Hi, I'm Clare Watson and I'm one of the Creators of The Bee Tree Community CIC , alongside my friend Debbie Bentley.
My official title is Marketing Director - it sounds very posh (it really isn't!) - and just means that I'm the one who created Bee Tree's visual identity in terms of our logo and branding. I also partly created and maintain our website and do all of our marketing and engagement across social media and design any markering materials. Debbie is our Business Director and does all things wordy, numbers and networking in the real world basically. You can read about us here .
Neither of us are in these roles by profession or due to expertise - I am a previous Nurse & Midwife, current trainee Counsellor and part-time Diet/Weight Loss Consultant. Debbie is a Counsellor, previous Lecturer, worked in Public Health and is currently studying for her PHD. We run Bee Tree voluntarily around our other jobs, families and part time studies, supported by our small team of amazing volunteers. It's exhausting! But given where our expertise and experience does lie, we know how much our service is needed. Let me tell you about it:
The Bee Tree Community is a CIC officially set up in January 2021. It started out as an idea in lockdown 2020 that Debbie had when all of us were having to get used to Zoom and were dealing with loneliness and isolation when we possibly hadn't previously. Her mum and some of her friends and my nana were just some of the people we knew personally who were finding lockdown particularly hard. Her idea was simple, yet brilliant - why not use Zoom and the nation's newfound experience of it to bring lonely and isolated people together through a timetable of different group Zoom sessions in an online community centre? She approached me with this idea as someone who could transform it into an actual 'thing' and that was that - we were off! (See our story here )
With help from the Propeller service at the University of Central Lancashire (we both study there) we got a plan together to run a 6 week trial of The Bee Tree Community from November 2020 until Christmas. My husband (aka our IT guy) set us up on google sheets and we created our email and Zoom account. I made our logo and social media accounts. We had friends and family offer to be hosts for our sessions - some ran their own businesses in these topics (such as Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Art), all of them were passionate about supporting our cause and wanted to help make Bee Tree a reality.
We ran that trial at around two sessions daily. Over that 6 week period, we grew and grew. People all over the UK loved the idea of what we were doing - those who joined us for the sessions came to rely on Bee Tree for company and some relief from the stresses of the world. For us, it did exactly the same thing - we came out of sessions smiling and feeling lighter. It was relaxed, engaging, creative and funny - our community came to care about each other and we missed people when they couldn't come. For some people it was incredibly emotional - they had lost their sense of belonging due to being locked down and the relief Bee Tree brought them was immense.
Once the trial was over, our members immediately wanted to know when we were coming back. They missed us hugely. In truth, we hadn't honestly thought it would be as successful as it was. We were astonished. For us, that meant one thing - we had to come back as an established CIC a lot sooner than we thought we would! That meant registering the CIC, creating the website and getting it to host our entire service. We were running at a level that we hadn't expected to be at for around another year.
Between Debbie, her son, me and my husband we learned how to make that website and we built it ourselves. We couldn't afford any alternative. It took so long to learn how to and actually do it, but we did and we are so, so proud of it! We gained new hosts, a new timetable and a whole new way of working - the brand new The Bee Tree Community CIC went live in April 2021 and our members flocked back to us. It was like we'd never been away. This time we created WhatsApp groups too for every Zoom session we ran - it means that our members can now stay in touch around the sessions, share resources and chat about them and their every day lives if they want to. They love them!
The Bee Tree Community CIC now runs with and is run by us and a small but incredibly loyal community. It is a full time job that myself and Debbie run all aspects of around our other commitments and in our free time on a voluntary basis. We moderate and safeguard our entire service between us. As I've said previously, none of us are experts at this. We just have the will to run it based on our knowledge and experience of how much it is needed by our society and the difference it can make. Our testimonials alone are enough to keep us running on those days when we are so tired - Bee Tree truly does change lives. You can see our first year celebration video here
While our members pay £10 monthly for access to every aspect of Bee Tree, it doesn't amount to funds that allow us to go beyond covering running costs and buying basic marketing materials. Similarly we don't have a Business Development department - we basically have me and my social media efforts, both of us emailing companies/organisations, word of mouth and luckily for us the interest of Cassie James at Mighty Radio Southport who offers us regular interviews and the fundraising efforts of Tara Humphrey from The Business of Healthcare Podcast who featured us, as did the Lancashire Post. We are a nationwide service due to being fully online - but that makes it so much harder to market and develop as the scope is huge and we are tiny with no resources. As I said before, it's exhausting. We are growing, but very slowly.
We've found too that actually reaching people who are lonely and/or isolated is difficult - many are not on social media, will never see our leaflet as they don't leave their homes and may not hear of us on local radio. We cannot afford the kind of advertising that could possibly reach them directly ie radio or TV. What we need is to reach the people who are in their lives in either a personal or professional capacity and who can tell them about us.
All of these people are likely to be the ones accessed via different methods. Effective social media campaigning would certainly help, but ultimately we need support to be able to network with other well established organisations who are already working with and supporting our potential members. Currently, I suspect we are working hard but are missing basics that are hindering our reach and engagement across all of our efforts. We need a Business Development professional who can come in and teach us and help us to market, advertise, network and liaise effectively with an informed business growth strategy. Our time is so precious and limited, we need to spend it wisely. While we've taught ourselves a hell of a lot, we need someone who can physically work with us and who has the know how and the skills to take what me and Debbie are trying to achieve and really, truly get it heard and seen by those who need us.
Me and Debbie want to make a difference for people in our local and nationwide communities. We want to get out of this rut that is currently draining us and holding our growth back to take Bee Tree on the road and go off and do what we do best - talk about it! Now that the country is opening up again, we want to visit groups like the WI and U3A and many others to tell them about us. We want to network with the big organisations who support vulnerable people in so many different ways. But we need to make sure our core Business Development strategy is in place and being enacted well before we do that. If we don't get this right now, the future of Bee Tree isn't secure. We don't have the time or energy to continue running as we are alongside our actual jobs and studies and families and reaching so few people, no matter how much we want to make a difference sadly.
Given that we are a CIC rather than a charity and are tiny we have been unable to receive any grants or funding for Bee Tree. We have relied entirely on the very small funds raised by our membership and have £2000 banked from previous fundraising. While incredible, it isn't enough to get a longer term marketing strategy in place.
Could you help us? We'd like to raise £4000 to add to the £2000 previous fundraising has given us to safely secure 1 year of Business Development, ideally from a person who we can help to give a boost to their career prospects too. We don't need to rocket in popularity - we just need to grow by around 1-200 members over that year. We are hopeful that our growing membership could then cover the costs of our ongoing Business Development in addition to the established running costs of our community. Our service as it stands would accommodate that with no changes needing to be made. After that, we'd need to make some small adaptations which we've already planned for and our ultimate dream is to truly become a huge organisation operating all over the UK - please help us to make those plans a reality as we reach more people who can benefit from The Bee Tree Community CIC.
I appreciate this has been a long read - if you've reached this point thank you so much for sticking with it. If you can't donate, then please share this across your social media. We'd be so grateful, we really would. Loneliness and isolation are not acute crises born of lockdown - they are chronic and far reaching in impact across so many sections of our society. Older people, single parents, those with physical/mental health issues, those who are grieving, who are traumatized, who are carers, who are stressed, who are burnt out and so many more. Loneliness and isolation can affect any of us at any time. Lockdown merely highlighted that. Please help us to be seen and known by other services who can then offer us as a community and very real resource for people to improve their holistic health and wellbeing.
Tel: 07703 524 950