50 years of friendship and finance – meet Alison Holland

Alison Holland founded Brightkidz in the early 2000’s to support parents to run their own walk to school initiatives. With husband and Director Lance, and Office Manager Jacqui, Brightkidz has become Brightwayz, and between them they are promoting safe, active, sustainable everyday travel for all ages. Alison talked to us about her connection with ICOF

“We’ve had three loans from ICOF – our first was just after we incorporated as what was called a Blue Common Ownership Co-op model, on the 10th March 2004. That first loan was around £10,000 and it really unlocked things for us. It enabled us to start up and to access other social enterprise development funding. The second loan was around 2010 and was for working capital – we needed help to cover the costs of buying in stock before we could sell it.

The third loan was in around 2018 and, for a variety of reasons, it was transformative.

We’d realised that we’d started coasting a bit, we’d been trundling along. We’d done well in the past with one big client to keep us busy. And when they folded, we realised that while we’d been trying to grow the business, we weren’t really focusing on the right things. At the same time, I’d had a lot of personal stuff going on. I’d had breast cancer, my father was seriously ill and it was a challenging time for our whole family. My focus had drifted and to be honest, I’d ‘lost my mojo’ at work.

The cancer really knocked me and I lost a lot of confidence – but coming out of it (and I’m pleased to say I made a 100% recovery) I realised I didn’t want to trundle along any more. It completely changed my life and outlook and reinvigorated me. It made me think about what we wanted and needed to change in the business so it was working for us and achieving the goals it was set out to. At one point I was literally printing our high vis waistcoats myself and I thought ‘this isn’t what I want to be doing’. I wanted to be out there, helping people with their active travel campaigns, finding out what is working in other places and sharing that knowledge and information with other organisations.

So we applied to ICOF for funding and we used it to get some coaching. It really helped me change my mindset and realise that old business thing – I needed to be working on the business not in the business. It made me have more aspirations for the business and for me too – I could see how much more we could be doing to have the really big impact we wanted, which was the whole reason we started. We got help to measure the impact which was really useful as we could identify what we were doing well, and then identify the gaps that needed to be filled. It really helped us turn the business around and made it more of a socially focussed business again. We got a commercial and social impact strategy sorted and they both feed into and support each other – we regained our focus. And then lockdown happened! But the fact we had learnt how to be much more strategic in our approach meant we were able to pull through and Brightwayz is now stronger than ever.

I’d love to share one memory with you. I remember in the early days, I was invited to speak, as a recipient of a loan at an ICOF AGM, in an impressive, large hall near St Pancras in London. I took some of our hi-vis kit, umbrellas and the like. Ian Taylor was on stage and there was a bit of a pause in the tech so he made a social enterprise joke,

“What did the the slug say to the snail?”

“Big Issue?”

Nobody in the room got the joke apart from me and I thought I was hilarious and did an incredibly loud and embarrassing laugh! Everyone turned to look at me and that just that sealed our relationship – every time we saw each other after we recalled that joke.

We’ve been thrilled to be supported by ICOF over the years, through changing teams and changing times. Happy birthday ICOF – many many many many happy returns to you!”