The Usual Place became a client of Armstrong Watson over three years ago when their existing accountant retired. They were looking for a business partner who could support both the Board of Directors in fulfilling their responsibilities and the business as a whole, by advising on the risks and financial challenges that lay ahead as the enterprise grew in stature and reputation.
The Usual Place opened its doors in 2013 as the brainchild of CEO Heather Hall. The social enterprise works as a community café providing training, education and employability skills for young people with additional support needs. Many of these youngsters were previously ‘invisible,’ excluded, at risk of isolation and loneliness, and importantly, unable to fulfil their potential as valuable, active citizens, contributing positively to their communities.
This award-winning organisation focuses on the promotion of the innate talents and capabilities of young people, enabling and empowering them to flourish, and challenging the established stereotype of young people with learning disabilities.
Strongly supported by the Scottish Government in its unique approach of supporting young people to reach their full potential within the hospitality sector, this community café is now recognised on a national level for its achievements, and is a footprint that could be replicated successfully throughout the UK.
The venue of the café is the former Townhead Church in Dumfries, the building initially being transferred from Dumfries and Galloway Council. Following an extensive refurbishment programme, a large contemporary community café, kitchen area and flexible training/meeting rooms were created.
Armstrong Watson assists the Directors with their annual statutory financial statements but it was the implementation and support provided for a new Xero accounting package which had the most significant positive impact on the business. Our accounting team supported The Usual Place’s team to establish a bespoke accounting package, providing hands-on training, and managed the transition to electronic reporting, giving the business accurate information to allow more informed decisions to be made in real-time.
More recently, the closure of the café due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the drive by the Directors and management to seek new opportunities has led to more strategic planning taking place. The Directors have progressed with a change to the status of the company to becoming a Registered Charity. Our charities team has advised on the key differences from both an operational, financial and governance perspective alongside the constitutional and application processes. The guidance given will ensure that the transition to a new regulated entity goes smoothly and that all compliance obligations are met.
The Trusted Adviser role is one that we cherish and we have been part of a steering group looking at opportunities to be able to introduce more employers to the organisation and to break down the barriers of employability of young people living with autism. It is important to consider the valuable contribution that all young people living with autism can provide in a variety of workplaces. These youngsters are often more committed and dedicated to their work but may need a little more encouragement, support and time from their employers at the outset.
With the café closed since March, all staff and trainees safely at home, the small management group led operations during the COVID lockdown. A chance email sent to Armstrong Watson by a funder provided a wonderful and unexpected surprise for the organisation. Submission deadlines were tight and eligibility criteria narrow, however the operations of The Usual Place seemed to fit, and Karen Rae, our Director of Education and Not for Profit, passed on the email within 5 minutes of receipt, closing date being a couple of days later. We were thrilled to hear the wonderful news that they had been awarded a grant of £45,000 to support the business during lockdown - you just never know when good luck may strike!