Spotlight on Port Edgar Watersports and SCARF

Posted: 08 July 2014, in Member Spotlight

In the spotlight for two weeks (2 June – 15 June 2014) is Caroline St Johnston and Port Edgar Watersports CIC, a social enterprise based in South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. Get in touch with Caroline on 0131 319 1820 / /

How do you do it? Port Edgar Watersports is the largest watersports centre in Scotland. We run watersports courses including sailing, powerboating, kayaking, multi-activity and shore based courses. We officially opened in January when the previous company closed its doors and we are still very much on the foundation building stage. We have already run watersports sessions for a number of people who meet our social aims and helped one person in care to gain their Powerboat Level 2 qualification by working with their support organisation and subsidising the cost. We are continuing to build our contacts, in order to increase the partners that we work with and strengthen the relationships that we have. In the long term we hope the physical, outdoors environment of Port Edgar Watersports will appeal to and benefit people looking for jobs and work experience who have struggled with conventional places of work.

What’s your personal motivation for being a social entrepreneur? I believe that all businesses have a responsibility for making a positive social and environmental difference in whatever way they can. Ethically I think this is important but it also makes good business sense. That is why the social enterprise business model works so well. Consumers are much more aware of where they are spending their money now and would prefer to spend with companies that use their profits to make a positive social and environmental difference instead of profiting one of two people at the top. Although I am motivated by the positive impact the business has, it is critical that Port Edgar Watersports is a sustainable, profitable company otherwise we will not be around long enough, or have enough money, to achieve the social aims we are so impassioned about.

What are your current projects? We are still in the very early stages and the priority is making sure strong foundations are laid to ensure processes run effectively. We have just entered peak season (May-Sep) and business is extremely busy, so we’re focusing on staff and customers. Week days are filled with school groups learning to sail, kayak or mountain bike, evening clubs are packed with people getting back in to sailing after winter and weekends are busy with birthday groups, families having a day out and individuals gaining watersports qualifications for summer holidays or personal interest. We’re also continuing to build partnerships and develop funding applications to help us increase the opportunities we can offer groups and individuals with physical or learning disabilities or those involved in the care system.

What exciting things do you have coming up? We are continuing to build new relationships and find new ways to use our facilities and resources to help achieve our social objectives. We are talking to supporters like Who Care’s Scotland and Four Square about work experience opportunities for the people that they support. We are continuing to offer watersports sessions for groups that would not usually get the opportunity to learn to sail, or kayak, or powerboat. We have 2 RS Venture Keelboats with Sailability packs arriving in September. This boat and pack combination is designed to offer access to a large range of disabled sailors.  The business is so new that there are so many exciting opportunities open to us and we have to restrain ourselves from taking up every new idea immediately!

Who do you want to work with more? We are very keen to hear from anyone that works with or supports people who are in, or have been in, the care system in Scotland. Also, anyone who supports people with physical or learning disabilities who would be interested in taking part in watersports sessions. We are also keen to learn from and work with other watersports and outdoor activity centres and organisations promoting active lifestyles. Our door is always open to anyone who wants to chat.

What’s your biggest challenge? Our biggest challenge right now is managing expectations. We are a very young company with lots of enthusiasm and big ideas and it is easy to talk the talk but we need to prove that we can walk the walk! Customers, staff and partners are all after different things and as we build our reputation we are keen to please everyone but recognise this is not possible. As a social enterprise we value the social, environmental and financial impacts of any decision and it is not always obvious what the best things to do is. I also need to manage my own expectations as it is very easy to feel like I am not doing enough when I look at the big picture. This is when I turn to other social enterprises to be inspired, remind myself I am not alone and that it is important to celebrate the little things.

What top tip would you give to other social enterprises? Never stop learning. It is very easy to submerge yourself in the business and make excuses for not taking the time to network or invest in your own development but this is detrimental in the long term, both to you and the business. There are so many amazing people in the world and you need to get out and about to meet them, inspire others with your own story and reignite your fire. The social enterprise community is unbelievably supportive and this needs to be retained in order to encourage more and more people to become social enterprises to reduce the inequality in the world.

In the spotlight for two weeks (16 June – 29 June 2014) is Billy Sloan and SCARF, a fuel poverty, energy efficiency and carbon reduction social enterprise based in Aberdeen. Get in touch with Billy on 01224 21300 or /

What’s your social and/or environmental mission? SCARF’s original aim was to make a practical difference to people living in fuel poverty and that purpose remains at our core as we deliver a range of quality services focusing on fuel poverty, energy efficiency and sustainable living. We are recognised leaders in the provision of high quality energy advice – services we’ve been delivering for nearly thirty years.

How do you do it? We offer free and impartial advice over the telephone and we go out into communities and give advice in-home, often to the most vulnerable in society. We provide a range of services focused on supporting local authorities, community groups and businesses – all aimed at reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

What’s your personal motivation for being a social entrepreneur? I believe that social enterprise is a powerful tool for change within society; the way we do business is different and our reasons for what we do are different. When I look around at the talent we have within Scarf, I know we have people who could work in any sector and be a massive success. They choose to work at Scarf because they want to make a difference. It is the same for me. We as individuals, and Scarf as an organisation, exist to make a difference.

What are your current projects? Currently our main project is Home Energy Scotland, a nationwide scheme funded by the Scottish Government and managed by the Energy Saving Trust – delivered by Scarf in north east Scotland. Our Home Energy Advice Team (HEAT) service works across north east Scotland and delivers in-home, in-depth bespoke advice to folk in or at risk of fuel poverty. We’re currently delivering a range of different support services to a number of local authorities as part of the Home Energy Efficiency Programme for Scotland (HEEPS) and their Area Based Schemes. As well as that we most recently launched GreenSkills Scotland, a partnership with the Wise Group, which offers City & Guilds certification across Scotland in fuel poverty, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

What exciting things do you have coming up? After being named as one of only 15 organisations in the country to obtain Better by Design assistance through the Big Lottery Fund, we are working on a new programme that we are confident will have a massive impact on the people we work alongside. We’ve also recently been listed at number 47 in the Sunday Times Top 100 best not-for-profit companies and we’re determined to move up that list. Being a social enterprise gives us the capacity to act differently and be a different type of employer. So that’s what we aim to be!

Who do you want to work with more? More people – and amongst them the most vulnerable in our society. We’re pretty good at reaching out to the people we serve but, as is often the case with vulnerable people, they can be isolated and hard to reach. We are always open to working with other organisations to ensure the greatest reach for our services. As I say, Scarf exists to make a difference and by forming a partnership or working in tandem with another organisation we can be even more effective.

What’s your biggest challenge? Our biggest challenge is having the resource to deliver all the services we have to all the people who need it. Recent changes to benefits, increasing fuel and food costs and ever increasing housing costs means that more and more folk are struggling to make ends meet. We want to help those folk.

What top tip would you give to other social enterprises? Be the best in your field. Too often, I think, social enterprises rely on their third-sector status as a selling point. Don’t make allowances for us because we’re a social enterprise, come to us because we’re the best – and then feel great because we’re a social enterprise.