opportunities for people with disabilities. Clearly here the success of these operations will be judged differently, with the training opportunities offered being as, if not more, important than the profits they make.”

“Some businesses will be developed and run on a wholly commercial basis. For example we are working with Aberdeen University in a new business venture under the company name Technabling – developing an intelligent software led assistive technology product and we are selling our expertise in training to help care workers gain their SVQ qualifications as we are now a fully accredited SQA centre.”

“Looking further ahead we are developing a product that will provide support for older people who want to stay in their own homes rather than move into residential care and a direct payment support service, where we can help individuals of all ages put together their own care packages. It is possible now to use the Direct Payment and Independent Living Fund and In Control to employ carers and source care services but since this takes people into areas of employment law and police disclosures many people choose to use a single care provider, like Cornerstone. What we would like to do is provide services for individuals that would support and advise them if they did want to design their own care package.”

Thank you to Edel for taking the time to talk to the3rdi and to explain how her highly successful social enterprise operates and is looking to develop.

There are lots of ways you can support Cornerstone, either individually, with friends and family or through your company. You can give a donation, your time, your energy or the support of your company. And Cornerstone needs volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life to add value to services and help enhance the lives of the people they support. Just a few hours a week could not only change the life of someone with disabilities and other support needs, it could change yours.

Visit http://www.cornerstone.org.uk/ for more details.

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