Long-running community business Bootstrap Charity was set up in 1977 to alleviate poverty and increase education and spaces for enterprising people to develop their business ideas. Today, Bootstrap transforms the cultural and creative life of its corner of Hackney, London, providing business and start-up support for promising small- to medium-sized enterprises.
Converting neglected land into enterprising community hubs
Since receiving a Power to Change grant, Bootstrap has turned a World War Two bunker into a space for a range of temporary events, such as film shoots. Funding helped Bootstrap understand the most financially viable way of using this unique yet challenging space and how to market it.
Bootstrap has also used the grant money to transform a neglected car park into a hub for new businesses called the Bootyard, which now operates next to the bunker house. It is comprised of shipping containers and hosts events and pop-up markets next to these permanent structures. The space has transformed the area into a social hub for locals, and ongoing developments will ensure it remains vibrant and relevant.
Bootstrap also supports many spinoff organisations. For example, a former mentee of the site’s Dusty Knuckles Bakery is making use of the bunker’s former bee garden space to grow chillies for his hot sauce business. He also employs people with mental health issues who struggle in traditional office-based nine-to-five jobs, instead offering them work pruning, potting and planting chilies in the open air. This allows them to gain vital work experience and enjoy the effects of the fresh air, which include lowered cortisol and improved mental health.
The charity has also formed a partnership with the organisation She Leads Change, wherein Bootstrap delivers mentees to the organisation to be matched with a female mentor.
“We speak as the Bootstrap family, rather than the Bootstrap business. We treat our tenants as equals and give them a voice.” Said Gunther Jancke, head of relationships at Bootstrap.
Through income from rent and its own hospitality businesses, Bootstrap is now financially sustainable and has been self-funded for the last three years.
Coping with the Covid-19 pandemic
As an SME that relies on rent payments and hospitality for its income, Bootstrap suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the organisation was only able to trade at full capacity for two months. Its centres were full pre-Covid, but dropped to 84% occupancy following the outbreak.
Bootstrap built and enhanced trust between itself and tenants by giving some of them a rent holiday during this time. The space is now back to 100% occupancy and Bootstrap has received many referrals from past tenants who have outgrown the space, which is testament to what the team have achieved.
Future of the charity
Bootstrap is looking to offer more work experience and mentoring opportunities, and host inspirational talks to help young people break into their chosen industries. It’s also hoping to return to its charitable work, nurturing relationships between its tenants and allowing industry representatives host insight days with local schools.
“We are standing on solid footing again, and we are grateful for any support we have received – formal or informal, financial or otherwise.” said Gunther. After a tricky few years, Bootstrap is still looking strong, and hopeful it can secure further funding to ensure the success of its long-term plans.