Boston Body Hub
When social entrepreneurs Debra O’Neil and Mervyn Williams needed funding for a planned Community Interest Company (CIC,) their first port of call was Charity Bank. Sadly, Charity Bank’s lending criteria does not extend to pre-start-up enterprises. Fortunately they were referred to Foundation East. Thanks to the Foundation East loan, further financing and Debra and Mervyn’s hard work and diligence, Boston Body Hub now exists. Indeed, by filling a gap in healthy living provision in an area with a higher than national average level of obesity, inactivity and smoking related health issues, Boston Body Hub is showcasing a local approach to a national problem that could be rolled out regionally …
Shocked by learning that activity levels within families in the Boston district of Lincolnshire are amongst the lowest in the country, local entrepreneurs and fitness experts Debra O’Neil and Mervyn Williams were moved to take action. Working with the local community, they identified what types of services or support the area needed to deal with the associated health and social issues and they designed and developed an enterprise to provide such services: an affordable, customer-focused, accessible community gym and healthy café called Boston Body hub.
“Finding funding to start such an enterprise was not easy. We needed enough to cover premises (including rental deposit and improvements), equipment deposits and working capital. When we contacted Foundation East, we were feeling extremely frustrated at various funding sources falling through,” advises Debra.
“Val Jarrett, our local loans manager at Foundation East, got back to us immediately upon our enquiry. She was honest, direct, supportive and kind. She could not have been more responsive. She even came to visit us in our home late on a Friday afternoon. By the Monday morning we had provided everything she had asked for and within a week had confirmed she was willing to put our application to the organisation’s loan panel,” Debra adds.
“Debra and Mervyn showed such great determination and dedication to get this social enterprise running. Their ability to link with (and strong connections within) the community and NHS representatives, their skills and ability to deliver the plan, which was solid, plus their strong experience in hiring and managing volunteers persuaded me that this was a wise investment,” advises Val.
Unfortunately for Debra and Mervyn, their initial application had been for funding to match another local finance provider’s. As Val was about to present the case to the loans assessment panel, news came that the other funders had pulled out.
“At this stage, we were so exhausted and disappointed by potential financing going wrong, we were close to giving up. We could not believe it when Val told us that the panel had agreed to listen to the case anyway, and indeed had spent an extra half hour deliberating to find a way to get us more money so we could realise our dream. Although, at that point, there was no way to raise all the money, knowing that if we could raise match funding, they believed in us and would make the loan gave us the faith to push on,” Debra explains.
Such faith was well founded, for within three months Val had referred Boston Body Hub to Social Incubator East and enough finance was raised to make the enterprise possible.
Now, thanks to the support of Foundation East and Social Incubator East, and the talent and tenacity of Debra, Mervyn and their growing group of volunteers, Boston has a purpose-led venue, designed, delivered and assessed by local people, that, to date has created 1.5 full-time roles, 20 volunteering roles (giving local people focus and purpose) and is delivering:
• A community health and fitness service meeting identified needs
• Professional support and guidance to people, motivating them to better manage weight and smoking related health issues
• Help and support, encouraging and enabling families to become more active and live a healthier lifestyle (including guidance on stopping smoking, losing weight and taking control of their own lives)
• An affordable and informative Healthy Café service
• A How to Grow your Own Veg’ programme
• Improved attendance by at risk groups to local health and wellbeing services.
“It’s been a joy watching this social enterprise grow. Working in partnership with the Boston Health & Wellbeing Network Communities, health professionals, local authorities, and other organisations, I have no doubt that it will go on to deliver more and more social and economic impact to the region over time. Indeed, I believe that Boston Body Hub has the potential to be franchised across other regions at high risk of obesity, inactivity and smoking related health issues, ultimately impacting at a national level,” concludes Val.