Cornerstone case study


A North East based charity is set to expand in services and jobs after receiving help and guidance from RTC North.

Cornerstone, established in 2005, was born out of a desire to tackle local community concerns at increasing homelessness and anti-social behavior. Based in Willington, County Durham,

Cornerstone's aim is to support people who are homeless or at risk to live independently in the community. They achieve this by providing a spectrum of housing support and workshop-based work experience focused on two social enterprises: Cornerstone Housing  and Cornerstone Furniture. 

Cornerstone Furniture is a social enterprise which manufactures and sells wooden furniture.

Cornerstone also manage a hostel in Hartlepool in partnership with Accent Housing Association and they see this as the basis for developing the Cornerstone model in Hartlepool, eventually as separate, self-governing social enterprise.

The Challenge

Cornerstone were referred to RTC through the Big Potential provider register because they wanted to make the charity more sustainable and improve opportunities for its service users.

Steve Vasey, CEO of Cornerstone said: “We wanted to create more jobs for service users by developing and expanding Cornerstone’s workshop production and sales. The primary/initial need that Cornerstone has responded to has been homelessness. We then work to support the most vulnerable in stabilising their lives and move them towards employability. The next necessary step is getting a job.”

Cornerstone currently run a scholarship which supports school leaving service users by taking them into employment for a minimum of one year. Intentions are to increase this to two young people and two adults over the coming 12 months, however, Cornerstone plans to go way beyond this in creating more jobs.

“The majority of our service users are unemployed when they join us and most probably unemployable at this stage. Unemployment rates are high in South West Durham, (and in Hartlepool) we therefore need to create more jobs for our service users with the eventual aim of offering a 12-month job opportunity to all our service users,” added Steve.

Ensuring that the furniture making social enterprise generates a higher income is critical to Cornerstone’s ambitions to employ more service users. It is also missing link in Cornerstone’s financial self-sufficiency strategy. To help with this, in 2017 Cornerstone was awarded a grant of £28,000 from the Big Potential Fund to work with specialist consultants RTC North.

The Solution

The team at RTC has worked with the charity to review its current growth strategy and develop a forward plan focussed on growing trading income through the sale of furniture manufactured in its workshop.

To date, a complete overhaul of the manufacturing process and workshop layout has taken place, standard operating procedures implemented and fully costed key performance indicators established for the production team. Alongside this exercise a branding, market research and marketing strategy is being put in place to help promote the work of the organisation and drive new furniture sales.

One of RTC’s specialist consultants has also drafted a new impact and quality statement which is designed to reinforce the Social Impact delivered by Cornerstone as an organisation.

The Impact

“Based on the outcomes of this project, Cornerstone is now looking to expand workshop production over the next 3 years.  This expansion will include, establishing a separate training workshop, for which, we would like to appoint a Workshop Manager to take forward this aspect of the plan,” said Steve.  

Cornerstone are now looking to equip service users with the skills to progress into other jobs and into training and education and the team are working with the Open College Network.

Alongside this, they aim to contribute a range of other positive impacts in terms of increased accreditation and qualifications, improved self-confidence, reductions in substance misuse and offending and ability to sustain a tenancy.  

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Big Lottery Fund’s new £10 million fund is aimed at eligible voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations (VSCEs) to improve their sustainability, capacity and scale and help them deliver greater social impact for communities across England.  Big Potential is administered by the Social Investment Business on behalf of the Big Lottery Fund in partnership with Locality, Social Enterprise UK, Charity Bank and the University of Northampton. A grant from the fund will help VCSEs, at the very beginning of their social investment journey, to get specialist and tailored support to become investment ready.