Podcast Episode: Mecoco Meaningful Contribution in your Community
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
JT - Jenny Trott
MM On this podcast, I went to find out about a social enterprise based in Ayrshire called Mecoco. I went to speak to Jenny Trott and found out more about the enterprise.
MM So, what is your social enterprise all about?
JT So, Mecoco stands for meaningful contribution in your community and it’s a social enterprise that I set up a couple of years ago, really because my son who was approaching school leaving age and has complex learning and physical disabilities. We have, for some time, had the aim of him having some kind of job. We wanted him to have some kind of meaningful occupation, even for just part of his week. Because of the significance of his support needs we knew that that was going to be quite some task to find him something that he could do. So, I did know that somehow it would probably need to be something that I would set up because there was nothing else out there but I didn’t really know what that looked like but long story short, after a little bit of inspiration from another organisation called Made In Ullapool, I decided that making candles was the way ahead and so set up Mecoco on the basis that it would be not just for James, because there’s no point in setting up a business and all the work that that entails, when I knew that there was so many other people out there in the same position so, it would be something a bit bigger. And it’s been absolutely brilliant, Covid aside, it’s been going really, really well for the past 2 years. We’ve got a lovely team of volunteers, both able bodied and disabled because one of our main values is inclusion and for me that doesn’t mean just all disabled people, it means all people who work together as colleagues. Covid has put some spanners in the works but bearing that in mind, we’re doing well.
MM I was going to ask you about, when you mentioned Coronavirus, how has your business been affected by it?
JT So, it’s really difficult, because we’d only had about 5 months of real trading before Covid hit, we don’t have a great deal to compare it to. It just became part of our start up journey, I suppose. You expect when you set up a business to have little niggles and little bumps in the road and for us it was just another bump in the road. I think, probably for some more established who were quite happily motoring along, Covid obviously was a huge problem for them because it was a complete change to what they were used to doing but for us it was just another thing to contend with. It’s probably worth looking at it from a perspective that a social enterprise like we are, is it’s 2 parts, the social bit which is what you’re trying to achieve, what social outcomes you’re trying to achieve, which for us is giving disabled people an opportunity to experience work and then you’ve got the enterprise bit which you aim to make a profit so you can reinvest those profits and keep doing all that social good that you’re trying to do. So, how did Covid affect both of those? Well from a social perspective during the lockdowns and the one that we’re in at the moment, we couldn’t get together so, we had to find some way of being able to maintain that social impact but in our own homes so, I’ll tell you a little bit about how we did that in a minute. From an enterprise perspective, we were really lucky that in January of last year we had set up a website which was tested and we knew was running and people could go on and buy our products on there and so when March came along, we already had that and that was a real gift because that meant, you know we had lost all our face to face selling opportunities, we were going to craft fayres and Christmas fayres and exhibitions and all that kind of thing and they all stopped, obviously, but it all went online and so we were able to really use that and use social media to tell our story and advertise and things like that so actually that was brilliant and that has kept growing. There’s been a bit of a tail off at the beginning of the year, like you would expect, you know January but things are starting to pick up so that’s great. But from the volunteer perspective, we wanted to try and find a way to keep working so, in the first lockdown we applied for and received some funding from the Scottish government to run a project which we called We Care. And that involved us getting products from lots of different Scottish, small businesses, social enterprises, we packaged them all up and sent them as gift boxes to unpaid carers. So, we had 350 boxes that went out to unpaid carers from Shetland to Dumfries and those boxes were packed by our volunteers in their own home. So, we bundled everything up, dropped it on people’s doorsteps, they packed up the boxes and some of them even put a little note inside to say who’d packed it which was really well received by the recipients and that was a really lovely project because not only was it giving our volunteers some meaningful tasks to do at home, but it was also a lovely thing to gift to people who were really struggling in lockdown, looking after people that they loved. This time round, we haven’t got the funding for to do a wee care box again so, we’re now just building up our stock. Of course, now we’re a bit busier, we’re selling more so we’re able to make more. So, I’m busying away in our new workshop, making candles and wax melts and all of the other things that we sell, soaps and lotions and then taking them to people’s houses, dropping them on the doorstep again and they’re doing all the labelling, the labelling and the packaging and then I go and pick it back up again. So, we’re back into working with the team which is fab.
MM So, you mentioned about selling your items online instead of face to face, was that an easy transition to do from, obviously you want that interaction, face to face, but how was it going online? Was it a lot different for you but also for the people that you work with as well?
JT Yeah, I think it’s a real loss actually for the wider team because part of what we try and do at Mecoco is give our team experiences of all aspects of business so, from getting the orders, making the products, packaging it, making it look nice, making sure it looks professional, we really pride ourselves on our products looking professional and being great quality. But then also that face to face contact and we had some lovely opportunities for some of our volunteers to use their communication aids to chat to customers, to tell our story and to see the end goal which is happy customers. So, to have lost that is such a shame. Part of our marketing strategy, if you like is to tell our story because that’s part of who we are and I think what attracts people to buying their candles and melts from us because you can get candles and melts in a lot of places so, why should you buy them from us? Well because of what we do. So, we’ve had to find other ways to share our story when it’s not face to face and verbal so, that is where social media has come in. So, we’re active on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and newly on TikTok but that’s taking a bit of getting use to and Pinterest so, we’re trying to spread the word socially, through social media which does mean we have a wider geographical reach so, we’re sending product all over the UK which is a bonus but I do miss that face-to-face customer contact.
MM Yeah, nothing kind of beats that because when you get that interaction you actually speak to people and all that and it’s a shame how we’re kind of losing it but hopefully, we’ll get back to it one day. You said as well on your website that you offer experience. I take it that that’s, obviously you offer work experience for people with disabilities and individuals with a non-disability, I take it that’s like work experience?
JT Yeah, so everybody apart from Mecoco and myself, thankfully over the last couple of months, every body is a volunteer. So, we have a range of people who come who do short term work experience who maybe just want to come along for a little while and get a bit of confidence, learn some skills through to people who will probably be with us for a long-term work experience. We also work with local additional support needs schools and hopefully in the future, mainstream schools for young people to come along on a weekly basis for work experience. Something that makes us slightly different or quite different from a lot of other organisations that do this kind of work is that we welcome individuals with any level of support need so we have young people working alongside us who have got quite complex learning and/or physical or health needs and that I believe is unique in this part of the world. So, we do now have a waiting list which as soon as we can get open and working, we will be addressing and we’re going to be extending our working hours so that we can welcome more people on to the team.
MM I suppose it’s important to see that people with a disability is working with able bodied people or call it what you will because I’m a big believer about disabled people shouldn’t be shut away in a wee cupboard and work on their own, that they should go out there to work with mainstream public and all of that and I suppose it’s good for you to see that people that’s mixing with disabled people and that’s another way of, would you say that you’re knocking down the barriers as well to employment, in a way?
JT Absolutely. From day one, I always said I didn’t want Mecoco to be somewhere the disabled people went. It had to be a workplace, we are not a service, we’re not affiliated to any organisations or the local authority. We are a working business who welcomes a wide range of people and we already see really beautiful relationships building, friendships between the team. I can remember one volunteer, able bodied volunteer who wanted to come and work with us and she said, “The only problem is, I don’t have any experience, you know I don’t have any care experience.” And I said, “Perfect.” We don’t want a room full of support workers, we want a room full of colleagues, we want people and what you will gain will be different to what someone else will gain from that but you will make new friends, you’ll learn how to interact with people who may be don’t communicate verbally so, there are learning opportunities for everybody: it’s really lovely to see.
MM So, tell us a bit about the … I was reading on your website as well you actually make stuff and take it into the shops? Obviously, it’s going to be a bit difficult just now or does it still work just now because of the Coronavirus and all that, so how did you get that relationship with all kind of different kinds of shops?
JT Yeah, so it’s … so far, it’s been quite organic in that it’s usually been word of mouth. So, the first shop that we started working with, it was a friend of a friend who heard about what we’re doing and in fact actually, our first contact with them was with regards candle making classes because when we were able to, I ran monthly candle making classes so somebody could come along as a one off, pay us a little bit of money towards our funds and they’d get coffee and cake and they’d learn to make a candle and take it home with them so, it was a one-off experience. And they were great but because we didn’t have our own workshop, I had to find places to go and hold these classes and our first gift shop happened to run classes in it and she heard about it and said, “I think my customers would really like to learn to make candles.” And whilst I was there having a chat, she said, “Oh, let’s have a look at what you make. I love them. I’ll put some on my shelf.” So, that was our fist customer and that was a leap of faith for her because we were brand, brand new but we’re now in 6 shops and they’ve all been word of mouth and that’s really lovely because we want people to get what we’re doing and understand it and tell the story because then they tell their customers so, hopefully that will develop and grow in the coming year once shops are back open again and in that little break between lockdowns and the run up to Christmas, we were able to restock a lot of shops and they were selling, obviously everything’s shut again now but once everything reopens that will kick start again.
MM Are you looking to expand, after the Coronavirus has finished, to go into different shops? And also, was it your idea to sell your products to different shops?
JT Yeah, so I think it was always in the back of my mind that it would be good to have, what we call the wholesale route, where it’s not just us selling our products to the customer but we have other avenues as well. It enables us to reach more people and sell more but it was never high on my priority list so early in the business, you know the priority was building up our team and starting to make good quality products so, it’s been quite a nice, just little, it’s grown as we’ve grown which has been lovely. Do we want to do more? Absolutely and I think as a company we have to be careful not to just say, “Oh, we want to grow.” Just for the sake of growing but from my perspective, our social aims are to be able to provide people with that opportunity to experience work and we want to do that for as many people as possible because we know the need is there but we can’t just make products and stick it on a shelf, we have to make product and sell it otherwise those people are just doing work for the sake of it which is absolutely not what we want to do. It needs to be meaningful; it needs to be real so we have to grow the business, we have to sell more so that we can give more people that work experience.
MM So, now it’s your turn to advertise your business. So, how can people get in touch with you in terms of buying one of your items?
JT So, we, as we’ve said, we have a lovely website which is fully ecommerce website so, you can go on and you can pay with PayPal or credit card or whatever you want to do and that website is: www.mecoco.org and Mecoco is M E C O C O so, you can go on there. We’ve got Facebook, as I said, we’re across all the social media platforms if you look for Mecoco UK, you’ll find us there and we sell scented candles and wax melts and hand lotion and liquid soap and melt burners and tea lights, scented tea lights. We recycle tea lights as well so we sell boxes of unscented tea lights which are recycled from old tea light holders.
MM Finally, I would like to ask, what is the feedback been like from your customers and the people that you go into the shops to place your items in there?
JT So, quite often the first bit of feedback we get is, people will say, “Gosh, it’s actually quite nice, isn’t it.” Because I think generally folk have this concept that if it’s been made by disabled people, it’s going to be a little bit handmade. But it really isn’t, you know we go to a lot of effort to make sure that our wax products burn right and safely and they smell good and they look professional and the labelling is good so, yeah, that’s usually the first bit which is a bit depressing really, that’s the first thing that people think: but I understand it. But we do get a lot of repeat custom so, people do keep coming back to us. We’re doing gift bags at the moment which have got products in from other social enterprises as well and so we’re getting a lot of orders at the moment for that because, I think, people are wanting to support their friends and family from a distance and sending a gift is a really nice way to do that. So, our gift items on our website are shifting really well and I think that’s because people know they have the confidence that they’re sending something, direct to a friend, in many cases that is good quality and their friend is going to get a lot of pleasure from it when they receive it, along with the story.
MM Okay, thanks for your time.
JT Thank you.
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