Camphill Communities of Ireland

Case Study

“I’ve learned the importance of positivity.
Positivity produces energy.
Energy produces the determination.
Determination produces results.”

– Shane, Back2New Programme Participant

BNest Incubator Programme 2017/2018 Participant
Back2New is an award-winning community furniture upcycling project based in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, which provides work experience and training for long tern unemployed individuals.

Back2New upcycles used and unwanted furniture within the Limerick community – re-designing and re-imagining each piece whilst creating a brand new bespoke item and reducing waste destined for landfill.

The Challenge

While providing training on a pilot furniture upcycling programme in 2012 in Askeaton, Co. Limerick, Michaela Donegan immediately saw the potential and possibilities to develop the project.

She felt that the value both to the participants and the environment was not being properly recognised, as Back2New Upcycling was always viewed as a “project” and not a “commercial business”.

Evolving Back2New into a Social Enterprise was a chance to increase sustainability and generate full and part-time employment for current participants of the TUS programme.
Also, while tackling the issue of social isolation experienced by many long-term unemployed individuals, Back2New new social enterprise business model was to include regular training in upcycling clothing and furniture to members of the general public along with growing awareness in the area of environmental sustainability to the community.
The Journey
“We didn’t take part in any other development programme of this kind before.

We didn’t get a place in the first incubator programme in 2016, so I attended some of BNest’s open events in the following months.

I saw BNest, as an opportunity for us to get an external support to develop the project, so I made sure to reapply in the following year.”

When joining the BNest programme in September 2017, Back2New worked from a workshop with no dedicated retail space for sales. The main goal was to develop the social enterprise and open the retail shop:
“We needed to get more exposure to get sales, so we could invest the money back into the project”, says Michaela.
For Michaela, the biggest long-term benefits of the programme were the information she acquired on range of topics from marketing to finance, as well as practical, individual support received.
Peer aspect of the programme was also noteworthy:
““It was excellent to have a chill out space at Nexus for the group to discuss projects, suggest possible ideas and growth opportunities – basically just helping each other out. “

One of the highlights of the 6-month programme for Michaela was the design thinking workshop along with the advice of not to wait until your social enterprise idea is perfected before taking that next step.
BNest Impact
Shortly after joining the BNest programme Back2New acquired a long-term access to a premise in the town of Newcastle West. While opening the shop was on the cards for a long time, Michaela admits participation in BNest programme encouraged her to take that step:
“We’ve spent a long time thinking about this idea, what the shop was going to look like, planning every detail and trying to make it perfect. BNest gave me the courage to act on it. I thought – let’s just open it and we can fix and learn as we go.

Opening the shop was an important milestone in developing a sustainable business model – all proceeds from sales go back to the project.

It was also a great motivational boost for the Back2New participants – people walking into the shop are amazed by the quality and craftsmanship of the pieces displayed.

Running the retail shop also expanded the range of skills the training programme can teach – there is a lot of new tasks and duties to be done – from sales to marketing to administration.

Michaela also admits BNest programme had an impact on her personal journey:

“I’m starting a postgraduate course ‘Creativity and Change’ in Cork Institute of Technology in September.

BNest motivated me again to continue to explore what I love – changing things through creativity!

The Next Challenge
Michaela has many plans for the future:

“Too many, that’s my problem. I’d love to add clothing to our upcycling offerings. But I understand I can’t do everything straight away. You can juggle everything, but you can only do it for so long. Expanding our offerings means another, bigger premises and extra staff to fill different roles, so we need to plan this carefully.”

Back2New’s next goal is to establish their brand a little bit more:

“Marketing was one of the biggest learnings on BNest programme. There is still loads to do, as we are not in the full swing yet, but we know how hugely important it is to our project. There is a huge potential in it, and we are exploring what it could possibly be.”

At the moment sales are carried out by TUS workers with the support of the TUS Team Leader. Back2New wish to employ permanent staff members within the premises to create local employment and consistency for the customers.
Recommendation
I would highly recommend the BNest incubator programme – it absolutely exceeded our expectations! It provides an excellent source of information and support. Peer learning was very valuable.