In The Frame : Lindsay Richards of Collingwood
Please could you elaborate on the services that Collingwood delivers.
Collingwood specialise in blending a variety of learning methods to inspire participative experiences that create social and behavioural change. That might include coming up with a creative vision for a project, to the overall design, delivery and ultimately measurement, providing end to end educational solutions. Our services include developing and delivering live events, e-learning programmes, video-based learning resources, virtual studios, communications, research and evaluation.
When did you establish Collingwood and what was your inspiration to build the business?
Collingwood was established in 2009, when Chris (my business partner) and I suddenly found ourselves without jobs! We’d been doing similar work for another company, running their training and education department for many years and had always fantasized about doing it for ourselves, but were fiercely loyal to the company we worked for and saw no need to break away. Unfortunate circumstances meant that the company eventually went into liquidation.
I’d just returned from maternity leave with my first daughter and had no plans to make any great career changes at this point, when Chris asked me to come on board as his business partner and Collingwood Learning was born. We literally started out in Chris’s living room calling a few old clients and seeing who might be willing to give us a chance!
We’ve always been passionate about helping organisations to make a difference, whether that be in education or business, so having the opportunity to do this for ourselves and run a company in the way we wanted to, without the restrictions of working for someone else, made it all the more exciting.
What challenges did you encounter in creating Collingwood?
Our first challenge was to establish a credible business that people would put their faith in and trust with their ambitions. Without any direct experience under the company name we had to convince new customers that we knew what we were doing. Luckily, some of our old customers had chosen to come with us, which gave us a great start, but luckily, we were also able to demonstrate our wealth of experience through the projects we’d delivered in our previous company.
Our other biggest challenge, I suppose, has always been cashflow. We knew from previous experience the importance of keeping a healthy and consistent amount of cash flowing through the business and also, the importance of responding quickly should the finances not look so great. As a small business, it’s almost as important to resource it as efficiently as possible to reduce waste and ensure effective spend, as it is to bring in new revenue.
What is your role within the company and what does this entail?
I am the business owner and director alongside my business partner Chris, however my role within the company can be quite versatile and regularly changes according to need. Ultimately, I’m the General Manager, overseeing the day to day running of the business which involves a bit of HR and recruitment, a touch of finance and accounting, logistics arrangements, facilities and day to day decision-making. I’m also responsible for Project Managing a number of UK-based projects and making sure things happen when they should.
Please give us a brief description of your average day at work.
I usually arrive in the office at around 9.30am. The working day begins with a well-needed coffee while I check my emails and work through a list of tasks. I usually have a daily catch up with my colleague Katie who books and coordinates the schools tours, to check we’re on target and look at strategies and data for booking upcoming tours. I regularly keep in contact with clients to let them know how their projects are developing, creating realistic timelines and making sure everything keeps moving forward.
I might then be liaising with other members of staff over their needs, our accounts team, Cheryl at New Dawn regarding recruitment or HR-related issues or any one of our clients, suppliers, agents, insurance brokers …. the list goes on.
What challenges does your work pose?
Ours is not always an easy business to run. It relies heavily on people meaning there’s always potential for error. For our live touring projects, it can be challenging if we have illness or injury to contend with, for example. However, we always find a way around things and our resourceful and experienced team is dedicated to resolving issues and overcoming challenges. There’s very little, as a business, we haven’t been faced with!
Cashflow is everyone’s biggest challenge isn’t it? If clients don’t pay you in time, but you’ve already committed the outgoing costs, that can be tricky. Just keeping things on an even keel financially is no mean feat, although (and I don’t want to speak too soon!) I feel as though for the last few years we’ve overcome the worst of that and reached a more stable financial position.
What do you regard as your greatest achievements?
Professionally, setting up a business from scratch which is still, not only in existence, but thriving 14 years later, has been something I never imagined I’d achieve. It’s been a steep learning curve with a few hairy moments thrown in for good measure, but mostly a lot of fun!
Surviving the covid pandemic and having to really ‘think on our feet’ to respond to a huge change in education, technology and how we access schools to deliver powerful messages remotely, really tested our resilience, and our ability to come together as a team and make good out of something bad. I’m really proud of the whole team for making that happen and doing it with such inspiring team spirit.
Probably our greatest achievement within the business so far is the success we’ve seen with the Smashed Project. Starting out in a handful of UK schools, Smashed has grown exponentially. Over the last couple of years it has won multiple industry awards, including the Digital Impact Grand Prix in 2022 for our Smashed Online Resource. It has reached over 1.6 million young people worldwide to date, across 36 countries, 5 continents and in 17 languages. 81% of participating young people say that they are less likely to drink alcohol underage as a result of taking part in Smashed and our aim is to reach 10 million young people around the world by 2030.
On a personal level, alongside growing the business, I’ve navigated a divorce, life as a single parent and a child with significantly challenging needs, all with no family nearby to support me. I couldn’t have done any of that without the unwavering support of my business partner Chris, but I think it’s also really important to show others that with hard work, passion, dedication – and a lot of juggling – these things can be overcome.
What lies ahead for Collingwood?
The research, evaluation and data analysis behind what we do is proving all the more important in evidencing the efficacy and impact of our work. Our team is currently growing to accommodate this, as well as to resource the growing requirements of the Smashed project both in the UK and around the world. If we are to achieve our ambition of reaching 10 million young people by 2030, then we have to be cleverly resourced in order to be able to achieve that.
The extraordinary growth of Smashed reflects that, not only does The Smashed Project speak to young people in a way they understand, enjoy and learn from, but the learning goes beyond simply tackling underage drinking.
At Collingwood, we’re convinced that we can harness this pedagogy to tackle the most urgent social issues facing young people today – not only drinking. We want to share our thinking and techniques with educators the world over – and use technology to put our actors in front of even more learners.
Our hope is that we will secure further pioneering projects of a similar nature, using the skills and expertise we have developed over the last few years. We’re now in a place where we feel confident to take our learning forward to other issue-based projects, potentially on a global scale.
What attracted Collingwood to engaging the services of New Dawn?
We’re a small company without the in-house specialist skills, knowledge or resources required to pull together the most up to date contracts and policies. As well as helping us with our recruitment needs, New Dawn keeps us updated on the latest employment laws and ensures we have appropriate policies and company handbooks in place which are vital for anyone working with us. It’s crucial for a business like ours to stay on top of these things but also to be able to outsource as and when we require it. For a small business, it doesn’t always make sense to employ someone internally to do this work as it’s not cost-effective.
How have their services made a difference to your business?
New Dawn has really helped us make sure we do things properly. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to do things more formally, creating new processes and systems appropriate for a growing business. We’ve also had to navigate a pandemic which we wouldn’t have been able to do as successfully without their help.
We have a great working relationship with New Dawn and know that we can call on them in our hour of need to help us through a tricky situation – or just something we haven’t encountered previously.
Having such a busy work life must be both rewarding and challenging. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I have two wonderful daughters who take up most of my time. My older daughter plays a lot of netball and likes to go shopping, while my younger daughter loves swimming and country walks. She has an array of challenging needs and we have to significantly adapt our homelife to meet those – it takes quite a lot of careful management and has taken up quite a lot of my spare time over the last few years. When I have time, I write a blog about our lived experiences as a family living with challenging behaviours at: http://elkemarthaandme.com/.
My partner is a jewellery-maker (www.rooksandroses.uk) and I also spend quite a lot of my spare time helping him run his business. I mostly do the administrative side, booking markets, workshops and events and running the accounts, however when things are really busy, I also sometimes get to be a bit creative and help with adding hooks to earrings and pendants to chains as well as packaging up orders.
If I’m not doing either of those things, my absolute favourite thing to do is mooch around vintage or handmade shops and markets, with my partner Karl, finding lovely old things and giving them new life. I love spending time with my girls, drinking good coffee, eating delicious cake and watching the world go by. I love reading books and interiors / slow lifestyle publications. My dream is to one day have a small shop of my own full of lovely, handmade and vintage pieces attached to an old, characterful home – which would be an ongoing project of its own!