The Real Photography Company, based in St. Paul’s Learning Centre, began as a group of local photographers who wanted to share their love of analogue photography and darkroom techniques. Founding directors Wendy Leocque and Ruth Jacobs spoke to Voscur about their journey to becoming a fully-formed Community Interest Company (CIC), a popular business model for social entrepreneurs.
“The darkroom was at risk of being closed and turned into offices when new owners took over. The manager wanted to keep the facility, but with no previous knowledge of darkrooms, she had to quickly assess if this was feasible. This is where we stepped in.”
After taking Voscur’s Kick Start course for emerging groups, social entrepreneurs and community ideas, Wendy and Ruth were able to progress:
“The programme helped us to focus our aims and develop an elevator pitch, and it helped us decide that we definitely wanted to become a CIC.”
“It was really helpful to meet others on the course, hear other start-up stories, look at their business models and see things from different perspectives, especially as we were all at different stages of the start-up process. It felt like a very supportive group where we could ask questions and get good advice and, as well as the business knowledge, Kick Start gave us the confidence to go ahead.”
The course also taught them about funding bids - writing applications for specific grants and funds to put towards their work. Each bid has to be tailored to the fund you apply to, and you have to prove why your organisation is worth funding. It's not just about who needs it most, but who will use the money wisely and will follow best practice.
Wendy and Ruth are proud of how far The Real Photography Company has come since its beginnings:
“We incorporated in July 2017 as a CIC, with a team of six Directors, four of which deliver workshops and courses. We have accessible black and white darkrooms that groups or individuals can hire, plus a low-cost membership scheme, and these both keep the darkrooms busy. We’re also open to the public seven days a week.”
The Real Photography Company has since worked with a range of local organisations, including Bristol Ageing Better, where it provided workshops for the over-50s, and the Royal School of Chemistry, where it provided chemistry workshops to local schools. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, it offered an Alternative Summer School, which will be repeated in summer 2021.
Voscur's Kick Start programme has evolved into the Starting Out programme, which looks at a wider range of topics to help you develop your social ideas and potential businesses. Courses can be found on the new VCSE Academy website.