“Our jewellery is designed so it can be made in people’s bedrooms, overcoming many barriers to employment,” says Pivot’s Alice Moxley. Image: Benoît G-A
As part of our Meet the Maker series, we speak to the people behind the creations in the Big Issue Shop – a platform for buying ethical products which put people and the planet first. This time, we speak to Alice Moxley, the founder and CEO of Pivot, which sells Christmas decorations made by people experiencing homelessness and living in temporary accommodation.
What can we find on your part of the Big Issue Shop?
We’ve got a selection of Christmas decorations, hand-made jewellery and bookmarks!
How do your products make a positive difference in the world?
We take training and meaningful employment to people living in temporary accommodation by teaching them how to design, make and sell jewellery. Our programmes teach people both hard and soft skills, allowing them to gain confidence, and get back into a more normal rhythm.
The jewellery we sell is specifically designed to be made in a domestic setting: we use no fire in its production, but cold connection and rivets (tiny nail-like things that hold the metal together). This means that where people struggle to access work outside of the hostel, we can take work directly to them.
Our jewellery is designed so it can be made in people’s bedrooms, overcoming many barriers to employment and providing a stepping stone for better engagement with services and eventually move on from the hostel.
What inspired you to start your company and how did it start?
The idea for Pivot emerged while I was working as a progression and support worker at a north London hostel, working under the head of education and training.
I credit the idea to the residents I worked with, one of whom being Jason (now on our senior leadership team and head of workshops), who were open about the challenges they faced. Part of my role was trying to get people into work, and increasingly found that there were many barriers stacked against residents preventing them from simply getting to the job centre.
Things which might be overlooked – such as timetabled meals restricting the hours they could work, or costly bus journeys which meant work needed to be close by – were very real challenges. Mental health problems and a chaotic hostel lifestyle meant employers needed to be flexible and understanding. It also became apparent that many of the options for work presented to hostel residents were not creative or meaningful, and that seemed a real shame when so many had interests in working creatively.
There was then a lightbulb moment about three months into the job where I thought: “If residents find it difficult to go out to work, is there a way that work can be taken to them?”
I trained as an architect so I have a background in design, and I have been making jewellery for over eight years. The solution was to think creatively about the constraints of the problem – where did the opportunities lie? The idea that came out was to take jewellery making directly into hostels – so that’s what I did.
Using a method of manufacture inspired by the architect Walter Segal, I used a system of making which meant that prefabricated parts could be taken to the hostel where they could be finished and assembled. Since then, we have worked with beneficiaries to understand their needs, and our business has developed with our growth being focussed on creating more employment opportunities for programme graduates within our organisation.
We started piloting in November 2019, and launched on Feb 3 2020, 49 days before the first pandemic lockdown. It’s been quite a wild three years for us as an organisation.
What is the biggest issue everyone should know about at the moment?
For me, it’s the issue of homelessness in temporary accommodation. I think often when people think of homelessness, they think of rough sleeping, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
In the UK, 1.15 million households are on waiting lists for social housing: it is estimated homelessness has risen by 50 per cent in England since 2010. For many on waiting lists, they will be placed in temporary accommodation – hostels or B&Bs designed as a temporary measure. These are often not temporary and people stay for months, even years. Not having access to safe or stable housing is a massive destabiliser. There’s clearly a knock on effect for people who live in temporary accommodation in terms of working – more often than not, living in these environments sets people back, making the movement to independent living even more challenging.
What’s more is that the universal credit system makes it very unappealing to work – you aren’t much better off financially working compared to being unemployed and in supported living, if you work, you become at risk of paying for your hostel rent (normally covered by the government and extortionately high). There is so much stacked against people living in these situations, making move-on extremely difficult.
What is one thing anyone can do to make a positive difference?
I truly believe in the power of social enterprise and good business. If people can do one positive thing to make a difference in the world, it is to try and make purchases from organisations who are making a positive impact in the world. Even shopping more locally rather than purchasing with a large chain, or buying second hand can make a huge difference – making a difference doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult.
There are so many good businesses out there just waiting to serve you: from toilet roll (Who Gives A Crap and Naked Sprout) to eating (Fat Macy’s and Luminary Bakery) to boozing (Toast Ale) to washing (Good Wash Company) to dressing (Birdsong and Sojo) to gifting (Miss Macaroon and The Glasshouse).
The list is endless – there’s even a social enterprise procurement company, Supply Change, who can help your business make better and more ethical choice in who their suppliers are. There are many great businesses out there, so find them, tell your friends about them, and support them (especially over this festive period), because your purchase will truly be going so much further than into the pockets of those in charge.