Manor House

SE100 Impact Champion: Manor House Development Trust

In early 2017, eight of the best social enterprises in the UK were honoured at the annual NatWest SE100 Social Business Awards. Manor House Development Trust was named Impact Champion for how it has embraced the importance of measuring and communcating its effects on the communities around it. 

Woodberry Down might sound like a quaint countryside village, but it’s actually an area of Hackney, London that is undergoing radical change. Nearly 2,000 homes, which made up the Woodberry Down Estate, have been demolished and are being replaced by 5,561 new ones.

Redmond Community Centre, which looks out over a sizeable sailing reservoir and nature reserve, also has a home here. It is owned and operated by Manor House Development Trust (MHDT), which will celebrate its tenth birthday this year – it has been delivering community services in the area since 2007.

The community centre was opened in 2011 but still feels new, bright and airy. There is a library here and a kitchen where cookery classes are on offer teaching people how to create healthy meals. The kitchen is often in use as: “anyone is welcome to come in for a cup of tea,” confirms Gloria Obilana, who staffs the reception desk at the centre.

The noticeboard also reveals that the centre offers zumba, mindfulness and pottery classes. On top of this, there are childcare services and employment programmes. But MHDT does more than just that. It works with the community to identify opportunities that are mutually beneficial.

Noticing that London was increasingly building upwards (office blocks and housing developments of several storeys) the staff thought that it might be a good idea to offer training in the shape of a Working at Height programme. You know – those crazy people that abseil down the side of buildings washing windows and the like. A group of 12 unemployed Hackney residents had the opportunity to gain qualifications and further to that, employment.

That’s typical of the kind of thing MHDT means when it describes part of its work as “empowering people so they feel they are able to do something that they were not able to do before”.

Some of the participants have gone on to be part of grounds maintenance company Brighter Environment CIC. Creating companies brings occasional income for MHDT. Other sources of revenue come from hiring out the community centre and charging management fees to run programmes for organisations, including the local council and housing association.

It’s always been in the DNA of MHDT to report on and to show what we do

As this year’s impact champion, MHDT takes impact measurement very seriously. Its website proclaims: “We believe measuring our impact is essential to influence other organisations to follow our approach to community development”, and has a wealth of information about how it’s done. There are also several impact reports available.

CEO Simon Donovan is keen to tell us more: “It’s always been in the DNA of MHDT to report on and to show what we do. It gives us a sense of being able to explain and prove what we do and that’s enormously important at a time of cuts and finances being difficult. We also use our impact to determine which kinds of activities and policies we want to advance as the organisation progresses. 

“With us you’re talking about a ten-year process to be able to create a community. A lot of that can’t be visualised in one place at one time. By measuring your impact and presenting it in a way that is colourful and absorbing to the reader, it helps show people what your work is, what it is that you’re achieving.”

MHDT emphasises the usefulness of the discovery of negative outcomes to help shape strategy. Awards judge Ben Carpenter of Social Value UK commented: “Their approach was impressive because they embraced all outcomes (not just the ones they were aiming for).

“Their reporting included unintended outcomes (both positive and negative ones) which shows how their impact measurement is much more than just reporting – it is clearly embedded in their thinking and used to inform service design and improvements.”