Access to Finance helps Redruth-based charity open up new funding streams to expand its vital services
Local charity RJ Working, which stands for Restorative Justice, celebrated its 10th birthday in 2022 and is now embarking on an exciting new chapter thanks to specialist support from the Access to Finance programme.
The charity, which was started in 2012 by four women all of whom had different experiences of the criminal justice system, has made incredible progress in its first decade. Not only has the organisation successfully converted from a Community Interest Company to a charitable organisation and diversified its funding streams to secure its future, it has hired an in-house finance manager and expanded the scope and geographical reach of its work. Most recently, it has completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to fund a youth-led climate action programme – a first in the country.
The organisation works with young people, schools, youth groups, colleges and universities to reach those that might not be included (e.g. those with mental health challenges, refugees and minorities). The team teaches ways to interrupt harmful behaviour and empowers young people to create fairer communities through restorative leadership programmes. Through their work in schools, RJ Working has been associated with improved attendance, happier communities and stronger relationships.
With a cross-generational approach, the charity also delivers online and in-person training for adults that work with children. The team have trained council staff on the Isles of Scilly, social workers from Cornwall council, hundreds of school staff and delivered influential work in Devon and London.
As one of the charity’s founders and previously a senior employee of the Probation Service, Deborah Mitchell always knew that RJ Working had great potential but realised it needed additional expertise to achieve its ambitions. She explains: “Another business owner that I met at the School of Social Entrepreneurs recommended the Access to Finance programme. I had a meeting with one of the programme’s business finance specialists, Chris. He identified our organisational strengths, helped us look at things more strategically and worked with us to develop a strong business plan. We focused on modelling something for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which we could scale-up for other areas of the country.
“The Access to Finance team had belief in us from the start and helped us take our ambitions to the next level. We really benefitted from their support. It is not an off-the-shelf approach. They really take time to understand your organisation and provide individual advice. The Access to Finance programme and Oxford Innovation are highly respected in Cornwall and I would not hesitate in recommending the team to anyone.”
Access to Finance were able to help RJ Working transition from a Community Interest Company (CIC) to a Charity Incorporated Organisation (CIO). Converting to a charity was initially a daunting and complex move for Deborah. The process took about a year, but Deborah was able to lean on the support of the Access to Finance team throughout the process.
“I didn’t have the time and expertise to convert from a CIC to a charity,” explains Deborah. “Plus, I feared we would lose the financial history we had built up. Strategically, therefore, it was of huge value to have external support. Chris and the team at Access to Finance helped guide me through the process. They even put us in touch with pro bono legal support who oversaw the conversion.”
RJ Working officially became a charity in 2022. A move that has had a positive impact on the organisation and its future work as Deborah explains:
“Becoming a charity has opened up new funding streams. We are now eligible for a wider range of trusts and foundations, which are interested in funding our work. We always had charitable aims but funders want reassurance they are giving to a charity.”
One source of funding for the charity has been the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Youth Fund. After receiving an initial grant of £40,000, RJ Working has secured funding from the foundation for a total of seven years. This funding has given the charity stability to be able to expand its work and plan for the future.
The charity has also diversified its funding streams and raised it profile further by running its first reward crowdfunding campaign. The organisation asked local artists to donate artworks around the theme of nature. For example, the famous artist Tim Shaw, who created the drummer sculpture in Truro, donated a beautiful portrait of a raven.
“Access to Finance coached us through the crowdfunding process,” explains Deborah. “We raised our target amount of £8,000 and generated more connections in the community. We also received a grant from Cornwall Council, who supported us by matching 50% of the total amount we raised.”
Having established firm foundations in Cornwall and helped five local schools achieve the restorative quality mark, RJ Working’s future is looking bright. The charity is currently organising a climate action conference to be held this summer. Led by young people, the event will bring together young people from different backgrounds to exchange knowledge and experiences.
Deborah concludes: “We have come a long way since we started. I feel that the organisation now has a future beyond me.”
Since it was established in 2017, the Access to Finance programme has supported over 2,700 businesses across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and helped local businesses raise over £39 million over the last six years. As well as delivering workshops, the team provides tailored one-to-one support and can assist with everything from financial forecasting to identifying and applying for funding.
For further information on on RJ Working, visit rjworking.co.uk