Big Dave: From world's strongest man to accidental social entrepreneur
The RBS SE100 Insight series brings in-depth learning and inspiration from leaders on the RBS SE100 Index – the market intelligence tool for social enterprises. This week, Sophie Hudson meets social enterprise strong man Dave Gauder.
Most social entrepreneurs go through months, or sometimes even years, of meticulous planning and development before embarking on their social enterprise journey. But not Big Dave Gauder.
The former world strongest man at under 17 stone, who holds 26 uncontested individual strength world records, attributes his foray into the world of social enterprise to a series of coincidences.
The first of these occurred around 12 years ago when a friend who was a chief superintendent at West Midlands Police asked Gauder to become involved in an anti car crime campaign.
At the campaign’s launch event, which involved Gauder pulling cars in front of an audience of attendees, a senior police office told Gauder’s wife that he could not believe what he was witnessing.
She responded by telling him that, in that case, he certainly would not believe that Gauder was actually bullied as a school child. On hearing this revelation, the officer approached Gauder and asked whether he would consider fronting an anti-bullying campaign in local schools.
“I didn’t know where to start,” says Gauder. “So I just began by talking about what it was like for me to be bullied when I visited each school.”
Since then, Gauder has presented to over one million children in schools all over the UK. He begins each presentation by taking everyone outside and pulling a double decker bus, a truck, or a fire engine. “I do this for three reasons,” he says. “Firstly, it helps give me credibility, secondly it gets me their undivided attention for the next hour and half of the presentation. And finally, I then link this into the beginning of my presentation where I make it clear that they are all actually just as strong as me - mentally rather than physically, which is the most important strength.”
Big Dave Guader with his signature truck
This work soon led Gauder to develop this work into becoming a one-to-one mentor for children who were on the verge of becoming expelled from school, something he says has so far been very successful.
Fate then helped in furthering Gauder’s social journey some years later when he was picking his wife up from the beauty salon that she owns one evening.
He says that two ladies who were leaving the salon at the time starting talking to him and mentioned that he would be a perfect candidate for helping them in a project they were trying to undertake in getting people who were about to or who had recently been in prison to go to the gym. They said these people were often struggling to go to the gym because they were suffering with low self-confidence.
“They asked if I could put some kind of programme together,” he says. “Again, I didn’t know where to start at first, but eventually I came up with SLAM H, which stands for Start Low Aim High. I decided to take these people training with me. So far we’ve done a few pilots of the project over the past couple of years, and it’s gone really well.”
His work with probation services for this programme has also garnered Gauder interest from prisons, one of which, HMP Birmingham, he has been working with recently to set up a project that will see prisoners making gym kits.
But despite fate playing a positive role in getting Gauder involved in all of this work, it has not been so helpful in directing funding his way.
His friend John Buckle, who he has known for about a decade and who worked for the Birmingham Foundation, encouraged Gauder to formalise all of his work about six years ago by helping him to set up a community interest company, called Ask Big Dave CIC, of which he became secretary and director.
“We felt it would better to have that formality,” says Buckle. However, he feels that this choice of company type was shortsighted.
“I think if I could go back in time I would form a charity instead, as there are better options for access to funding,” he says. “I wouldn’t form another CIC. Sometimes, for example, we have made applications to trusts and we find they can’t give funding to anyone unless they are a charity. It’s given us limited scope for fundraising.”
The presentation warm up: Big Dave pulls a double decker bus
Last year Buckle says the organisation had an income of around £30,000, but says that so far this year it is looking to be significantly less.
“A lot of funding streams have dried up with all the cutbacks over recent years,” he says.
Buckle says Gauder’s talks in schools are generally paid for by the schools themselves, but the economic climate has meant that most of them now have other spending priorities.
His other work has been funded with grants from various sources, he says, including local authorities, the clothes company Next, the Home Office, and the Big Lottery Fund. But again, because of the recent climate, Buckle says the organisation is finding funding opportunities increasingly hard to come by, and is finding it difficult to organise long term contracts for its work with the likes of the probation services or schools.
“What we do is very well received but people won’t or simply haven’t got the funding to pay for it, so that is the challenge,” he says. “Hopefully the organisation will be able to continue. But even if we can’t get funding it will just lie dormant until we can find some.”
Gauder agrees that funding is his biggest challenge. “I do all this good work and everyone pats me on the back, but it’s very difficult to find any money to fund it,” he says.
But if funding can be found, Big Dave has big plans for the future. “It’s just me doing all of this work at the moment, but I would love to grow the business in the future and do things like take on more mentors,” he says.
“But the question we’re asking ourselves is how do we turn all the good work we already do into funding to keep ourselves going. And at the moment I don’t know whether we will be able to - we can only hope.”
Ask Big Dave CIC - Key Stats from SE100.net
9th/536 on the main social enterprise index
1st in the West Midlands
2nd in the Education and Youth sector
To explore the data on Big Dave CIC and other enterprises – and to enter your own enterprise or those you support or invest in – find out more at SE100.net.