Ailsa Rhodes of The OPAL Project has been named the winner of the Microentrepreneur of the Year (Sustainability) Award in 2016 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards – taking £5,000 prize
When a project helping to reduce loneliness and isolation for over 700 older people a year faced uncertainty about their premises, it could have spelled the end.
But instead, the community entrepreneur and driving force behind the 14-year-old project led a campaign to raise funds to buy an empty pub, The Bedford Arms, and renovate it to become a drop-in centre, offices, and to rent office and event space to bring in income.
Ailsa Rhodes is the manager of the OPAL Project in Leeds (a limited company and registered charity) and has, with the assistance of a supportive board, increased the services the charity offers and the number of over 60s it supports, all while increasing its income.
Now, thanks to their fundraising campaign to buy the Bedford Arms exceeding its target, and with the assistance of a supportive responsible finance provider, Key Fund Investments, OPAL are on track to own their own premises.
And this week OPAL’s Ailsa Rhodes was named the “Microentrepreneur of the Year for Sustainability” in the 2016 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards – a UK award scheme which took place in Manchester on the 8th March.
OPAL have secured over £200,000 to purchase the leasehold and towards renovation of the Bedford Arms – and they’ll benefit from a peppercorn lease until 2042.
Key Fund invested £21,500, which will enable the renovation of the new premises which will also help OPAL to generate income.
The building will be a space for the community, known as the Welcome In Community Centre with a community café for all ages. It will host current services (6 exercise classes, 3 coffee afternoons, 2 lunch clubs, tea dance, computer lessons, Dementia Project, table tennis group, carers group and Drop-in centre) and will partner with local schools, and create social and volunteer opportunities for young people.
OPAL is the only service to the over 60’s in the local community, used by 700 residents.
Turnover for The OPAL Project has increased to £150,000 per year and it has increased staff numbers from 2 to 5 – creating fulfilling jobs. It gives direct support now to over 700 people, more than double the 300 people it formerly supported. And volunteer numbers have grown from 20 to 100.
The growth in demand and number of volunteers shows how effectively OPAL engage with its customers and volunteers. In June 2015 OPAL won an Aviva Award – voted for by the local community and in July 2015 won the Queens Award for Voluntary Service.
Ailsa and the OPAL team regularly feature in the regional news to raise awareness of the project. Ailsa comments, “It’s a privilege to do this work and incredibly exciting to know that once we have the Community Centre up and running, we will be able to do so much more.”
OPAL’s team of hard working staff, volunteers and Board members are “passionate about improving lives,” according to Jane Austin, the Operations Manager of Key Fund Investments Limited.
Their services – including practical support, such as shopping; emotional support with friend schemes; phone checks and peer support; Learning; Health and Wellbeing including hot meals, yoga and gentle exercise classes; information services, benefits support and social activities all reduce social isolation and help older people to feel valued and integrated within the community and live a safe and healthy life.
The impact of OPAL and their impressive record of generating and increasing income have so impressed the judges of the 2016 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards that Ailsa Rhodes has been awarded their “Microentrepreneur of the Year Award for Sustainability” in their March 2016 Awards.
James Pickford, deputy editor of The Financial Times’ FT Money and a judge in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards said, “The breadth of services and support offered by the OPAL Project impressed me but also the fact that they were willing to act entrepreneurially by taking a risk on a property move. This has paid off handsomely by providing more income through rents as well a venue for their work.”
The Award means OPAL will benefit from a prize of £5000 after judges praised Ailsa’s “outstanding work to develop impact and sustainability.”
Ailsa commented “We are a relatively small local charity in Leeds and to receive a national award such as this is phenomenal. It is a testament to the incredibly hard working staff and volunteers of OPAL, as well as to the many people who have given time and money to support us.”
And as the only service for the over 60s in the local community, OPAL’s sustainability is vital for the 700 residents who use its services.
They can look forward to a trip to the Bedford Arms thanks to Ailsa, OPAL’s staff, volunteers and board, and the responsible finance provided by Key Fund.
Responsible Finance have partnerned with the Citi Foundation to bring the global Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards to the UK for the third year. The awards celebrate the economic and social impact of responsible finance providers on the people and places of Britain, and champion the outstanding microentrepreneurs who are creating jobs, services and prosperity in their communities.
This year the prize fund has increased to £65,000 and the Award Winners were announced on the evening of 8th March 2016. More about the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards and this year’s winners.