Interview: Stuart Thomson

The director of the charity Happy Soul Festival says consultancy advice helped to focus its thinking

Stuart Thomson
Stuart Thomson

The small charity Happy Soul Festival, which puts on arts events to highlight the mental health issues of people with black and minority ethnic origins, had been delivering its message of better access to mental healthcare services since 2007 - but was struggling to take the next step and reach out to the nation.

However, when Happy Soul's director, Stuart Thomson, met the team behind the new Business Boosters initiative and his charity was selected to benefit from a free package worth £5,000, he found he was able to take his team and the charity to the next level.

"The package took the form of consultancy and advice - and there was also an awayday, the purpose of which was to help us, but also to challenge us," says Thomson. "We took a long look at the way the charity communicates and the consultants ran a critical eye over everything we do."

The Business Boosters initiative was created by Lydia Frempong, a director and confidence coach at Butterfly PR, and Lara Samuels, director of another PR firm, the Communications Hub, to support and develop the skills of third sector organisations so they can survive in today's tough environment.

The charity has an income of £200,000 and Thomson is one of its two employees. He is also one of five trustees who prepared for the awayday by thinking about their target audience and how best to reach them.

"We had worked only in some London boroughs before, but Business Boosters taught us how to communicate across the country using all forms of media," says Thomson.

A critical aspect of this was the charity getting a handle on using social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter to raise its profile.

"The section on social media dramatically changed our view of how we communicate," says Thomson. "We decided we would no longer spend hundreds of pounds advertising in local newspapers.

"We didn't really use social media at all before, despite having Facebook and Twitter accounts, but Lara and Lydia gave us an 'idiot's guide' and showed us how it had improved their business."

The package also suggested ways the charity might think strategically about its future. "The main issue for us concerns fundraising," says Thomson. "Since the package, we have tried to diversify our funding streams. It showed us that we always have to be looking ahead."

Another lesson to emerge from the awayday session was that the trustees of the charity had different ideas about its aims. "We all needed to be on the same page, so the follow-up work we have done has been to clarify our central message," he says.

According to Thomson, the charity is going from strength to strength and has taken on two high-profile people - the former England footballer Ugo Ehigou has become its patron and the Jazz FM presenter Rosemary Laryea has become a trustee.

"Lara and Lydia of Business Boosters made us think about who could join us and not to be afraid to ask them," says Thomson. "Ugo and Rosemary are a great fit for us."

Having run six festivals in London, the charity is now setting its sights further afield. "We're looking at putting on an event in Londonderry next year when it is a European City of Culture," says Thomson. "We also want to look at holding the festival in other cities, such as Manchester."

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