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Flo’s – The Place in the Park: A growing community hub with a mission to support local health and wellbeing

Case study

8th May 2024
Co-op development
Two people outside at Flo's - the Place in the Park

How a community benefit society is embracing its purpose to benefit the local community – in lots of ways – with help from our Business Support for Co-ops…

In 2018, Flo’s – The Place in the Park opened its doors after a group of East Oxford locals formed a community benefit society, launched a community share offer and turned a decommissioned children’s centre into a community hub supporting local people.

With a café, plastic-free refill shop and plenty of activities to help with mental health and wellbeing, Flo’s has continued to thrive while serving the community. So much so, the place has scooped two prestigious awards: The Place Based Social Enterprise Award and Local Business Hero Award.

“As we’re based in Florence Park, we do a lot of work around nature. We work with families and have a gardening volunteer project. We also have a Walk, Talk and Tea project to tackle loneliness. People walk in nature with others and have tea and cake at the end of it,” said Executive Director Laura Sewell.

“We’re also part of the OX4 Food Crew, a partnership of nine small local organisations offering food support in the OX4 postcode. 

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We continue to work with diversity-led start-up social enterprises, helping them become independent and sustainable organisations working to end food insecurity and food inequality in our neighbourhoods.
– Laura Sewell, Executive Director, Flo’s – The Place in the Park

As Flo’s has NHS midwives and health visitors co-located on their site, the team are looking more at how to tackle health inequalities.

“We run Early Lives Equal Start, an important project improving birth outcomes for black and minoritized people of colour,” said Laura. “Because of that, we’ve seen the need for supporting people with their health and asked ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

In answer to that question, the Flo’s team decided that re-developing a building on their site would enable them to greater support the community. To help with this plan, they were awarded business consultancy and peer mentoring via the Business Support for Co‑ops programme, delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with The Co‑operative Bank

The Early Lives Equal start programme at Flo's The Place in the Park
The Early Lives Equal start project is helping tackle health inequalities in the local area

Their expert consultant was Alice Hemming, who works with Co‑operative Futures, one of Co‑operatives UK’s approved advisors. She supported them to draw up a business plan for redeveloping the building. 

“Alice did a brilliant finance model for us. We sat down with her and talked through all the possibilities. She helped us to look at the building and explore when and why it’s in use and when it’s being wasted. 

“She also helped us prepare an application to the Community Ownership Fund (COF). Although we realised both the COF timelines and support package weren’t right for us, it helped us put some solid business planning in place and we reached a good understanding of our site and need.”

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The great thing about Alice was that she’s local, she knows us and understands co-ops and community benefit societies. It’s important to understand the complexity of an organisation like ours.”
– Laura Sewell, Flo’s – The Place in the Park

Thanks to Alice’s help, Flo’s found a stronger footing from which to make bids for funding a food-based project based in the building, which will be redeveloped as part of their five-year strategy. 

“It’s going to be a health focused hub to do more co-located health and community work, tackling the root causes of health inequalities,” said Laura. 

Another aspect of the support Flo’s received was peer mentoring from Social adVentures – a Salford based wellbeing social enterprise. “It was great to get an insight into how they work with the NHS and have trading subsidiaries like we do.

“It helped inform my conversations with our board about our strategy moving forward and our five-year plan, which will include addressing the health of our local community and being a good employer for our staff.

“We’ve already created a subsidiary trading organisation for the café, which enables us to generate income and pay our team a living wage for Oxford. The feedback from them is that it gives them a lot of stability.

“We’ve also had people come in as volunteers in the refill shop who’ve progressed into paid roles in the café – and our trading subsidiary has enabled us to do that.” 

The Duke of Edinburgh visits Flo's - The Place in the Park
The Duke of Edinburgh visits Flo's - The Place in the Park

In recognition of their great work, Flo’s was visited by the Duke of Edinburgh in early 2024. “We were selected for a royal visit because of the diverse range of initiatives we deliver at the heart of the community,” said Laura. 

The expert consultancy they received from Business Support for Co-ops has helped Flo’s establish a solid footing on which to carry them forward and continue to make a huge difference. 

“It’s important, as an organisation, to go from incubating an idea to growing into something more established, supportive and sustainable. Although we have a long way to go to fundraise for the new building, what we now have is a more secure foundation for serving the community and employing people,” said Laura.

“The support we received from Co-operatives UK was tailored to our needs and came with real expertise for our sector. I came to Flo’s from a charity a year ago, so I learned a lot from that support. I felt safe in Alice’s hands. It has provided lots of reassurance during the process of looking at growth and change.” 

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