From redundancy consultation to award winners: How Dale Curtis and Matthew Page got the motor running at Kickstart Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 08:19 21 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:41 02 April 2018
Winning an EDP Business Award completed a remarkable turnaround for the team at Kickstart Norfolk. In the first of a series on our 2017 winners, MARK SHIELDS found out how they did it.
It was on his first day at Kickstart Norfolk in 2011 that Dale Curtis realised things might not be as straightforward as he had first hoped.
Emerging from an induction session, he was immediately ushered into his next meeting: a redundancy consultation.
The charity, which hires out mopeds to those without other transport options, was losing money, dragged down by a fleet of costly and unreliable bikes, and faced closure without a radical overhaul.
The seven years since that day – which peaked in Kickstart Norfolk winning the Skills of Tomorrow Award at the EDP Business Awards in November – have certainly taken the outfit in a new direction.
Seeing its potential, Mr Curtis moved from credit controller to project manager and set about reforming Kickstart Norfolk with the organisational discipline to be expected of a former regimental sergeant major with 25 years’ experience with the Royal Anglians.
With support from Norfolk County Council, he secured funding to replace the faulty fleet with a more reliable model and cut unnecessary costs, selling unused assets and handing back two rented warehouse units which the charity didn’t need.
“When I arrived here it was a great charity but it was like turning up the heating and opening all the doors and windows,” he says. “I just closed the windows and turned the heating down a little to make it more professional.”
That discipline and professionalism has been further woven into the fabric of the business in the years since, bolstered by the appointment of Mr Curtis’s friend and fellow Royal Anglian veteran Matthew Page last year as relationship manager.
The pair – best men at each other’s weddings – trace their mindset of constant reflection and performance monitoring back to their military days.
“We say don’t work hard, work smart,” said Mr Page. “We talk a lot about positive mental attitude - believing in what you do.
“We want to be the very best version of Kickstart we can possibly be. We are not yet there but we have to keep going.”
The constant evolution has led to a new scheme since the autumn, targeted at those people furthest from finding work, underpinned by mentoring support for people who may be struggling even to leave the house, let alone hold down a job.
That continues alongside its daily hire service and other schemes, which together help 270 people a day get to where they need. Turnover is expected to grow by around 10% to £600,000 in 2018.
Kickstart Norfolk was founded to answer a need in a rural county where transport options are limited. For people in isolated areas, especially youngsters, it can be the difference between finding and keeping a job, or not – social mobility at its most basic level.
Kickstart is the largest scheme in the national Wheels to Work network and has been used as an exemplar for similar initiatives across the country.
It runs programmes targeted at groups including young adult carers and ex-offenders, but it was for its work with apprentices that it was recognised in the EDP Business Awards.
Winning the Skills of Tomorrow award, sponsored by Indigo Swan, has been powerful validation for Kickstart, underlining the value of what its staff do but also serving as an endorsement that has helped to unlock funding.
“For us to be able to put the award win on funding bids has been a good sign that our reputation is growing,” said Mr Curtis.
And the future? When he presented his turnaround plan to the board, Mr Curtis envisaged steady and sustained growth of 20-30 bikes a year.
Looking at that progress, and future hopes, he falls back on an adage from his earlier life.
“In the military, they do say no plan survives contact,” he said. “So if an opportunity comes along or there is funding available, and the trustees agree, we will go for it.”
The Norfolk Business Awards 2018, brought to you by the EDP
• The Norfolk Business Awards 2018 open for entries on May 9, with a deadline of July 27.
• The awards will seek to unearth dynamic companies and pioneering entrepreneurs, and the visionary and ambitious leaders who are breaking boundaries and fuelling growth. Don’t miss your opportunity to share your success story. Entry will be via the EDP website.
• Judging will take place between August 6 and September 21.
• The Norfolk Business Awards ceremony will take place at the Norfolk Showground Arena on Thursday November 22. It is a key date in the business calendar and last year hosted more than 450 guests from more than 100 local businesses.
• Demand is traditionally high, so you can reserve your tickets now. Call 01603 772371 or email Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org
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