How Eye-based Dream On charity creator Bridget McIntyre is helping others turn their ambitions into reality
- Credit: Archant
Dream On, a charity created by ex-Royal Sun Alliance boss Bridget McIntyre to help women to achieve their potential at work and in life, is celebrating a move to a new home in Eye. SARAH CHAMBERS reports.
Eighteen years ago, high-flying executive Bridget McIntyre dreamed of a charity she wanted to create to help women enjoy fulfilling careers and achieve their potential.
The original business plan involved finding a three-storey building in Eye, three miles from her home, and basing it there.
But at that point, as she admits: “I didn’t have the guts to do it and I was too busy doing my other job.”
Today, Bridget is non-executive director for Southwold brewery and pubs business Adnams, as well as for over-50s travel business Saga and Norwich department store owner Jarrolds. This follows a successful corporate career including as UK chief executive of Royal Sun Alliance Insurance.
It would take her another 11 years from that original concept to make Dream On a reality, and, for practical and financial reasons, it ended up in a converted building attached to her home in nearby Thorndon.
But two years ago, as the success of her clever blend of workshops, coaching, makeovers and clothing retail grew, it became apparent that the social enterprise had outgrown its cramped space and needed a new home. “That served us well for five years but we were outgrowing it. We were getting busier and busier.”
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Demand was outstripping supply, and she wanted to try to ensure the future of the charity beyond her retirement.
Bridget looked at various options, when about a year ago she was shown a three-storey Grade II-listed house on Eye high street and knew she had found what she was looking for, where passers-by could stop and browse.
The house was a former butcher’s shop, with some of the original decorative tiling still intact, and enough space to provide permanent homes for Dream On’s various workshops, coaching sessions, and makeovers.
She snapped it up using her own money, went through the planning process to change it back to a commercial use and paid for its conversion.
After two years, Bridget, whose background is in accountancy, had brought the charity to break-even point through its commercial activities, such as coaching for businesses, and donations, and today, it receives some regular support, as well as financial aid from those who have benefited from it and from their families. Fundraisers organised by ‘graduates’ of its mentoring programmes and others also help to ensure it keeps its head above water.
This year, theese volunteers will be entering the Great East Swim in aid of Dream On, and will be staging a marathon 30-hour fashion show which they hope will find them a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
“We are hoping to get sponsors and we are hoping we’ll get people sponsored for being a model,” says Bridget. “Every year we like a new challenge so obviously the move wasn’t enough,” she jokes.
The building’s facelift has been a challenge, she admits, but she is pleased with the result. “Because of the regulations there was a lot to do to meet the standards,” she explains. “It’s an old house. It was a challenge but we got through it.” The move is an important milestone in the charity’s life, and she is hopeful it will give it a long-term, sustainable future.
“What I believe this does is it creates a future that has more sustainability to it because it’s separate from my home. My aim it to make it into a long-term sustainable business,” she says. “The risk was it would die with me.”
She loves the new building, and is “really excited” about the future. Her aim was to retain the homely and warm feel that it had when it was based in Thorndon and believes they have achieved this. At the same time, “we have paid respect to the building we are now in,” she says.
The result is that it can now accommodate four in coaching sessions at any one time, rather than the two it could before. Makeover days, which now runs three days a month, have their own home overlooking a back garden courtyard.
Every year, Dream On runs three free mentoring programmes a year for 14 lucky women and places are over-subscribed. Now it will be running a pilot follow-on programme for some of its ‘graduates’ offering ongoing support.
“I’m so interested in making sure change sustains and builds,” she says. Her aim has been not only to improve the chances of women in the workplace but also to make them feel “happy in their own skin”. Being yourself, she believes, is key to finding success.
Dream On’s clothing store is open six days a week, from 10am to 5pm.