An award-winning co-op that is credited with keeping children healthier and safer while helping to reduce car-dependency, accidents and air pollution is scaling up its operation with help from Co-op Loan Fund.
Safe Kids Walking Ltd, which trades as Brightkidz, was set up in 2004 by concerned parents in Kettering, Northamptonshire, who were operating a walking bus scheme at their local school. A loan from Co-op Loan Fund helped Brightkidz get established and it was soon developing and supplying a range of products to support walk-to-school schemes such as hi-viz waistcoats and accessories whilst giving encouragement and information to schools and parents across the country. One of its major orders was supplying printed waistcoats to 35,500 children involved in the Co-operative Group’s Walking Bus scheme, which ran from 2008 to 2013.
Brightkidz has been widely praised and its awards include the 2007 Impact Award for Northamptonshire Casualty Reduction Partnership and the 2018 Modeshift Award for Contribution to Sustainable Travel (awarded to founder Alison Holland who was also a finalist in the Women In Ethical Business Awards).
Over the last 15 years there have been huge changes in the market for high-viz, attitudes towards it and in the awareness of the importance of walking or cycling to school. The high-viz waistcoats and other bright products were originally popular as a way of making drivers more aware of pedestrians and cyclists but are now also used for monitoring a group of pupils or drawing attention to a campaign.
Alison Holland, one of the founder members, said: “Now Brightkidz is at the ‘scaling up’ stage and the new loan will be crucial in enabling us to achieve the growth we know is possible. It will fund the staff costs of new team members including an apprentice and professional educators to help us develop the resources we offer so they meet the needs of schools. It will allow us to promote what we do more widely by covering the costs of events and marketing. It will allow us to invest in a wider variety and larger quantity of products which means we can offer more choice and great value. Although hi-viz waistcoats remain one of our most popular lines we offer many other products and we are keen to emphasise that keeping children safe is more about reducing car journeys and improving driver behaviour than about what the children wear”.
Brightkidz has just redesigned its online shop which includes some 100 products. It is also developing a complementary online shop of promotional products which is about to be launched under a different name.
The co-op has always sought to work in partnership with like-minded organisations. Its latest project, called ST:EPS (Safer Travel: Enabling Primary Schools), is being piloted in Kettering and in Corby. It aims to link schools to existing and new resources to enable them to promote safe, active travel to school. All ST:EPS projects are run in collaboration with local authority road safety or school travel teams with support from the local business community.
Alison said: “Any surplus we make is reinvested and used to promote walking to school, road safety initiatives and active lifestyles. This is a social enterprise and we are in business to solve problems. We are looking at ways of recording our social impact, which is something we have not done enough of in the past.”
Ian Rothwell of Co-op Loan Fund said “Brightkidz has been going almost as long as Co-op Loan Fund. We helped them start up and we are delighted to help them in the next stage of their development. During the last 15 years it has grown from a bright idea into a brilliant ethical business.”