Inspire Me to be a... Social Entrepreneur


In the 'Inspire Me' blog series, we interview people in different careers so you can get an insight into their role, and see if it is something you might like to do too.

This time, we spoke to Andy, a Social Entrepreneur (and co-Director of BrightSparks!).

What is your job title?

Don't really like job titles that much. They assume a singular function which couldn't be further from the truth when you run a start up.

If I have to, I refer to myself as Managing Director but I like to think of my role more as Chief Do Gooder

What does your job involve?

I'd say the most important thing my role involves is setting the direction for where our company is going so that it can achieve its social aims. That's about being able to see and share with staff, customers and partners a strong vision for why we exist and how we can help. 

My job also involves a lot of trying to convince other people to give us money to do the things that we do.

What made you decide to do this role?

I have a formula when I start new jobs. In the first couple of weeks in a new role I make a long list of about 20 - 30 things I want to achieve in the role and then I crack on with achieving them. When I've acheived all or most of them its time to move on. It keeps me focused and ensures that I don't get bored in a job.

However, this means that I have changed jobs every 2-3 years throughout my career usually from one social purpose organisation to another (except for a brief flirtation with the financial service industry which liked me so much it decided to go on the worst downturn in a century right about the time I got started). So when I got to the end of my last list at a great children's disability charity called Family Fund, I had a decision to make. I was at Director level in a large national charity, so if I was going to move on and up it would probably have had to have been a CEO or Managing Director role in a charity organisation somewhere else (probably in London). This new role probably would only keep me interested for another 2-3 years so I thought... it's time! 

See, I'm not just a list maker in new job roles, I have a master 'to achieve list' for my career and, for a very long time, starting up my own social purpose company has been at the top of this list. So thats what I did. I quit Family Fund and started Bright Bid (BrightSparks predecessor) which is great because now I don't need to move jobs, I can just start new social purpose projects and businesses that keep me interested!

How did you get into this role? e.g. training, work experience, volunteering…

At University I studied Sports Science. I can honestly say that in my career to date I can count on one hand the number of times I've used the knowledge acquired from that degree! However, because I studied sport at university my class was targeted by an American Soccer Company called MLS Camps. After uni they basically fly you out to the States to travel around coaching football to a load of rich kids during the summer holidays. It was awesome! A really great way to travel, meet new people and get some great experience of being chucked in at the deep end and improvising your way with a load of very demanding parents, young people and community organisations. 

So when I got back from doing about 18 months in the States, I basically used the skills and experience that I'd gained from working with children and young people in the States to blag myself a part time job as a college Lecturer at my old college in Barnsley. In truth, they were looking for anyone to stand at the front of a class for 6 months to fill in until they recruited to a post and I was looking for as little responsibility as possible so it fitted nicely. Reassuring right!

From there, I managed to convince a supply teaching agency that they should let me loose as a supply teacher in schools throughout Yorkshire (despite not having a teaching qualification) which they did. I managed about 12 months or so until I decided that I am a terrible teacher and didn't really like schools that much.

I used this experience to get myself what I consider to be my first proper job which was Positive Futures Officer for Hull City Council. This role was all about working with young people involved in crime, drugs and antisocial behaviour and using sport and other positive activities to steer them toward more positive futures. This was a great role, I got to go snowboarding, rock climbing on overnight residential experiences all paid for by a Home Office grant! I also got to see the difference that you can make in people's lives when you invest some time and effort in helping them them to overcome the barriers that they face. This is where my passion for social purpose projects and organisations was born. They also gave me free reign to develop the project how I wanted which meant that I quickly learned a lot of lessons from getting things wrong and a lot about management of large amounts of grant funding. Inside 3 years I'd progressed into a middle management role and had operational management of 5 different projects worth over £3m from different external grant funding sources. This role pretty much set me up to be able to access lots of other more senior management roles in local government including;

- Extended Schools Manager for Leeds City Council 

- Childcare Market Development Manager for Leeds City Council

- Alcohol and Substance Misuse Project Manager for Wakefield Council

- Programme Manager for Wakefield Council

- Children's Commissioning Manager for Wakefield Council

I then moved into the charity sector in 2013 as Director of Business Development for Family Fund before founding BrightSparks in 2016.

What’s the best thing about the role?

Being able to see a problem in the world that needs fixing and then working with really clever, talented and passionate folk to work out how to fix it, or at least improve it. 

What’s the worst thing about the role?

Working in a perpetual climate of austerity.

It just means that there is so little resource to go around and that we have to fight so hard to win new customers and acquire new funding to support our services. It also means that the people that we want to help the most (the most vulnerable in society) find it even hard to improve their situations. 

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to do the same role?

Yes I do actually. Read my new blog called "Five things I've learned as a social entrepreneur".

Are there any Brightsparks courses that you think would be useful to someone wanting to do the role?

Essential Skills for Working With Children and Young People

Skills for Employability

Introduction to Social Enterprise Start Up

Website Development and Digital Marketing for Social Enterprise and Community Business/Groups

Fundraising for Social Enterprise and Community Business

Commissioner’s Guide to Tendering

Where to Start with Commissioning and Procurement

Evidencing Social Impact

We're always looking for more inspiring people to interview for this series. Whatever your voluntary or paid role, our readers would love to hear about it!

Please get in touch to share your story.