4 min read
13 Feb

It shouldn’t take you too long to read this post. A little over four minutes should do it. That’s precisely how long I had to make my pitch at a recent RSA Engage speed-networking event.  Hosted at the impressive Impact Hub in Birmingham, the eight fellows invited to pitch had four minutes each to get their product across to the audience before rounding it off with three ‘asks’. I spoke about Ballot Street Spice our primary school social enterprise that we run as a community interest company – described recently in the Independent as an ‘online curry business’. It’s not quite at that level yet, but who knows, one day we may be delivering to a house near you.


Here, pretty much word-for-word, is what I said:

“Tackling social mobility has been a passion of mine ever since I became a headteacher 16 years ago. In fact it’s one of the reasons why I first became a teacher. I love the challenge of working in multicultural communities where I can make a real difference to transforming the life chances of the families we serve. I started out in Liverpool as a rookie teacher soon after the Toxteth riots in a city ravaged by strikes and militancy. In London as a headteacher, never a day went by without there being some headline or other referring to an ‘immigration crisis’.  And at Victoria Park Academy in Ballot Street, Smethwick – my current school – we are reminded daily of the devastating effects of the Birmingham riots as we view from the school the poignant memorial in Victoria Park that commemorates the lives of the three local young men killed in the Birmingham riots.

So it’s tough raising standards. We were once a failing school in special measures. We are now outstanding and listed by the government as being one of the Top 100 schools in England. But I’ve realised that we can’t carry on improving our school by continuing to incrementally increase our test results. This is not what marks our school out for success. Instead, we need to do more to transform the life chances of our children and families. And that’s where social enterprise comes in as a solution to the problem of how we tackle social mobility.

Traditional methods of parental engagement no longer work. A more radical approach is needed which is why we set up our own social enterprise: Ballot Street Spice.

For more than half a century, people have been arriving in Smethwick from all corners of the world. In our school alone we speak over 40 different languages. You can read more about this in tomorrow’s Independent and how we are one of only five Ashoka Changemaker schools in the UK and 130 in the world. We wanted to try to capture the rich and vibrant tapestry of cultures, languages and traditions that exist on our doorstep, many of whom go back several generations. It is through our social enterprise that we want to bring people together and share their spice stories before they are lost.

Through a successful crowdfunding campaign and Heritage Lottery bid we are about to produce an oral history of Smethwick as told through spice stories of ancient hand-me-down recipes and blends. So together as a community, we grow, harvest, roast, grind and blend the spices by hand to make original blends and recipes as chosen by the children. By buying our products you are not only helping to preserve the art of spice blending, but also helping us create employment for the local community as well as providing real and purposeful learning opportunities for our students. This is what makes our social enterprise like no other in the UK.

As a school, we cannot use taxpayers’ money to invest in our enterprise so we are entirely dependent on income from sales or in kind. We have no funding stream to promote or market our social enterprise other than through social media and word of mouth. But it is not cash that we are after. Instead, we have three simple asks where we want your help:

  1. Are you a partner organisation who would be interested in working with Ballot Street from a CSR or business partnership perspective?
  2. Are you aware of potential stockists or retailers or any other local sales opportunities in the local area?
  3. Can you help with any PR opportunities, contacts in the catering world, food bloggers who could help us tell our story?

To find out more, please find us on Instagram or Facebook or follow @TheSpiceAcademy on Twitter. Better still, come out to Ballot Street and see for yourself what we have achieved in the past twelve months . When you do, you’ll be greeted in the main entrance by a quote from Walt Disney – ‘If you can dream it, you can do it. Now go out and change the world.’ We know our children can dream it. We know our children can do it. But if we want to really and truly step up as changemakers and change the world, we need your help. Please join us and be a part of our remarkable story.”

* The email will not be published on the website.