On a Journey with Lothian Buses
You can imagine the excitement at Fresh Start when, on a cold morning at the start of January, we received an e-mail from Sara, the Communications & PR Manager at Lothian Buses. Sara wanted to arrange a meeting to discuss the possibility of our becoming their Charity of the Year – what an opportunity!
We got straight back to her to tell her a bit more about Fresh Start and the work we do and to get a date in the diary to meet. Sara and Clare, Communications & Social Media Manager, came to see us the following week at our Warehouse in Ferry Road Drive. We showed them round, and then over a coffee, they asked what they could do for us.
It’s easy to immediately think of the financial benefits, but we knew that wasn’t their focus. We had to put that at the ‘bottom’ of the list. A big advantage for us would be having our own branded bus. Our Marketing budget is small, and to have this opportunity to get our name out on the streets of Edinburgh was a huge one. We also set out the practical ways that they could help us – donations of goods, social media and other practical support.
The meeting was an informal, relaxed chat as opposed to us giving them a ‘pitch’ that we’d practiced and rehearsed. This made it easier in some ways, and harder in others. Easy in that they got to know Fresh Start in a way they wouldn’t have done in a formal presentation scenario. But harder, in that when Sara and Clare left, we wondered if we’d said the ‘right’ things, had we missed something? They told us they were looking at other charities and a decision would be made at the Lothian Buses Board meeting on 4th February – four weeks to wait!
When we got the e-mail asking us to visit them at Annandale Street, we didn’t want to start celebrating too soon – would they invite us to their offices to say No – we hoped not. The meeting went well, and it was the start of a great partnership. The first seven months have seen so many benefits for us. The Fresh Start bus hit the streets of Edinburgh at the end of May raising awareness of the charity and homelessness.
But the Buses have helped us in other ways with donations of goods for our Starter Packs and promoting our appeals for goods on social media; their engineers helped with our van; they gave us some office furniture for our new office at Craigmillar; one of their senior managers is joining our Board, which will be a more lasting legacy of the partnership; their staff are giving us support with our database; and we have seen visits to our website increase by over a 100%. They invited us to take part in their Doors Open Day in September which raised over £600 in cash, but there was another benefit. Visitors were asked to bring along a cleaning product, and as this had never been done before, we had no idea what the response would be. But we needn't have worried, visitors donated an amazing 130 bottles of washing up liquid; 23 bottles of bleach; 50 bottles of all purpose cleaner; 15 rolls of bin bags; 4 huge boxes of scourers; 2 huge boxes of J-cloths and more!
After seven months, the benefits of Lothian Buses’ support have been huge, and we have five more to go. We have to be pro-active, and are continually thinking of ways they can help, and bouncing ideas off them. Some might work, others won’t, but they always listen and are always enthusiastic. We feel we are building a real partnership with Lothian Buses, and are working well with the staff. At the heart of that partnership is a real common objective – to help people who have been homeless make a home and resettle back into their community.