How the Big Gig Helped Education charity SOFEA

At SOFEA we have been tremendously fortunate to have gathered in a room some very talented people with some very interesting ideas, which have helped our charity to develop and grow in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.

We are an education charity, providing skills, work experience and therapeutic support to about 100 disadvantaged teenagers each year in a working social enterprise which redistributes 600 tonnes of surplus food to 130 charities a tear.

One month after we launched in September 2014 we hosted a Big Gig. We asked the question – ‘how do we grow?’ We got some very interesting feedback, but quickly realised we had asked the wrong question. We’d only been open 30 days and we didn’t really know what we needed to do to just keep going!

However, three years later when I return to the ideas and comments we had on that evening, a lightbulb goes off and I think ‘Aha!’ I can use that now. This has helped very recently when we’ve been considering scaling our operations.

In 2016 we invited the Big Gig back. This time we gave a warts and all story of where we were after 18 months – the candour paid off. The group got stuck into some meaty discussions about what could be done to help us kick on.

The advice from this session was, ‘put your money where your mouth is and get the young people to run the operation themselves’.

We did, we now employ 10 young people who came through our own training programme. Our warehouse supervisor (19), our internal communications officer (19), our waste and hygiene supervisor (20), our driver’s mate (20), our warehouse team and our cleaner all started with us as trainees and we have provided them all with their first paid employment. This is incredibly powerful, the role models these guys present to the rest of the trainees have proved a step change in the way we work.

Our third go was even better. Our pitch was ‘this is what we’ve achieved in three years, these are our core principles, what next?’

The ideas that came out of this session were many and varied, we’re still trying to digest them and set a direction.

The most interesting element of this session for me though was that it gave me a really clear sense of how others perceive us. This is incredibly important and valuable. In the way ideas were pitched back to us and the way the groups articulated their responses, several key attributes of SOFEA were highlighted and gave us a great deal of confidence in where we are heading.

We love the process, participating in other Big Gigs is always energising. Being the host has been a little scary, but we keep coming back for more!

Find out how to take part

The Big Gig is an Oxfordshire Business First innovation event run by Paul Essery and Frank Nigriello. To register to take part email Paul Essery at

About the author

Richard Kennell is the CEO of SOFEA. He founded the charity in 2014 after working in secondary schools for 15 years and as an educational consultant for 8 years.

Back to Blog