Community Spark: Inspirational Kids, Ethical Construction and a Special Shop

Spark:York Director, Joe Gardham

This is the first in a series of posts detailing my adventures meeting amazing people and organisations across York. Spark’s aim is to be a central hub where people from all walks of life can socialise, feel welcome and comfortable, and enjoy great food, drink and entertainment.

As Directors, the three of us have taken very distinct roles to help us manage the huge workloads we have. Sam focuses on site construction and infrastructure (basically building the site), Tom focuses on tenants (making sure you have an amazing experience at Spark) and I focus on fundraising, communications and community partnerships.

The latter is my passion, and I spend a lot of time each week meeting businesses, charities, groups and individuals across the city who are doing amazing things. Most of the time their work goes under the radar of your average York resident. My blog is going to highlight some of the work of these groups, and I’d encourage you to get in touch with me if you know of anyone doing inspirational work across the city (details at the end).


Community Spark: Inspirational Kids, Ethical Construction and a Special Shop


Inspirational Kids

On Wednesday I met Ruth and Fiona from York Inspirational Kids, and had a great chat about making Spark inclusive and accessible. York Inspirational Kids are a support network for parents of children with additional needs; they’re a great group, very knowledgeable and experienced, and I’ve worked with them previously so had no hesitation in consulting them regarding Spark.

I asked them: “What’s on your wishlist? What would you like to see at Spark that nobody else provides in York city centre?” We chatted about step-free access and ramp designs, but the thing that struck me was a simple request: A curtain around the toilet, so people with Personal Assistants can have some privacy whilst on the loo!

When I get insights like this, it really shocks me, but also motivates me to make a difference. It’s such a basic human right. It doesn’t cost the earth, and should be something that’s standard everywhere. I can only assume it’s not because nobody has bothered to ask groups such as Inspirational Kids?

So, we are working hard to make Spark a fully inclusive and accessible space that is home to everybody. And I would like to see all businesses in York taking accessibility seriously, not just ticking their DDA requirements. There’s no excuses – here’s the website for Inspirational Kids – drop them a line and start doing things differently!



On Friday, I met with Steven Graham from Lendlease. Lendlease are a global construction company, who are developing the land around the Spark office on Peasholme Green. Their Sales & Marketing Suite is a contemporary glass box, and I expected to meet a standard corporate salesperson. But what a pleasant surprise! Steven explained the history of Lendlease (started by a Dutch social entrepreneur in Australia in 1957, who wanted to underpin the construction industry with social values), how his role is resourced (he basically gets to use company profits to reach out to communities, do good stuff and provide funding – what a job!), how the organisation invests in social value (Steven has an equivalent in every region Lendlease operates in) and how he was involved in building ArtWorks at Elephant & Castle in London (a very similar container development to Spark, built by Lendlease).

ArtWorks, Elephant & Castle, London

We had some great discussions around social purpose, making a difference and some of the amazing organisations Steven has come across in his two years in the post. And we agreed that Lendlease and Spark would have a long-term relationship going forward! A useful reminder to not always judge a book by its cover!

Grants of up to £2,000 are available from Lendlease for small, local community groups. Deadline for applications is 7th August, with decisions in September. Find out more here


Huby & Sutton Community Shop

From Lendlease I went straight over to Easingwold, well the village of Huby to be precise, to meet with Denise Howard, Chair of Huby & Sutton Community Shop. I was introduced to Denise by Jan Garrill from Two Ridings Community Foundation, and was looking forward to finding out more about the shop, it’s operating model and some of the challenges they’d faced.

Denise is very inspirational. Formally owner of York Boats (the big tourist boatyard under Lendal Bridge) and living in the city centre, she sold the business five years ago and moved to Huby to be closer to family. New to village life, she took an observer role in the imminent closure of the village store and the Parish Council meetings that discussed its future.

Barkers of Huby

With her vast experience in business, she became Chair of a Committee which won community ownership of the shop, successfully fundraised from local residents to refurbish it, installed new business practices (such as an electronic till and accounting system) and recruited a team of 90 volunteers to help run the shop!

Everybody at the shop is a volunteer, apart from the Post Office Manager who has to be an employee. Denise volunteers on Wednesdays, fitting it around running her other business interests. Volunteers are mostly retirees from the immediate area, and the shop has created a real community focus and cohesion. Denise told me about the life-changing impact the shop has had on some residents who faced loneliness and isolation – it has become the real heart of the community.

I found this such an inspirational way to end the week, and loved the way a community had been built through shared purpose (everybody being active in the project, not just recipients of it), vision (the whole community have had an input into the re-opening of the shop), and a lot of hard work!! This definitely has synergies with the Spark project, and Denise and I have agreed to stay in touch.


Get in touch

I hope you enjoyed reading this first blog about my week. I’m out and about every week meeting different organisations from across the area, and have built a small team to help me do this.

If you’re a not-for-profit organisation in York, or you know of any amazing small organisations, please drop me a line. We want Spark:York to be for everyone, and we want to use our profile in the city to support other organisations.

Likewise, if you work for a business in the city, who is currently doing (or would like to do) good things – get in touch.

And don’t forget, our crowdfunding campaign is still live. Please spare a couple of pounds to help us bring Spark to life, and support even more of these life-changing organisations. It takes about 5 minutes to register and donate at


Joe Gardham
Director, Spark:York CIC
07551 008 631

Spark:York’s Communities and Partnership work is kindly supported by Rank Foundation