Working in consumer PR, Natalie found it highly stressful and challenging, struggling to avoid the inevitable burnout. After suffering from a severe mental health breakdown in early 2019, Natalie used the COVID lockdown period to think about what she really wanted.
Natalie discovered it is not uncommon to find people with similar experiences, and the best aid for them is pretty simple - conversation, community and coffee.
Something so simple can help somebody feel allot better about problems they might have. Determined to help herself and those faced with similar issues, Natalie came up with the idea of setting up a social enterprise – to train and employ vulnerable adults (especially those struggling with their mental health) whilst serving the community with coffee and conversation. Grounded MCR was born.
With more than 15 years of experience working in food, drink and retail, Natalie knew how a street food business operated. However, being a new entrepreneur presented her with lots of challenges. When she was introduced to the EnterprisingYou programme by a business coach from the GC Business Growth Hub (BGH) in December 2022, she knew right away that it was the programme for her.
From drafting a business plan, gaining a business mentor, applying for grants, and launching a crowdfunding campaign, Natalie and her business coach from the EnterprisingYou programme worked together to grow the business, offering Mancunians a sense of calm through a cup of coffee.
Natalie, can you tell us your story on changing from a professional PR consultant to a Founder of a social enterprise?
I have a consumer PR background and spent about 15 years working with food, drink and retail clients in a PR agency. The best thing about PR is that you learn so many different skills, you become everything from an accountant to a creative to HR personnel. All those skills are highly transferable.
However, PR is a very stressful career, and not a lifetime career for me. After inevitable burnout, I suffered from a severe mental health breakdown in early 2019. To be honest, this was a wake-up call and the recovery period plus Covid, gave me the chance to think about what I wanted to do.
Having worked in the food and drink industry for a long time I’d always fancied having a street food business. However, what motivated me to start Grounded MCR is simple: I wanted to help myself and those experiencing mental health problems, be able to work on their own terms. Grounded MCR is a social enterprise that serves locally sourced food and drinks from a bespoke trike. The business employs vulnerable adults suffering from poor mental health and is currently developing a community cafe and event space in south Manchester to offer barista training, help develop new skills and combat social isolation.
It has been proven time and again that working outside and having conversations with a diverse range of others can help those struggling with poor mental health. We allow our employees freedom to work in a way that suits them – because we know working in an office nine to five, isn’t for everyone. We encourage our employees to bring their true selves to work, to believe in themselves and their ability to contribute to society.
We wanted to start our business in the community we live in, and our local park needed a cafe facility, so we built a bespoke trike and started our social enterprise in June 2021.
Wasn’t starting a street food business during the pandemic quite challenging?
Actually, it was beneficial for us, the park was busy because that was the only place anyone could go during lockdown. There are lots of dog walkers and we have lots of families - we all know parents need a lot of coffee! Once word spread, we found a very supportive community - people really want us to be there. And that’s not just for the coffee but also the conversation and community -much craved during the pandemic.
How did you find out about the EnterprisingYou Programme?
We did an event in Stockport, just before Christmas 2022 and Gemma from BGH happened to be passing and had a chat with us. I told her about us being a social enterprise and how we needed some help as we wanted to grow. She introduced me to the EnterprisingYou programme to me and suggested I sign up. I was keen to work with a mentor and she came to me at the right moment, I pretty much signed up on the spot.
What kind of support did you get from the EnterprisingYou programme?
I really wanted some help to find funding for the business. We are a CIC and funding is available, but it takes a long time to find the right funding for you and then fill in all the applications. It was becoming a full-time job, so I wanted to see if I could specifically get some help around that.
I also wanted to understand more about business plan writing and forecasting sales. I could spend a hundred hours a week on business, but I also have two children, so I need to try to get a better work-life balance. Otherwise, I will miss my children growing up and that is not I want.
I was keen to have a mentor – to be able to check in with someone who would listen to my concerns and provide solutions or refer me to courses that might have answers. And that is precisely what EnterprisnigYou did for me. It is exactly what I needed at that moment in time.
Once I signed up to the program, I was paired with a business coach who assisted me in with tweaks to my business plan. Additionally, he provided valuable guidance in the grant application process by utilising his contacts and directing me towards suitable grant options. He advised me on the proper format and wording for a successful application and helped me understand the importance of tailoring each application to increase the likelihood of success.
The workshops were great, especially the TikTok marketing one, very insightful. With so many years in PR and marketing, I thought I’d pick up TikTok quickly but hearing an expert give specific tips on TikTok for my business, was invaluable.
The HR and Sales courses have also helped me think differently and are all very manageable. You do not have to go and sit in a classroom for five hours at a time; it is just an hour or two online. The programme is user-friendly and is geared to seeing you succeed.
Can you tell us more about your crowdfunding campaign?
We never really wanted to do a Crowdfunder, but it’s such a difficult time in hospitality, as we all face the cost-of-living crisis. We have found that coffee is starting to be considered a luxury - people are spending a lot less money. But at the same time, there is solid community support here and locals want an all-year-round café and toilet. We now have a chance to convert a shipping container cafe into a barista training centre, sustainably-focused, Pay as You Feel café and mini allotment to allow us to train more people and support our community.
This space is about as much of a community cafe as you could imagine, and to make it special, we need to raise a bit of capital. We are excited to have Aviva Insurance backing the project - they’re match funding, pound for pound, which is incredible. With the backing of a big corporation, it has become a more achievable target.
Without EnterprisingYou, I wouldn’t be launching a crowdfunding campaign. The programme gave me the confidence and the skill set to make it possible. Obviously, we don’t yet know how successful we will be, but I feel like I am in a much better position to launch the crowdfunding campaign now, than before I joined the EnterprisingYou programme.
What else does 2023 have in store for you?
Currently, our primary focus is on the launch of the community café, but we also will be opening another small outpost later this year.
We also have a massive, yellow 67-seater bus we won in a competition and want to make it into a headquarters/barista training centre. Hopefully, that will allow us to train as many vulnerable adults as possible.
Would you recommend the EnterprisingYou programme to other self-motivated entrepreneurs?
I highly recommend this program to anyone who is motivated to succeed. It's essential to have support, especially when it's already funded. This program is a bargain because it's both free and offers a lot of value. Being surrounded by business experts has been invaluable to me. I have gained better contacts as well as a stronger understanding of financial planning, HR, and marketing. Without this program, I wouldn't have been able to reach this point.
You can find out more about Natalie and Grounded MCR here:
Website: Grounded MCR - Home
Facebook: Grounded MCR | Manchester | Facebook
Crowdfunding Campaign: Donate here