In conversation with: Simeon Ripley

Regularly consult with your community because the external environment – political, social, economic, environmental – issues are constantly changing and so do local people’s needs. It also helps create a sense of ownership if people know what is going on and can feed ideas into your strategy

Simeon Ripley

Chief Executive of Linskill

Simeon Ripley is the Chief Executive of Linskill and North Tyneside Community Development Trust, which manages the Linskill Centre in North Shields, along with two other community facilities in North Tyneside. He has been on the Power to Change’s Community Business Panel since June 2017.

What gets you up in the morning? What motivates you?

Usually I get rudely woken by our cat – Mr Pickles! But it’s the opportunity I have to help change communities I work in. I was brought up in Consett, County Durham, and saw the effect of the steelworks closing on local people and the community. I’m motivated by seeing how community business can create local opportunities and help people have better lives.

How did you get involved in community business?

I studied Geography at Lancaster University and then did a Masters in Edinburgh about regeneration. Unfortunately, I graduated when the crash happened in 2007, so there weren’t many jobs going in the regeneration field. However, there were opportunities in the community and voluntary sector and I secured a job with Gorebridge Community Development Trust and I’ve worked for various development trusts since then.

What impact has it had on your life?

It’s a really rewarding career as the Trust directly helps improve the fabric of community life, and create opportunities for people of all ages. Young children and families use our nursery, and we have a full programme for older people called engAGE. We have over 60 activities a week for all ages and backgrounds and it is the heart of our community.

I’ve gained so much knowledge and picked up skills along the way. Linskill is one of the biggest asset transfers in the country and the range of projects and sectors I’ve been involved in has been really motivating!

Community businesses are led by local people. How have you dealt with differing opinions and relenting control?

In 2015 we secured a grant from Power to Change and one of the conditions was we needed to increase our membership. This was really helpful and motivated us to boost our numbers from 140 members to over 2000 this year. We offer loyalty discounts in our café, invite them to special events and send them regular updates about our work. Having an engaged membership base means it’s much easier to ask our community if we are delivering what they want and need. This helps keep people have a continued sense of ownership and become loyal customers.

We consult people in lots of different ways – online/offline, through focus groups or surveys – so they don’t get consultation fatigue. Their feedback and ideas inform our strategy which is set by our senior managers and board of trustees. Usually we go with the majority when making decisions, but we make sure that we are transparent about how and why we might choose to do something different. You can’t please everyone but if you are clear about why you do things, usually people are understanding.

What has been your proudest moment?

About three years ago we secured a £750,000 investment from the Big Lottery Fund through their Reaching Community Buildings programme, to restore our hub to its 1930s glory. One of the challenges we had is that the Linskill Centre’s postcode is not in a deprived ward. So we had to gather evidence to show that people using the centre were coming from areas of higher deprivation nearby.

We enlisted the help of two students from Newcastle University who compiled reports to back our application. It was three and a half years of work to gather all the evidence, as well as do the feasibility studies and get planning permission for the refurbishment of the hub. But improving the building has helped us increase footfall from 10,000 people a year to 16,000 and our room hire rates have increased 30% year on year increase which is fantastic.

Describe your community business in three words:

Ambitious. Passionate. Resilient.

Do you have a tip for someone wanting to start a community business?

Regularly consult with your community because the external environment – political, social, economic, environmental – issues are constantly changing and so do local people’s needs. It also helps create a sense of ownership if people know what is going on and can feed ideas into your strategy.

And if you want to find out more about community asset transfers, nurseries, cafes or managing a hub, come and visit us in North Shields. It’s really helpful to visit other community businesses to help convince your board and learn from our successes and mistakes.