Hackney Changemakers: Ella Wiggans

I met the Good Beans crew on one of the social enterprise networking events run by Doug Racionzer (see earlier post) here in the Hackney social enterprise ecosystem. They write copy for a living, so you know you’re in for a good read as you find out how Ella (right) and Claire Birch (left) came to found their East London socent:

Good Beans social enterprise team, two white dark-haired women in white shirts laughing.

“I found myself in Hackney in 2007 after taking the plunge and moving from Bristol for an entry level job in a creative agency in Shoreditch. With no knowledge of the area, and my friends living in West London, I stayed with my aunt and uncle who had just moved to Dalston. There was no Dalston Station, or in fact any useful underground so I spent all of my time on buses, getting to know this wonderful city above ground. 

Hackney is the sort of place where nothing is off limits, and creative ideas could lead to amazing things. I saw the Dalston Curve Garden grow and the spirit of the Hackney festival. I also watched as grass roots charities and social enterprises started up, making the borough a better place for its diverse residents.

Disillusioned at the creative agency, I sought out more fulfilling work, like the organisations I was seeing in Hackney. I landed a job at Shift, who used design to tackle big social and environmental problems, and worked my way up to Director. We led projects to fight childhood obesity, built computer games that encouraged kids to meditate and so much more. I was full of enthusiasm and admiration for the city. 

When the role came to an end, I found myself untethered and a bit lost. I did bits of short-term consulting work but never found my groove. 

Founder stories often start in the most unexpected of ways, and this is true of ours too. My friend Claire worked in marketing for national charities and was feeling the same sense of restlessness. We both have big moral values and high hopes that our careers would allow us to bring some benefit to the world, but I was essentially a project manager and Claire a marketer – what good could we do with that? 

We could see that social entrepreneurs were frequently working solo or in small teams, and on tight (or non-existent!) budgets. Founders are often expected to manage customer service, finances, the website, social media and more. There was a concern that the challenges of running a business this way would lead to fledgling organisations closing before they had a chance to make an impact. It was then that Claire came up with the idea to partner up. What if we created our own marketing agency, but the clients were social enterprises, or small charities. We would charge affordable rates without any of the traditional agency nonsense, in the hope that they continue to succeed. 

Claire lived on a houseboat moored in the Hackney Marshes, and I had just got a lodger. We were living as lean as we ever have, and it was good timing, as our first year of Good Beans was hard. We both had the same drive though, and we saw it in our clients too, many of which were also based in Hackney. As we grew, we moved to a shared workspace in London Fields, before being accepted onto the Allia Future Impact Business Incubator programme, where we were introduced to even more exciting purpose-based organisations.

Five years on and we’ve had the privilege of working with a huge variety of east London clients including; Wen, the Bromley by Bow Centre, Hackney Cooperative Developments and Well Grounded. Their work and the achievements of so many other enterprises in the borough is contributing to a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable Hackney, and by supporting them, we have proven that a project manager and a marketer can actually make the world (or maybe Hackney) just a little bit better. 

If you like what you’ve read, see some of the work they’ve done here and talk to them. Remember you can hire me for sustainability and social enterprise walking conversations here in East London. Look out for photos from next week’s walk with a major bank who want to see the issues (and HackneyChangemakers solutions) at street level. Get in touch.

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