Community Wealth Building Gathering Talk in Ayrshire
Craig Hume - MD @ Utopia
Community Wealth Building in Ayrshire
Introduction to this Community Wealth Building Blog
This blog is based on a talk I gave at the Community Wealth Building Gathering at Ayrshire College on the 23rd of March 2023. You can learn more about Aryshire's aspirations for community wealth building here: https://www.ayrshiregrowthdeal.co.uk/service/community-wealth-building/
Introduction to my talk on Community Wealth Building
Good morning folks. What a wonderful event, and well done to everyone who made today happen; these things don’t come together easily, so congratulations. Also, when I heard I’d be following the amazing Alister Dobson, I knew I would have to bring my best game. Nice talk, Alastair. You never fail to inspire. So this morning, I’m here to share the story of my little
company called Utopia and how we decided to take on some of the biggest tech firms in the world from our base in Kilmarnock and how we accidentally put community wealth building at the heart of what we do. Does that sound like fun? Great stuff, Ok, so Utopia has over 20 years of experience providing technology solutions. We have always been dedicated to empowering our community, nurturing talent, and being environmentally conscious. Today, I hope to inspire and encourage you to embrace these principles and empower your organisation to contribute to community wealth-building goals.
So first up, let me tell you a little bit about Utopia. We are a technology solutions company based in Kilmarnock, and as I said, we have been running for over 20 years. My Dad originally set up the business, which was a simple PC repair store like many of the thousands dotted across the county. Cut to today, and we are now known for building some of the fastest computers in the world (like the one pictured here that my colleague Robert is building) for some incredible clients. For example, if you have ever watched Strictly Come Dancing on TV, you will have seen the animated logos and graphics rendered on Utopia’s graphic workstations. My team's job is to take our client's challenges and provide solutions. For our custom-built computers, that could be making their workflow faster or, in the case of one memorable system making it quieter. The client's current solution was a server that, when running, made the same noise as a boing 747 from 1 nautical mile. Utopia’s solution outperformed the existing server and worked silently on the customer's desk. Locally we also provide managed network support and cyber security advice and implementation. For individuals, we deliver repairs and technical support, many at reduced costs for those most in need, doing our small part to build a digitally inclusive community.
So how does all this correlate to Community Wealth building? To illiterate, I’ve taken the 5 key pillars and demonstrated how Utopia has benefited from building our business around them. I’ll also conclude with some opportunities and challenges I can foresee and a little tech surprise.
We strongly believe in fostering a sense of shared ownership among our team. To achieve this, we provide shares in our business to our long-standing team members, ensuring they benefit directly from Utopia’s success. This model boosts team motivation and contributes to a more equitable distribution of wealth within our company. Sadly recent tax changes mean that this isn’t as beneficial as it once was, but we will continue to innovate and share equity amongst our team in the best way possible. It’s also worth highlighting that many of our team have been with us for over 10 years and in a world of silent quitting and great resignation, this is one stat I’m very proud of.
Anchoring Wealth Locally
Our business is deeply rooted in our community and is committed to supporting its economic development. We achieve this by offering various technology services, including online scam advice, free to those who need it most. We also welcome opportunities to speak to local community groups, engage with schools and help charities apply for discounted or free technology solutions, like Microsoft Office. Also, by sourcing services locally and partnering with local suppliers whenever possible, we ensure that wealth circulates within the community, contributing to its long-term prosperity.
Developing Workforce Skills
We pride ourselves on our ability to identify and nurture young talent. Over the years, we have taken on numerous young individuals who have yet to gain IT experience and provided them with extensive training and mentorship. Many have gone on to work for major companies like Amazon and JP Morgan, reflecting the quality of our skills and education. 5 of our team have been honoured to be listed on the 30 under 30 tech superstars shortlist. Our most recent success is three young individuals that we employed through the Government Kick Start Scheme. As we speak, they are running their own store in Kilmarnock’s town centre, repairing devices, offering technical support and refurbishing technology, saving it from landfills and providing the local community with low-cost laptops and desktops. Our commitment to developing local talent contributes to a skilled and resilient workforce better equipped to drive economic growth within our community.
Property Use for Social Good
This pillar is a work in progress for Utopia. Businesses like ours often get to a certain size, then move to an industrial estate on the fringes of our communities. Utopia is keen to remain in our town centre, bringing jobs and vibrancy to the high street. The way our communities want to use our high streets is changing. Utopia envisages creating a hub that will bring light manufacturing and assembly, retail and upcycling and a space for locals to get advice on all things tech in the heart of Kilmarnock. Many blockers are in the way of this vision, but that has not stopped the team at Utopia from delivering this from our two existing spaces in Kilmarnock’s town centre.
Progressive Procurement of Goods and Services
Our procurement practices emphasise sustainability and social responsibility. We actively seek partnerships with local suppliers who share our commitment to the environment and the community. By prioritising responsible sourcing and supporting local businesses, we help ensure wealth remains within the community and contributes to its well-being. I can share two examples of this in action, one where CWB didn’t work and the other where it did. A short while ago, I was invited to complete a quick quote for some IT work for a local public body. Sadly, Utopia lost a few % on the price to a firm in Glasgow. Now, Glasgow isn’t a million miles away. Still, it did mean that the local jobs that CWB has at its heart were not protected, and it also meant that there was a greater impact on the environment with regular trips being required to and from the public body and the firm in Glasgow. All, however, is not lost. Just last week, Barclays walked the walk and approached Utopia to collaborate on a local IT project with CWB at its heart. Utopia has since been awarded to work, and we look forward to working with them. This is special as it would have been arguably easier for Barclays to use existing suppliers, Dell or Lenovo. Still, they chose to come to Utopia because they had committed CWB—credit where credit is due…well done, Barclays.
Our experience demonstrates that aligning business practices with the five key pillars of community wealth building is possible and beneficial for both the company and the community. As we continue to grow and evolve, we remain steadfast in our commitment to these principles, striving to create a lasting positive impact on the communities we serve. I encourage all large and small organisations to consider how they can embrace and integrate community wealth-building principles into their operations. We can create a more prosperous, equitable, and resilient future for all. Thank you for this opportunity. Oh, and I said there would be a surprise, the format for my talk today was given to me by AI, I asked a tool that is freely available on the Internet (ChatGPT) to help me prepare for this talk and the format and suggested guidelines were all created by this tool in mear seconds, saving me time and allowing me to deliver even more value back to my team. AI will change everything; if anyone wants to know more about Utopia, our views on CWB or emerging tech like AI - please get in touch. Thank you.