Community Spirit

This week we high­light the spir­it of com­mu­ni­ty with Ele Stevens, founder of the bare­foot accoun­tant, who pro­vid­ed a plat­form for strug­gling local traders.  

Words Miran­da Wilkin­son

the bare­foot accoun­tant has always been about think­ing dif­fer­ent­ly, act­ing authen­ti­cal­ly and respond­ing pos­i­tive­ly to change. 

I qual­i­fied as an accoun­tant back in 2006 whilst liv­ing in Edin­burgh, but found I spent much of my work­ing life try­ing to fit the mould of a tra­di­tion­al accoun­tant – and I very clear­ly wasn’t that! My pas­sion for cre­ative arts is what drove me to set-up the bare­foot accoun­tant – pro­fes­sion­al accoun­tan­cy ser­vices but deliv­ered in a relaxed, under­stand­able, per­son-cen­tred way backed by a real pas­sion for, and under­stand­ing of, the unique chal­lenges of the cre­ative indus­tries. 

Fast for­ward to 2020 and we have grown from a one-woman oper­a­tion to a team of five kick-ass females and a fan­tas­tic shop on Red­bourn High Street, in Hert­ford­shire; with exposed brick walls, fake grass under foot, art and beau­ti­ful bespoke meet­ing chairs made by a bril­liant local design­er. 

At the begin­ning of this year, as the COVID-19 cri­sis was bur­geon­ing across the world, we were busy in our lit­tle cor­ner of Hert­ford­shire, secur­ing and begin­ning to move into our new work home, just across the road from our old office. As the first Lock­down began, it was as a huge­ly chal­leng­ing time for every­one in Britain, and also for our lit­tle team. Whilst adjust­ing to work­ing from home and to home-school­ing our kids, we con­tin­ued to sup­port clients in nav­i­gat­ing their way through the new schemes avail­able to them, under­stand­ing the maze of new gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion, and help­ing some to find ways to sur­vive where no gov­ern­men­tal sup­port was acces­si­ble. They were dif­fi­cult and exhaust­ing times, but also incred­i­bly reward­ing, as we found that our unique ser­vice and ways of work­ing could cre­ate a lit­tle bit of calm, a lit­tle bit of hope, for our clients, despite the mas­sive chal­lenges COVID threw up, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the cre­ative arts and asso­ci­at­ed indus­tries. 

Notwith­stand­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties all around us, the busi­ness con­tin­ued to grow — we man­aged to keep run­ning through­out Lock­down, worked hard to remain con­nect­ed as a team, and slow­ly but sure­ly com­plet­ed the move into our fab­u­lous new premis­es. As soon as we could, the bare­foot team came back togeth­er, reunit­ed in a brand-new shared space and feel­ing clos­er than ever from bat­tling adver­si­ty togeth­er. And piece by piece, our new home took shape; grass back on the floor, art up on the walls and our res­i­dent gnomes final­ly set­tling into their new sur­round­ings. We, and our clients, breathed a sigh of relief. 

And then the sec­ond Lock­down was announced. 

This time we knew we could cope as a busi­ness but I’d seen how local non-essen­tial shops had been hit so hard first time around and realised the dev­as­tat­ing effect this new Lock­down could now have in the crit­i­cal pre-Christ­mas peri­od. The bare­foot team love where we live and the range of great busi­ness­es that sur­round us, but I couldn’t think of how to help. 

Cue Emma, one of our love­ly clients who runs Cosi­tas Gifts in St Albans who had devel­oped an inno­v­a­tive method of win­dow shop­ping with her broth­er at Fuse Inno­va­tion, which she was using at her shop whilst the busi­ness was closed. Each prod­uct dis­played in her win­dow has a cor­re­spond­ing QR code. Cus­tomers could scan the code and be tak­en direct­ly to the prod­uct on Cosi­tas’ online shop, where they could find out more, pay for the item and either click and col­lect or have it deliv­ered local­ly for free. 

We sud­den­ly realised that every win­dow could be a Cosi­tas’ win­dow. EVERY win­dow could be ANY win­dow. So I put new shelv­ing in the inside of our win­dows, and cre­at­ed a usable win­dow space for the dis­play of oth­er people’s prod­ucts. This new ini­tia­tive is prov­ing very pop­u­lar with­in the com­mu­ni­ty and our local news­pa­per has even launched an “adopt a shop” ini­tia­tive, inspired by our part­ner­ship with Emma, encour­ag­ing local accoun­tants, solic­i­tors and estate agents to offer up their shop win­dows as a pro­mo­tion­al plat­form for local traders strug­gling through Lock­down. We’ve even had a men­tion on the Lau­ren Lav­erne show on Radio 6 Music (we love her!) and we’re so proud and hap­py to have kick­start­ed an ini­tia­tive that we hope can spread across the coun­try to bring busi­ness­es togeth­er and sup­port those that are bat­tling with the effects of COVID on their busi­ness­es and liveli­hoods. 

In Octo­ber, we also began a part­ner­ship with the Harp­en­den & St Albans Hygiene Bank, hous­ing a col­lec­tion point with­in the shop. We strong­ly believe in com­bat­ting hygiene pover­ty and knew that there wasn’t a local, con­ve­nient point for our kind com­mu­ni­ty in Red­bourn to make dona­tions. The Hygiene Bank sup­ports those in pover­ty in the local com­mu­ni­ty through the col­lec­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of essen­tial toi­letries and per­son­al hygiene prod­ucts. Peo­ple from all over the coun­try can locate their near­est Hygiene Bank col­lec­tion point, give gen­er­ous­ly if they can, and find out oth­er ways to sup­port this wor­thy cause by vis­it­ing

For us, one of the most beau­ti­ful things to come out of 2020 is the reawak­en­ing of true com­mu­ni­ty spir­it. As a busi­ness we have always been com­mu­ni­ty-focussed with an authen­tic desire to sup­port, nur­ture and invest in peo­ple and ini­tia­tives that make a dif­fer­ence and this dif­fi­cult year, that has been heart-break­ing for so many peo­ple, has strange­ly pro­vid­ed us at the bare­foot accoun­tant to real­ly give back, to real­ly live what we believe in.