Waiting lists and an office that’s bursting at the seams are proof enough the Halifax-based social enterprise, Prescott, is filling a much-needed niche in the communities it serves.
Prescott, formerly known as Prescott Group, supports adults in Halifax with intellectual challenges through the development of work and life skills. In operation since 1962, the organization supports 160 clients and employs 41 staff through their four social enterprises; Prescott Bakery (formerly Fireside Kitchen), Prescott Custom Bags (formerly Atlantic Bag Manufacturers), Prescott Mailing Services, and Prescott Online Auction. They also offer employment services to clients through employment coaches at Prescott Employment Services.
A social enterprise — or cause-driven business — is an organization that primarily intends to serve a common good and improve social objectives. At Prescott, this means meeting customer needs while employing adults with challenges who can benefit from learning new skills while creating quality products.
“We’re supposed to be helping,” says Louis Brill, Prescott’s Executive Director. “The only reason we do social enterprise is to provide a meaningful employment opportunity for the clients we serve. That’s it.
We’re not in the business of baking. We're in the business of building people. That’s our business.”
To Brill, building people builds cities, and he takes the responsibility, and the challenge, seriously. “It’s not just about what happens here. If we do something good and positive with this sector that’s underserved we actually can impact the city as a whole.”
Step one in helping them reach their goals is the rebrand.
“The branding has been a big, big thing,” says Martha Lowe, Prescott’s first Marketing and Community Engagement Officer. When she started in her role, Prescott didn’t have an organizational email domain in place. The rebrand streamlined operations and brought a cohesiveness to Prescott’s work — and the opportunity for more visibility in the broader community.
“Instead of being on the street that nobody knows and doing stuff nobody really knows about. I want to have our stories out there — to show how essential our clients are to the city,” Martha says.
The next big step will be finding a new and larger space. Housed in its current offices on Prescott Street in the North End since 1981, Prescott is bursting at the seams. And with a year-long waiting list to access their programs, they need more space to ensure they can support more of the people in need.
“It takes four years to get into Prescott. Four years. You can get a lung transplant in a year,” says Brill, who used to run the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.
Need aside, they’ve been looking for a new home for a long time — about 15 years. Not only do they need more space now (and on the peninsula as many of their clients rely on transit to get around) they want a location that allows the business to grow and welcome more clients for years to come.
Brill thinks the solution may be found in a new model, one that sees local governments and for-profit businesses (like land developers) getting involved, and the potential for a mixed-use building that combines social enterprise with traditional offerings and community needs. He sees the opportunity to create an operation renowned on the national stage. But to do so they need the right players on board — so he’s starting to have those conversations.
“We need to gather people who know how to get stuff done,” he says. “There’s nobody that I’ve spoken to that doesn't agree with providing a service for those people on the wait list.”
It’s the people on the waitlist who face the real need. Without Prescott, there’s no place to turn for many who need support.
And for families who need it the support that Prescott provides is invaluable.
Take Nicola Murphy, with Prescott for nearly 20 years. According to her parents, JoAnn and Chris, her time there has provided her with, “a place of purpose and a sense of belonging. And makes her part of a community which both nourishes and challenges her to be the best she can be.”
“What do parents do when their children are no longer school?” asks Brill. “Those parents want their child to continue to grow, to be happy and have a place they can call their own. I met a woman in here, and let’s just say money’s not an issue if they wanted one-to-one care. But they tried that, and it didn't work for their son, and they were struggling.”