Inspirational Woman: Harri Helvon-Hardy | Founder, FABRIC

Harri Helvon-HardyHarri Helvon-Hardy is Founder of FABRIC a social enterprise offering loving homes to children aged 16+ in care.

She also works to encourage other women to become entrepreneurs and offers her support and guidance allowing more females to follow their dreams and start their own businesses.

Harri is a prominent figure in the social care sector, having founded FABRIC, based in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, Wales, in 2015. FABRIC provide loving homes with trauma informed support to young people aged 16+ who are Looked After Children, Care Leavers, Homeless young people or Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children. FABRIC supports their ‘FABRIC Kids’ as they make the biggest step of their life and transition towards independent living.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the Founder of FABRIC, a social enterprise group that aims to ensure no young person is defined by their start in life and every child we look after knows they are loved. FABRIC has several different elements to it, we provide loving homes with trauma informed, relational-led support to young people aged 16+ who are in care, have been in care, are homeless or are Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children. We also have a registered charity which provides activities to support the physical and emotional development of young people in our FABRIC homes and in the community.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I was brought up to believe in a traditional education approach. I went to school and gained GCSE’s, went to college and gained A-Levels and went to university several times and gained two degrees. I didn’t have any real exposure to business, certainly not businesses that weren’t large corporations. Looking back my view of the opportunities for work were limited, I thought there were a number of key professions and that’s all that existed. It’s only since my mid-twenties and even more since being a business owner that the breadth of professions has been understood. FABRIC developed when I was a social worker, I felt there was a gap in provision for accommodation for young people and wanted to offer something I felt would make a difference. I didn’t really think I wanted to be a business owner, I wanted to help young people and wanted to create a job that I thought I would enjoy, and I didn’t think traditional social work would do that for long.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

In all honesty probably too many to mention. Starting FABRIC was a huge challenge in itself. I needed to borrow £350,000 to purchase, renovate and staff a building. FABRIC wasn’t a business that could grow organically, it had to be set up to full capacity from the beginning. Trying to access the funding was a huge challenge, with many ‘failures’ and several points where I considered giving up completely, but I didn’t and 18 months later we opened.

Since opening there has been a fairly consistent number of challenges but I do truly believe these have encouraged huge personal and professional development. There have been some challenges that I thought would be too big to recover from, and as difficult as they’ve been, I can look back now and see the lessons learnt in them all.

COVID has no doubt been the largest challenge I’ve navigated. I thought 2020 was hard but nothing prepared me for the impact of the social care recruitment crisis. So many times I questioned why I chose a 24/7, 365 days a year business and why I’d expanded into a second local authority. There have been moments when I’ve genuinely believed FABRIC wouldn’t survive but we are on the road to recovery which will hopefully speed up when we get back to full staffing teams.

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What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Honestly, seeing the difference we have made to young people in care. I always said that if I made a positive difference to one young person’s life all the hard work, stress and tears would be worth it. I know we have done this over and over again, which makes me incredibly proud. I am also beyond proud of Team FABRIC, particularly the senior management team who have all grown so much over recent years, without them I couldn’t do what I do.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Passion and authenticity. My passion is my why, I know there are others who would argue you don’t need passion for a business, I disagree, without the why I wouldn’t have continued with FABRIC. The why has got me through the dark times. I say authenticity because I think it’s easy in business to believe you need to act in a certain way to be taken seriously. I refuse to be anything other than myself, and I know I don’t fit any stereotypes of a business owner. People buy people and in my eyes, they buy into those who are being themselves.

What more needs to be done to help those in care?

People find it easy to empathise with small children, watching Children in Need reduces people to tears, yet when they see images of teenagers in hoodies behaving in less than ‘ideal’ ways there is little empathy shown. The link isn’t made that the children that reduce them to tears develop into teenagers with unaddressed trauma – they need kindness not judgement.

From a social business perspective, accessing funding is difficult. I won’t take private investment into FABRIC because there have been far too many cases of people seeing children’s social care as an investment opportunity. FABRIC is a purpose before profit company,  and we would benefit greatly from accessible and affordable funding to assist growth models.

Our charity, the FABRIC Foundation, has loads of incredible ideas to help children in care and fundraising can be incredibly challenging and competitive as a grassroots organisation. We would love to develop relationships with people and organisations that would like to support children in care.

How can we (businesses, individuals, government etc) help give those in care equal opportunities for the future?

Businesses could choose to work alongside organisations supporting children in care through Corporate Social Responsibility as well as looking at potential skills shares e.g. donating time to do some work such as marketing, website etc. One of our charities biggest challenges is funding our core costs e.g., our manager and our building.

Individuals could look at supporting grassroots organisations as opposed to large organisations. With grassroots organisations people get to physically see the impact they are making to children in care.

The government could look at a realistic plan to address the social care sector recruitment crisis, providing funding to assist social care organisations that have had to take loans out to survive the COVID-19 crisis. From the basis of young people in care, the government could build a system that accurately reflects the needs of young people. Young people leave care at 18 yet the average age that people leave home was assessed years ago as being 25, it’s likely higher than that and yet our care system expects the most of those who have in many cases had the least.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I am a firm believer that education is key and accessible education of high importance. I know that many people don’t understand the ways in which we don’t have gender equality. I consider myself a feminist and hugely supportive of accelerating the pace for change, but I also believe that achieving this has to be done by encouraging discussion. I don’t believe we achieve anything if people feel attacked, whereas taking a supportive educatory approach is more likely to lead to open discussion and reflection. I’ve had some brilliant conversations with people about issues around gender and sexuality where people have truly engaged. We live in a heteronormative patriarchal society and as a gay woman in business it can be very challenging at times, but I believe by understanding the differing levels of privilege we all have and honouring each other’s experiences and having respectful conversation we can achieve so much growth.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Embrace your uniqueness, stop trying to fit into a mould that wasn’t built for you and dream big, all your wildest dreams can become a reality if you trust your intuition and have faith.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am in the process of stepping back from FABRIC to allow my colleagues Jay, Sophie and Hannah to grow their careers. I am launching a tech product @StellaTech this year with my business partner Danni Thompson, and I am aiming to invest a whole lot more into my personal life.

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