Spotlight on Helen Redfern
Here at Spotlight, we had the chance to chat with Helen Redfern, Managing Director at Regency Source. She spoke to us about the biggest lessons she has learned along the way and also gave some brilliant advice to those wanting to start a business.
Background - into you and your business?
Regency Source will be 8 years old on 11th November. Regency was ‘born’ after I was due to return to work after my maternity leave with my first child. At the time I had a business partner and it all started from our kitchen table as a lead generation company where we ensured learners had access to the right and appropriate training they needed to get into work. Those first few years weren’t easy and at its worst, we ended up taking a training company to court as they refused to pay our invoices. At the time I was 6 months pregnant with my second child. Due to the cash flow issues, this meant my business partner had to get alternative employment and subsequently left Regency. So I was heavily pregnant and now totally in charge of the company. 2 weeks before I gave birth I signed my first substantial contract. And got a little training room and office.
As I was breastfeeding my little girl went everywhere with me and her first business meeting was when she was 6 weeks old – I’d just started driving again after an emergency C section. We grew again and were offered a sub-contract so instead of finding learners for other companies to deliver training I had my own budget and could deliver my own training with my own staff. We quickly outgrew our old office and moved – our office was now less than a 5-minute walk from both the bus and train station which was perfect for our learners to be able to access our training. We were supporting the unemployed in our area to access training and support them into employment. We are quite unique in that we offer funded training and then additional training that really means something to them.
The peaks and troughs of funded training are not easy to manage. Just recently there was a retendering exercise that resulted in us having no funding at all for 2 months. We have a couple of smaller contracts that we are working on now and some irons in the fire so watch this space.
I overcame this with sheer hard work and putting myself out there. Calling on all the contacts I’ve ever had and selling what we do. Getting on the tendering portals so that we are notified of any new contracts with government funding and NEVER GIVING UP.
The knocks and setbacks have taught me valuable lessons that I will carry through for the rest of my time in this business. I have found strength and tenacity I never knew I had. Covid was a massive blow to our industry and not being able to open the classroom to learners was devastating. But even that wasn’t going to defeat me. I quickly learnt that it was not in my nature to roll over and give up and that the key to survival was adapting how we did things – zoom was our classroom, learners studied at home using an online platform, digital signatures, emails all became our new normal. And we did it. We still supported our learners. They still came first. We still got them into work. We survived when some of our peers didn’t.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
We always put the learner first in everything we do. We help our learners with guaranteed job interviews even though there is no funding for this. We give them access to courses that aren’t funded such as CSCS Card, FLT and SIA. We work with those learners that are harder to help and need extra support. We have helped learners get accommodation when they have been suddenly made homeless, we have paid for electricity and gas, we have arranged food parcels and given vouchers for interview clothes. We have dyslexia specialists who can support learners with learning disabilities or difficulties.
I am immensely proud that all my staff always follow our core values. I have the best team around me and not only the learners but me personally absolutely get the benefit of this.
Drive and Determination
I get my drive and determination from seeing a learner grow in confidence or go into work when they have been at rock bottom then it makes all the hard work worthwhile. For me, it’s all about the difference we can make.
The biggest lessons that you’ve learnt along the way
Nobody else feels your pain or sense of urgency quite as much as you do!!
You need to have confidence as there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders.
Surround yourself with the right team.
Three tips to those starting their careers
Feel the fear and do it anyway!!
Say yes and figure it out later.
Have an unconditional belief in yourself.
Advice to people wanting to start a business
Don’t be under any illusion that starting your own business is easy. If it was easy everyone would be doing it!! It takes time, you have to be prepared to invest 100% of your time, energy and focus on it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We learn so much more from the mistakes we make than when we are perfect all the time. Learn to evolve and be objective. Stay open-minded and embrace all opportunities that come your way. Don’t overthink things and follow your instincts. They very often serve us well.
What advice do you have for people aiming for leadership positions?
As MD the single most important thing is to make sure you have the right team. I have key roles in management positions and all my staff support each other. I lead by example and still get hands-on with teaching. Know what you do inside out so when you need to make decisions you are making them based on your full understanding of what your team actually does and not what you think they do.
The best and worst part of your role
Too many things I enjoy:
Having a sense of purpose.
Knowing we are making a difference to people.
Giving back to the learners.
The worst would be not always getting any time off!!! The ups and downs of funded training can be very stressful at times!!
Our latest project is training up the staff to deliver new qualifications. NEBOSH is the next accreditation we are going for once the staff are qualified. Our aim is to be ready to offer this mid-2022.