Ice cream maker Richard Gordon has a real vision for the future. While he makes and sells his delicious treats through his business, The Willen Ice Cream Company, he has a much bigger dream – to give opportunities to young people with educational challenges.
And with help from the FEAST2 (Food Enterprise Advisory Support Team) scheme, he has plans to grow the Milton Keynes-based company so he can do just that.
“The reason I set up The Willen Ice Cream Company was to create social and economic impact and open up pathways to employment for young people with educational challenges,”
“To do that I need to move from start-up to scale-up, to put the work programmes in place. So, the vision is for a community-connected ice cream business, which offers local employment, work experience and apprenticeships to such young people, and sales opportunities to local entrepreneurs.
“I feel there’s a lot to be said for non-formal education,”
Full of passion and enthusiasm for what he is doing, Richard wants to make links with other entrepreneurs, and of course produce some delicious ice cream flavours too.
Starting an ice cream business was a big change of direction for Richard, who had spent his career in governance. But he found himself at a crossroads when his role was made redundant.
At a Job Club workshop, he was asked the question what he would do if he had the option to do something else. Richard said:
“This thought that had been in the back of my mind, and never voiced for a long time popped out and I said: ‘I’d make ice cream,’ and that was the start of the journey.”
Richard has always been an ice cream enthusiast and enjoyed making it for his daughter Daphne and son Luke when they were little. He was also given a gift of an ice cream making course one year.
But starting his own ice cream business took things to a new level and he has been working flat out for the last two years, developing flavours, making the product and selling it at farmers’ markets and events, and is beginning to develop a network of local stockists.
When the pandemic took hold last year, he changed tack and began doing deliveries within an 18-mile radius of central Milton Keynes.
Working long hours seven days a week is all part of his life as a new business owner, but the grant of £2,700 from FEAST2 allowed him to invest in some equipment, to streamline his process and make life a little easier.
The grant gave him a quarter of what he needed to buy in a batch freezer, blast freezer and storage freezer to improve his production process and has meant he no longer needed to work through the night to meet demand:
“Before that I was working until four or five in the morning two days a week, but the new equipment means I can work more efficiently,”
“The FEAST2 team were so helpful in assisting me in putting the bid together, and it’s made all the difference, helping me take the next step with the business.
“I love being creative with the flavours and driving the business forward and it’s a great feeling to know I’m working towards something that I’m creating”
FEAST2 was awarded to the Food & Drink Forum and is worth £3,934,176 in total. It will receive a further £1,967,089 in funding from the European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
It is open to eligible food and drink manufacturers within the SEMLEP (South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership) area, covering Central Bedfordshire, Bedford Borough, Luton, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.
For more details of the project, including registering your business for the free support on offer, please contact Amanda Askew at The Mallows Company on 01933 664437 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, if you live within 18 miles of central Milton Keynes, you can order from a wide range of The Willen Ice Cream Company’s delicious flavours, including Foxdenton Raspberry Gin and Vanilla, Organic Madagascar Vanilla and Salted Almond Caramel, for delivery to your door, by visiting www.willenicecream.co.uk