Jessie and her mum Jill sat in Pizza Express in their home city of Nottingham one evening watching the waiting staff at work. They were fast. They had to remember orders, serve them quickly and carry piles of plates. But this wasn’t an ordinary family meal, the pair were engaged in a covert reconnaissance mission.
Jessie was leaving school and, like other young people her age, wanted a job, but her learning disability meant she sometimes lacked self-confidence or found it too difficult to cope in busy, stressful situations. As they watched waiting staff race between tables, they resigned it would be too stressful a job for Jessie.
A few months later Jessie and Jill were at the Robin Hood Festival near Nottingham and spotted someone serving up cool, healthy smoothies to festival goers from a smoothie bicycle.
“I think I could do that”, said Jessie and Jill realised that, with a little bit of help, this could be the perfect job Jess was looking for. The pair won a grant to buy the first bike and, when a parent offered £50 to serve smoothies at a BBQ, Pulp Friction was born.
It’s a year since we interviewed Pulp Friction on behalf of School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia, who selected the UK social enterprise as a case study on their National Disability Insurance Scheme Accelerator Program. Now, for the first time, here’s the case study in full:
Today Pulp Friction offers 50 disabled young people opportunities to develop skills, confidence and entrepreneurial flair through its range of adapted bicycles at festivals and events.
The community interest company operates 6 smoothie bikes, a bike with an ice cream maker attached and a bike that powers a sound system. It generates income by sale of goods, in addition to charging fees to attend some events and selling training and learning opportunities for disabled young people, which are funded by external sources or paid for using personal budgets.
In addition to learning and skills, fun and friendship are key outcomes of Pulp Friction’s model, as Jill explains, “There was a point in Jessie’s life when we realised everyone was being paid to be there; it was almost as if friendship didn’t come for free.”
The company recruits young people from local schools and colleges who volunteer alongside disabled young people as peers and help develop the business; which also includes allotments and a fledging catering arm in addition to the bikes.
A key challenge to Pulp Friction is society’s misconception of disability. The team received a stark reminder that there is still some way to go after receiving an enquiry to work at a local event from someone who decided not to go ahead with the booking after they realised it would be people with learning disabilities serving their food.
Misconceptions of social enterprise can effect the business too; a competitor suggested they were given a less favourable festival pitch than Pulp Friction because they didn’t have a “sob story”
and a local authority was unable to refer disabled young people to the organisation because social enterprises were not included on the list of preferred providers at the time. Despite societal challenges, Pulp Friction remains upbeat and finds solutions. Its most pressing challenges are practical; such as the logistical challenge of transporting six large bikes without use of a van!
Involving young people at every level is key to the success of Pulp Friction. Jessie has served as a director alongside mum Jill since their incorporation as a community interest company in 2011 and young people play an active role in developing the CIC.
Pulp Friction’s proactive networking has resulted in them attending high profile events at the grounds of premiership football clubs, including Manchester United and Liverpool FC and Jill was interviewed during Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.
Their unusual bikes draw a lot of interest at events and Jill says this reduces what she refers to as the “Aww” factor, as the bikes draw attention away from the disabled people operating them.
Pulp Friction recognises that it can’t do it all and has received modest support from Community Catalyst and Good for Nothing.
Jessie says that working for Pulp Friction has given her a lesson in self-confidence. Whilst buying smoothie ingredients in the local supermarket recently, Jessie suddenly became aware that the cashier was having a conversation directly with her about the social enterprise and not with her mum, which was a huge boost.
For Jill, who has a background in youth work, the key learning has been to think outside of the box to extend natural networks.
In the early days, Jill recalls the majority of their time was spent networking with organisations with the same needs and the same challenges, but the real benefits came by proactively networking beyond the usual places and usual suspects.
The team have learned not to be afraid of bigger organisations; especially the larger disability organisations who may have the kudos and capital to develop a similar project, but are unlikely to
be nimble enough to replicate the same model locally when their primary focus is on winning larger contracts and tenders.
It’s not just Pulp Friction’s smoothies that are lean; their light business model has strong potential for replication and the team have not ruled out exploring social franchising options. The replication challenge for the enterprise lies in ensuring their inclusive ethos is replicated, in addition to the modus operandi.
Pulp Friction continues to develop its offer to disabled young people according to the needs and opportunities they identify. The social enterprise has recently opened an allotment where young people grow the fruit and vegetables used in their smoothies and is also developing a catering arm in response to requests for business lunches and catering for events.
For Jessie, who loves meeting new people and talking about the business, social enterprise has enabled her to take charge or her worklife without the need to seek approval from professionals.
To quote the character Mia Wallace in a well-known Hollywood movie with a title that sounds very much like Pulp Friction, “Isn’t it more exciting when you don’t have permission?”
The next NDIS programme kicks off at SSE Australia in October 2015 – register your interest today. If Pulp Friction gets your juices flowing, please don’t forget to share their story with others or leave a comment below.