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Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

That thrill and excitement from catching the wave and that feeling…that super positive feeling if I’ve surfed a good wave, it sometimes even now just gets overwhelming, and I won’t even surf it. It’s just sort of me grinning as I’m going along, you know.

 

Veronica Gordon

Today on this bonus episode of “Then One Day”, we are going surfing. I’m Veronica Gordon, and you just heard from Nick Jones. You might recognise his voice from a couple of episodes ago, when he took us into the ocean with his community-focused surf school.

In these bonus episodes, we share tips and advice from community business leaders to support and inspire you if you run a similar project, or if you’re looking to start one. Today, we’re diving in and exploring the nitty gritty of running a community business that’s focused on outdoor activity and sport. To recap, in Nick’s episode, we learnt how South Shields Surf School is transforming lives through the sport. We heard from leaders of local schools and organisations supporting disadvantaged young people and families.

 

Davel Burrell 

The kids develop, you know, a positive way to spend their time. Quite often these kids will engage in anti-social behaviour and get caught up in things that, you know, we probably wouldn’t want them to be doing. Not necessarily because they’re bad kids, but because they don’t think there’s anything else to do. So, what we’re doing is showing them some other ways to spend their time. And at the very top of this sort of experience, we’ve got kids who’ve loved it so much that they’re now working for Nick.

 

Mandie Smedley, Family Gateway

It’s absolutely amazing and the children come out with the biggest smiles. They’re absolutely exhausted by the end of it. They’ve used muscles that they’ve probably never used before. They’ve had so much fun. And the instructors are just so friendly. They can’t wait to get back and do it again the week after.

 

Davel Burrell 

It’s stuff like this that helps put South Shields on the map a little bit and attract investment in the area. Just change people’s perceptions of what was just a slightly run-down old mining town, and now seems to have a second lease of life, if you like.

 

Veronica Gordon 

The school is clearly doing a fantastic job of supporting its local community. So, I wanted to hear more from Nick, the co-founder of the school, about what it’s actually like running a community business that involves so many risks. How does he navigate all the health and safety issues? How does he persuade locals to take the plunge and give surfing a go? And what happens when winter comes around?

But I started by asking Nick what he thinks the main challenges are when creating a community business that focuses on such an adventurous sport.

 

Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

It’s outdoors. That’s difficult; it doesn’t always provide you the right conditions. You know, my memory is flooded with lots of lovely snapshots of that beach in sunshine and groups sort of just lounging around on the beach having a really cool time in between sessions and all the rest of that. I seem to block out the ones where I’ve had to find some shelter or call the group because the sea’s enormous, you know, and it’s not safe to go in and things like that. Yeah. And then also like, getting comfortable with your location, where you’re doing it outdoors. So, I think now me and my staff, we’re pretty good at reading a forecast and being able to tell what it’s going to be like.

 

Veronica Gordon 

I kind of imagine there’s lots and lots of health and safety hurdles that you have to be aware of and get over. What warnings and what advice can you give to people to make sure that they stay within the health and safety?

 

Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

Talk to your national governing body. Every sport, every activity, has got a national governing body and there’s going to be clear guidance and pathways for qualifications. Outside of that you can go and talk to Health and Safety Executive; the Adventures Activity Licensing Authority side of things have got loads of in-depth documentation where you can find out. You can go really in depth on that and find out exactly where you sit in terms of what your requirements are as an employer and an activity provider.

 

Veronica Gordon 

How do you encourage local people to take part?

 

Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

So, we have lots of traditional advertising, using social media, using traditional media leaflets. And now, word of mouth. We’re on the beach, the promenade. When we set up, it’s not just the containers; we put out loads of flags, loads of signage, and lots of people wearing staff t-shirts. And people in the water, you know, so it creates quite a visual thing, and the beach is a nice draw for people anyway and you just generally meet loads of different people down there. My wife laughs actually and says most of my job is just chatting to be honest because I just stand outside on the beach front and you chat to whoever comes by. But then we go out and we approach organisations for other projects. The referral process is still developing for us. So, we rely on lots of organisations that have a better system than we do for reaching people who will benefit from some of our services. So, like the Pupil Referral Unit has excellent systems for engaging with and working with people who are going through potentially some really difficult times. It’s just making sure there’s lots of little pathways for people to access. Oh and schools. We spend a lot of time talking to schools and that’s another huge way of getting people engaged in what you do. You get loads of schools down and you’re reaching loads and loads of different families and loads of different groups. And you get to know the staff from these places, and then they’ll tell you about what’s going on in the reality for a lot of people’s lives who are using the service one way or another. And through that you realise, ok, well perhaps what we’re doing here isn’t totally specific to what this person needs at this point in time.

 

Veronica Gordon 

What’s it like in the low seasons, like in winter? First of all, how does it affect business when it gets to autumn and winter?

 

Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

We close. We are closed from November to March. It doesn’t make financial sense for us to open. The overheads of getting staff down there and equipment would mean that we don’t produce enough money in order to fund our other projects. And so, I suppose it’s looking at how we can grow to a point where actually that is sustainable. But at the same time, it’s also a really useful little window to start planning and plotting for next year. There’s a lot of admin that gets ignored come July, as everyone’s in the sea all the time.

 

Veronica Gordon 

So, you’re closed quite a few months of the year. How do you make the income that you’ve made when you’re open sustain you throughout the whole year?

 

Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

We just have to be careful with our money. We make 75 to 80% of our income in about a 10-week period. So, that’s just the reality of where we are. So, it’s just being careful with that cash. Personally, I used to just sort of have like other jobs that I did for my own income. We’ve now fortunately grown to a point where actually the surf school can employ me enough part-time during the winter so that we can make a decent living and plan properly for next year. So, it’s not trying to get too excited come sort of end of September where you’re like, “Alright, great. We could do loads of stuff. Let’s go, go, go, go.” No we’re like, “Ok, we have to be a little bit cautious about what we do with our a surplus at this point”, because you have to keep in mind the overheads are going to keep coming.

 

Veronica Gordon 

So, another organisation who’s thinking of helping people through sport or outdoor activity, what three positives would you tell them about using outdoor activity to support people’s wellbeing?

 

Nick Jones, South Shields Surf School 

Ok, number one – it’s there. The outdoor resource is there and there are amazing resources in this country just waiting to be tapped into.

Second, it’s ever changing. If you want a dynamic workplace, get outside.

And third, the proof’s in the pudding. You feel better after doing something nice in the outdoors. You just do.

 

Veronica Gordon 

Nick, absolutely lovely talking to you again.

If you’d like to start a community business in your local area, check out the Power to Change website for more information and advice. I’m Veronica Gordon, and I’ll be back in two weeks with another group of people who are transforming their communities in exciting ways. Thanks to Power to Change who brought you this podcast and to Pixiu you for producing