Recovery Lending | Perspectives from a Social Entrepreneur

Mark Lancaster, CEO of GMAX Trackstars shares his experiences and thoughts.

As part of our learning and developing response to post Covid investing, Big Issue Invest is speaking to social entrepreneurs across different sectors to understand their needs going forward.  We want to provide appropriate and responsive solutions to needs as they emerge.

GMAX, a London based charity, offers free sports coaching to young people from the local community, to build confidence, skills and networks.  They do this with local school support and profits from their YOGA studio, which adds to their wellness philosophy.

Prior to Covid, Mark, CEO of GMAX Trackstars was receiving pre-investment support and looking to use social investment to expand and develop.

Natalia Fernandez, Investment Manager at Big Issue Invest, spoke to Mark to find out about his plans prior to Covid and what has changed. Is social investment still part of his plans?  

GMAX

How did you find out about Big Issue Invest?

We very much respect The Big Issue as an organisation, I have always been inspired by the magazine and care about the homeless. When looking at the website I found Big Issue Invest.

What were your plans pre-covid and lockdown?

We had recently relocated to a new and bigger location so that we could offer disabled access and increase our business. We wanted to put physical activity on the High Street. Our plans, to be sustainable, where our trading arm enables GMAX to continue to support/coach young people. Develop our digital system to upgrade our service and make the centre a community hub.

How did Covid Impact on your plans?

The high street centre had to close so we had no income, although we did receive some donations to help us. Schools closed so the progress we had made was halted with these closures. We had to let staff and volunteers go. On the positive side we had time to develop our business model and classes for both members and young people we support.

What needs emerged for your beneficiaries during Covid?

We had to stop all contact initially. We were able to see some of our beneficiaries because we were able to social distance at the centre.  Time to think about our work has shown us that setting up our digital service further would enable us to connect with beneficiaries and extend our services without geographic restrictions using mobile phones and tablets.  The isolation that C19 has created has made us consider how individuals can be supported, we appreciate that family members can play a bigger role in coaching too. An online quiz and a system for uploading training will help the beneficiaries when there is a lack of contact and to support competitiveness.

What were the lessons you learned during Covid?

We have learned that we need a strategic shift given the environment. Figuring out the best way to reach our cohort (develop the digital side); make the hub accessible and encourage visitors to the centre with the café; we must improve our message, communicate what we do and remain visible.  To date during this pandemic we have developed our board and governance has improved, we can really appreciate the value of this – we continue to develop our network and our reach. To value relationships.

What does coming out of Covid look like for your organisation?

Financially we must develop our model, ensure we start to raise reserves.  Most recent incentives from the government may help us to speed up our initiatives with recruiting volunteers and offering coaching support to the young people we want to work with.  Partnerships will help us to get our message across the community.  We plan to keep costs at low or no if we are to survive, making sure everything is affordable.  The ‘Role Model’ initiative is ‘if you see it you can be it’ we want to embrace this philosophy – it is challenging for the young people we work with and it is for Us.

Are you still looking at social investment as an option for your organisation?

Yes, we want to look at this again.  Our ambition is to be sustainable. As a family we have also invested in GMAX.  Our plan is to have a product that benefits our beneficiaries, members and community – and beyond. Integrating those excluded into society.

Finally, what has it been like working with BII?

BII is amazing. I don’t know if the service we received is above and beyond, but you seem to really care about people and their needs. You understand your customers. You reached out to your network to help us which we did not expect. It has felt like a two-way street. I can say that I do not feel like this about my own bank which is just administrative. We have honest conversations; I feel comfortable talking about GMAX and I have been given the best advice based on truth.

We would like to thank our Growth Fund partners for helping us support these organisations.

The Growth Fund(CMYK) horizontal