MBE is testament to everyone I’ve worked with who shares a vision of a fairer society

Winners medal March & Shoot competition 1978

When I was trudging through the mud as a fresh-faced private in the weekend Territorial Army I never thought I would one day be honoured as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. But that hot sweaty day ignited in me something which would chart the course of the rest of my life: a determination to see people treated fairly and a belief that every individual should have the same chance to reach their potential, regardless of their background or training.

That year, 1978, my 8-man infantry section entered a ‘march and shoot’ competition against full-time regular army units, including the Royal Marines and Paratroop Regiment. We marched 13 miles in under 3 hours, tackled 3 challenging obstacles en route, whilst each carrying a 60lb pack, a rifle with 20 rounds of live ammunition. On top of that we carried a radio and machine gun. Terry, one of our lads, was a painter and decorator who worked at weekends so couldn’t train. The day of the competition was baking hot and within a few miles Terry was flagging. Everyone in the team took turns to carry his pack and rifle – even his jacket – and we literally dragged him to the end of the course.

By this time Terry was hobbling in agony but he struggled through to the final challenge. This was the vital, scoring part of the competition; a 600 yards sprint across open ground firing at pop-up targets. As soon as we finished, Terry sank to the ground and we watched in horror as he pulled off his boots, revealing his raw, bloodied feet.

At least we had finished. Our happiness was short-lived however. Soon came the announcement that, after all our effort, we had come last; we’d scored the least hits. Bewildered, I did a quick calculation and realised our score was impossibly low – two of us alone had scored the 15 they claimed was our total team score. I challenged the scoring. Result? The invigilators, assuming a rag-tag team of civilians couldn’t possibly have beaten elite servicemen, had automatically allocated us the lowest score. In fact we had won the competition! I still have the medal. The sense of triumph it gives me has little to do with being a good shot myself but rather the exhilaration of being with a group of men whose dogged teamwork, individual tenacity, and refusal to be cowed by ‘the system’ had pulled off a remarkable win against incredible odds.

Institutional discrimination.

All of my work as a social entrepreneur has been informed by a passion to overcome what I call institutional discrimination: To create opportunities for and give a voice to people who are left behind or underestimated by society.

But having a lonely passion is not enough – to do anything at scale you need allies. In May 2002, I met a remarkable man called Peter Watherston who was heading up a homelessness charity, First Fruit. At that very first meeting we agreed to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity. Together we would take on a contract with HSBC to remove and recycle ALL 59,000 items of furniture being discarded by HSBC in their enormous move to Canary Wharf (the largest office relocation in European history).

My very young social enterprise, Green-Works, had an annual turnover at the time of £23,000, and I had enough cash to employ a young man, Chris Triggs, for 3 months. Peter, a trained accountant and CoE vicar was employing a small number of homeless people doing deliveries. Neither of us had any experience in running a warehouse or managing a project on this scale. Nevertheless, we shook hands there and then and committed to work with each other. On the strength of that hand shake he took on a huge warehouse in the East End of London, and I negotiated a comprehensive contract with HSBC. Over the next 12 years we worked together creating literally hundreds of jobs and recycling 47,000 tonnes of furniture.


A shared vision centred on a genuine desire to support others is such a solid foundation for partnership. The world of social enterprise brings together extraordinarily committed people who think creatively to work through whatever obstacles are thrown in the way.

Based on my experience of running Green-Works for 12 years, I wrote a book called ‘How to make a million jobs.’ During my research I confirmed the worst fears about our society that my experience had shown me. I revealed some frightening statistics about how many people in the UK are functionally illiterate, how many communities are left behind, and how the headline unemployment numbers mask the real, underlying enormity of structural worklessness.

I set up Tree Shepherd to prove my theory. Even the most statistically deprived community is bristling with untapped talent. With the right blend of business guidance and a supportive network many people can generate income for themselves and create employment for others. More than 75% of the start-ups we have supported are run by women or people from ethnic minorities – people who are too often patronised or discriminated against by landlords, banks and local authorities.

Tree Shepherd combines my belief in people and my passion for creating partnerships to tackle discrimination and adds a dose of advocacy. This has proved to be a potent recipe for developing communities of businesses who individually and together play to their strengths, speak up, and take their place as meaningful contributors to their local economy.

This MBE is testament to everyone I’ve worked with who share this vision for a fairer society

Mayor joins celebration in Hammersmith as 15 budding entrepreneurs start up for the first time

Entrepreneurs, business people, local residents and the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham came together today to celebrate the graduation of 15 participants from Tree Shepherd’s Start Your Own Enterprise course.

The 8-week course was funded by Hammersmith & Fulham council alongside Hammersmith United Charities, White City Big Local and with support from Land Securities and the Petit Miracle Hub. This course is just the beginning of an exciting entrepreneurial journey for local residents.

The programme took entrepreneurs though all the essentials of starting and running a business, plus key principles of business administration including understanding your market, managing money and dealing with customers. Participants are excited to start a range of new businesses, from food stalls to clothing to mental health support for young people.

Each successful participant was presented with a Tree Shepherd graduation certificate by the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham, Michael Cartwright.

One of the participants, Tieyan Eweka-Olorunfemi, who is setting up her own food business, Jollof Mama, said “I am very passionate about West Indian food and I’ve already started trading at some markets and festivals The course has helped me to focus and to take my business to the next level.”

Another participant, Morakot Daniels, who is setting up a business selling exotic fruit soaps, said “It was a full-day course over 8 days but the time flew. I really enjoyed the course – can I repeat it?”

Colin Crooks, CEO of Tree Shepherd said, “It’s fantastic to work here in Hammersmith and welcome another cohort of Tree Shepherd graduates to our ever-growing Forest Network. I never cease to be impressed by the amount of talent and sheer get-up-and-go of London residents, and we look forward to helping their businesses to grow and develop. This course is just the beginning, and Tree Shepherd will be there to support them with every step.”

The businesspeople are supported by Petit Miracle Hub, a local charity which reduces unemployment through provision of skills training in traditional craft, restoration, basic DIY, painting & decorating, interior design trades, retail, entrepreneurship and business skills. The entrepreneurs now have the opportunity to tap into retail opportunities through the Petit Miracle Hub business incubator, which includes a shop in the West 12 Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush.

Elisicia, Petit Miracles, Founder said:“We are delighted to be working in partnership to offer a new kind of opportunity to local residents. The entrepreneurs get a chance to grow their own start-up business, from fledgling idea to actually trading from our community shop. By sharing our knowledge and encouraging the group to support one another we are creating our very own collaborative ecosystem.”

The Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham, Michael Cartwright, said “It’s great to see these community organisations coming together to deliver such a great programme. I was impressed by the entrepreneurs and their enthusiasm, and I’m sure they will make a success of their businesses off the back of this 8-week course.”

To find out about future training opportunities for entrepreneurs in White City, email info@treeshepherd.org.uk or call us on 020 3697 1541.

To find out about trading opportunities in Shepherd’s Bush or other locations, visit www.petitmiracles.org.uk/hub or email elisicia@petitmiracles.org.uk




Started your own enterprise? Now what?

Scale Up Masterclass

Starting a business is hard. And once your business is up and running, scaling it up so it reaches its full potential is also hard.

At Tree Shepherd, we have supported over 700 budding entrepreneurs since 2013 to turn their business ideas into reality and 40% of those new businesses have successfully started trading. We’ve run Start Your Own Enterprise courses, we’ve held one-to-one business advice clinics and we’ve run events and street markets to help people test trade their products and services.

So how can we help once you’ve started test trading? Drum roll please….

We are proud to announce our new Scale Up Your Business course! This interactive 4-day course is aimed at Lambeth residents who are already trading on a small scale and are ready to grow. Perhaps you are working from home and need to make the transition to formal shared workspace. You may be generating income but need to improve your financial management and cashflow. You may have found your first customers and now need to hone your brand and marketing to build a pipeline of customers. If this sounds like you, sign up here for our Scale Up Your Business course starting 13th July. The course will run at We Are 336, 336 Brixton Road, Brixton, London, SW9 7AA, just a few minutes away from Brixton tube station.

As with all of our courses, all business ideas are welcome and no academic qualifications are required. The course is free for individuals aged 18+ resident in the borough of Lambeth who are unemployed or receiving benefits or on low household income.

Tree Shepherd CEO Colin Crooks says, ‘We’re delighted to be able to offer this new course. At Tree Shepherd we have found that clients who engage with us over a prolonged period of time make more progress with their business, and we hope that our new Scale Up Your Business course helps even more people to push on and turn their start-up into a sustainable enterprise.  With Universal Credit requiring people to prove they are “gainfully self-employed” this course is essential for everyone who is starting out but still claiming some sort of benefit.

If you’d like to sign up or if you have any questions, just drop us a line at info@treeshepherd.org.uk or call us on 020 3697 1537 or on 020 3697 1541. Alternatively, just leave your details here and we’ll give you a call back.