Ripple Effect

There are times when I reflect on that moment at 3am last June when the idea came to me. That tiny idea has developed beyond belief and none of it would be possible without the other three directors at StepUp Shoeshine. We are constantly reviewing our business model as a very young social enterprise- and that’s where having directors with very different personalities and skills can make a huge positive difference.

A concern that many would share with us is how to optimise publicity. We have branding, website, social media, and some the usual publicity items that businesses may have. Incredibly, just two hours after the last blog post about press coverage, the BBC called us, a production team spent the next day with us and our film appeared on The One Show the following evening. The kind of publicity that money can’t buy!

Before the Scottish Parliament dissolved in preparation for the MSP elections, we heard news that one of the Glasgow-based MSPs, Bob Doris, had raised a parliamentary motion in support of our activities.

Word is spreading that we want to support people who have been out of work, or very under-employed, to show Glasgow their positive work ethic. We have had some extremely encouraging discussions with more potential clients over the past weeks, and hope that these relationships will grow. Personal recommendation is now playing an increasingly important role, which is fantastic.

Throughout, we are remaining positive that a dynamic business model will give us sustainability. Before that ripple effect could take place, the stone had to touch the water. Taking the first step needed the most courage, and could only be done with others.

Tip for a new social entrepreneurs? Don’t work in isolation. Directors who will ask the difficult questions are often the best.

We’re in the press!

Today’s Daily Record has covered our story: .  The printed version (page 29) is a bit more comprehensive and includes an interview with one of our team members, who was previously out of work for 10 months.  We are really hoping that the general public and business leaders will see the value in what we are doing and help to support our young social enterprise financially through these early stages. .

Contrary to widespread negative opinion about newspaper reporters, Maria, was extremely easy to work with, and apart from a few minor print inaccuracies, it’s good to see the Daily Record getting behind our story, to spread some good news across Scotland.  I’m usually pretty camera-shy, but in the beautiful surroundings of the Virgin Money Lounge in Glasgow, the photographer, Phil, put us at relative ease.  Just for the record, I did leave my original career plans behind some years ago to work in the third sector as well as raise my family.  I chuckled when the article said that it would still “allow me to pay the bills” because that is a longterm aspiration, with my husband’s full-time job being our household income and none of the directors taking any payment for giving their time, energy or talents.

Despite appearances, the article is really not about me.  It’s perhaps more representative of the thousands of people all across Scotland who want to make a tangible difference to the lives of people around them.  I have volunteered “off the radar” for around 25 years, and I am far from alone.  Just look around you and people of all ages and backgrounds are giving their all for causes that can improve the world that we live in.  With funding stretched as never before, so many of the activities that they run are at risk.

We know that our social enterprise can be sustainable, because the art of shining shoes can be seen worldwide, and literally dozens of companies offer the service in London.  We are starting out in and around Glasgow and hope to expand through time.  If you can play a part in ensuring that we can pay our shoe valeters through a personal donation or corporate sponsorship, while we “find our feet” (yes, pun intended!), we’d love to hear from you.


Spending so much time with the team, I feel like I am getting to know everyone well.  What I admire most is the pride that they take in telling friends and family how they are spending their day. It may also surprise you that one candidate also commented that they thought the job sounded glamorous in comparison to alternative ways in which they had earned a wage, or indeed spent time looking for employment.  After all, these jobs are about providing a much-needed, quality service and moreover refining transferable customer service and interpersonal skills.  Especially for people who have been unemployed and very under-employed, feeling empowered instead of useless and engaging with a wide spectrum of others instead of feeling isolated are reasons enough to celebrate that StepUp Shoeshine exists.  I am becoming very attached to our team members. They are a joy to work with and I do hope that we have opportunities for them to grow within the company, or perhaps use this job as a step up into other suitable employment.

We aim to treat people as ethically as we can, and for this reason the directors voted in favour of not using “zero hours contracts” when we were recruiting.  Through our volunteer work spanning many years, each one of us knows people who have queued at foodbanks. Our experience is that income predictability, not necessarily the actual amount, is probably the key to people planning ahead.  However, this decision has brought huge challenges for us as an early-stage social enterprise without shareholders, without a parent company and without grants available to subsidise the wages of our shoe valeters.  There was, and still is, huge enthusiasm in support of our aims, both from the public and the business community.  As far as we know, no one else is carrying out a similar activity in Greater Glasgow, so the market is ours for the taking.  There is a high number of companies offering this service in London, so our growth potential is huge longer term. Our sustainability makes perfect business sense once we become established.  In order to reach that place, we are asking for help to continue to offer a “wage guarantee” to shoe valeters while we all work tirelessly to make our mark on Glasgow.  Job stability is something that we all yearn for, and we are not in a position to offer that to our team members until we become profitable.  If you can see the value in what we are trying to achieve and would like it to continue, develop towards stability and expand over the coming months, please consider making an individual donation through the website or contact us about corporate sponsorship.  Thank you for your continued encouragement and support!

Wages Day and Dignity

No, I’m not about to start writing a feature about my love of 80s music and bands like Deacon Blue ;-). This week saw our first team of valeters get their first wages.  Words on this blog could not adequately describe the joy, excitement and pride shown on one team member’s face on seeing that payslip. “This is the first payslip that I’ve had for eight months”, said the team member, close to tears. It feels good. It feels really good. I might never be a millionaire, but I’m back.”

Over the past few weeks, I have been with our new team members every day that they were working.  Everyone has a story. Everyone has been overlooked for work for a reason outside of their control.  I love their ideas as stakeholders in shaping the business. That’s where the ethos of empowerment and an environment of leadership, not management, will bring the best out of everyone. I’m incredibly impressed by their commitment and the contagious positivity that follows us everywhere we go.  There is a lot of enthusiastic support for what we are trying to achieve and people can see the value in our service, but at the moment that is not equating to anything like financial stability.  Let’s see what the next week brings….

Week One

From time to time, our founder, Isabella Stevenson, will write about her own thoughts and experiences as being a part of the StepUp Shoeshine team….

End of my first week as a fully-operational social entrepreneur!

It’s been a rollercoaster ride since the idea of starting a shoeshine business popped into my head at 3am back in June last year. Within a few weeks, I got into conversation with Firstport about the viability of my plan, applied for start-up funding and was overjoyed to get £4100 from its partner organisation UnLtd in October. It went a long way to covering the costs of equipment, insurances, branding and the website design. Moreover my award manager Eileen is a great source of encouragement and has asked some of the more awkward questions that have forced me to take a bird’s eye view now and again. The preparations have become all-consuming over the past few months but really worth it to start with ethical, solid foundations.

We officially launched this week and I’ve been both humbled and encouraged by the positivity of the team members now on board. From the outset, we (that’s the diverse and highly insightful team of directors) knew that we had to keep our focus on recruiting and empowering people who had been unemployed or very under-employed. Walking alongside them to build a stronger future is why we do what we do. However, it works both ways, and in those moments when I “feel like I have nothing else to give”, I remember the comment from a shoe valeter early this week that it was the best day that they had had in six months, or another who had a huge lump in their throat when I handed over a pair of brand new leather shoes donated by a high street store.

We need more big offices in Glasgow city centre to open their doors to us, not as an act of charity, but in recognition that life can throw a curveball at anyone. Yes, this is all about corporate social responsibility, but it’s also about allowing us to pay a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. We are offering a professional shoeshine service with all profits reinvested into the business to help even more people rebuild their lives. After all, everyone loves shiny shoes but few people have the time or inclination to keep them that way. We figured that this was the perfect opportunity to meet a growing demand and do so as a social business before a profit-driven company saw the gap and used it to exploit workers.

Here’s to next week….