A LECTURER turned social entrepreneur is helping families and individuals access much-needed financial and support services after working with the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC).
Founded by former University of Sunderland social sciences lecturer and researcher, Dr Angela Wilcock, the Family Advisory Service is a community interest company (CiC), providing advice and signposting to vulnerable people and families across Sunderland.
Angela founded the organisation after helping a family friend regain contact with his daughter and witnessing first-hand just how little support was on offer and how much legal providers were able to charge for simple tasks such as completing forms and accessing advice.
After guiding him through the entire legal process, the family friend gained access to his child for the first time in over six months and the interaction inspired Angela to set up on her own and help others in similar circumstances access the same support which helped him through the process.
“After finding out that a family friend had been stopped from contacting his daughter, I got in touch and met him for a coffee to hear more about what he was going through,” she said. “He was being quoted over a thousand pound just to access advice and start the court process and I knew there had to be a better and cheaper solution.
“After seeking out support from other organisations, we were surprised to find that there was nowhere that offered the service he required and so, with my expertise as a lecturer and researcher and having previously worked with voluntary and family support organisations, I helped guide him through the entire process after just two hour-long catch-ups.
“That was what inspired me to explore the idea of setting up my own non-for-profit organisation to help others in similar circumstances. After taking time out from work and realising my passion was in front-line service provision, I approached the BIC and pitched my idea to them.”
Working with the BIC, Angela met numerous times with social enterprise advisers Ernest Dodds and Kevin Marquis who guided her through the process of setting up a non-for-profit organisation.
Ernest and Kevin also signposted Angela to a number of other support organisations including the National Lottery’s Community Fund, which, having heard her business proposal, provided her with the funding required to get the social enterprise off the ground.
“Ernest and Kevin were absolutely fantastic and I can’t thank them enough for all their support,” she added. “When I first met with the pair they explained about CiCs and how to go about setting one up. I have previously held numerous roles in the third sector so I have a long-held passion for supporting people and especially those who are vulnerable.
“They guided me through the entire process and were fantastic. Not only have they helped me secure funding, but they also signposted me to a number of other organisations who I’m now talking to in order to tap into further support. I couldn’t recommend them enough. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to set the organisation up.”
The aim of the Family Advisory Service is to promote strong, positive family ties and help families overcome conflict and promote social cohesion, giving families ‘emotional and mental stability and contributing towards a fairer, happier society.’
Kevin Marquis, a social enterprise adviser who has over 30 years experience helping people launch enterprises with a social conscience, has supported Angela on her journey and praised the service as ‘a welcome and vital addition to the city.’
He said: “It has been great working with Angela to launch the Family Advisory Service and we’re proud to have been able to support her on her journey. There have been so many cuts to vital public services over recent years which have had a huge impact on society and services like this are vital to ensuring those in vulnerable positions continue to receive the support they need.
“The BIC has supported thousands of businesses over the past two decades and has helped people of all ages and from all backgrounds. I’d recommend anyone thinking of starting a business to get in touch with us to find out how we can help, no matter how small or big your idea.”
Find out more about the Family Advisory Service
Angela has been supported through the Enterprise Support in the North East 2 project which is part funded through the European Regional Development Fund.