Local business website brings greater community cohesion plus more trade
Created in response to the London riots, Love Your Doorstep is helping localism, community spirit and entrepreneurs thrive
"Can my dog eat this?" That simple question, posted in an online forum, kickstarted a process that would eventually result in Roz Lishak developing a line in diabetic dog biscuits. "I've become the canine cookie queen of the area," enthuses the 53-year old cake-maker from Enfield, north London
Almost a year on and her Character Canine Cookies venture is flying. Sales of her Barkwell Tarts, Pup cakes and other sugar-free doggy treats now make up 80% of her total business. What's more, most of her trade comes from local dog-owners.
Lishak's new venture is one of more than 600 local businesses listed on the online, community-based directory service, Love Your DoorStep. The brainchild of fellow Enfield resident Emma Rigby, it contains everything from florists and plumbers to cleaning services and bouncy castle rentals.
Rigby's initial idea arose from a desire to replicate the community culture of her native New Zealand, "where neighbours would pass a cup of sugar over the garden fence". The London riots in 2011, which saw masked men running past her front door, proved the catalyst to act.
She launched a Facebook page that then morphed into a dedicated website with a host of social media feeds. More than 7,000 Enfield residents use the site, whether to post details of a community event or to search out local service providers.
Rikki Parker, a bespoke gift-maker, has seen her home business, By Rikki, nearly double in size since listing on the site 18 months ago. "I wouldn't have had the money to go out and market myself," says Parker, a 31-year-old mother of two. As with all the other registered businesses, Parker has a dedicated page on the site where she can profile her wares.
LYDS, as residents often abbreviate Love Your DoorStep, differs from other online directories in being ultra local and interactive. Rigby has a team of eight working behind the scenes. They know all the registered businesses and can point web-users directly to relevant providers. Fellow residents can make their own recommendations, too.
"What we're doing is putting local people in touch with local products in real time, which puts money back into the local economy," explains Rigby. "If people ask questions on our platform we have answers for them … whereas large organisations don't have that localised team."
Anyone who has used a service from the directory can leave a review as well. This helps keep service providers on their toes: three bad reviews and a business is struck off. The review function also serves to create a sense of community around the site. "People feel like they are coming to me personally as a business," says Parker, whose business generates the most traffic on the site – and who genuinely does hand over most of her orders at her front door.
Large businesses are now tapping into the LYDS network, too. International relocation business, Crown Worldwide, which has around 65 people in its Enfield office, posts job opportunities through the site. It also plans to use the online platform to connect employees to volunteer opportunities in the area.
"In addition, the local businesses come in and sell services to our staff," says Eileen Girling, Crown's human resources director. A resident of Enfield herself, Girling and her family use the site in a personal capacity, too. For example, her sister refurbished her new flat in Enfield exclusively through providers recommended via the site.
Rigby's vision for building greater social cohesion, as well as local economic vitality, remains central. As in its early Facebook days, LYDS continues to carry information about local events and community services. It also periodically runs networking events where users can meet face to face.
"It's great to be able to put a face to a name. There are several LYDS people I meet now as friends," says Parker, who has also set up a partnership with a photographer she met onsite. Meanwhile Lishak of Character Canine Cookies has helped return many lost dogs after owners began sending her photos of their missing pets for her webpage. A similar dynamic is playing out with the local police, who have used the network to track down a number of petty criminals.
Rigby has now launched community-style platforms in nearby Potters Bar and Barnet, as well as in the Essex town of Braintree. The model is replicable almost anywhere, she insists: "Communities need to become self-sufficient, and they need that community spirit to thrive."
Add the name Emma Rigby to Rotorua New Zealand's already impressive list of international high achievers.
There can be few more quantum of leaps than from winning the Miss Thermaland 1995-96 title to addressing the House of Commons, but Emma Rigby's taken it in her stride.
It's her hometown background and the personality quest the now Mrs Rigby (nee Nicholson) acknowledges for giving her the confidence and poise to speak to such a potentially terrifying audience of Cabinet ministers and pan-party MPs.
The invitation to talk to them was sparked by the innovative Love Your Doorstep (LYD) programme she founded in the UK in the aftermath of London's 2011 riots.
Enfield borough, where Emma, her husband and children live, was one of the hardest hit by rampaging mobs.
"Masked men were running past our front door, bricks were being thrown, a wall around the corner was smashed down, we barricaded our front door, to say it was incredibly scary's a total understatement."
Never one to sit on her hands, Emma put a taper to her innovative Kiwi spirit and struck back - not by fighting force with force but by founding Love Your Doorstep, a "getting to know your neighbour" concept that's already bagged her an impressive number of business awards, national media coverage and that House of Commons speaking engagement.
Home in Rotorua for the first time in four years and sharing her success story with Our People, Emma admits she's astonished by the speed with which the organisation's mushroomed. From its original "good neighbour" concept it's become an online hit, not only connecting people with people but with businesses and organisations within their communities.
As it has grown she's moved from operating at her kitchen table to premises in Enfield Town, has formed LYD into a limited company, become its managing director/CEO, employs 10 and works closely with local councils and chambers of commerce.
"When we started we found out people not only wanted to get to know one another, they wanted to be connected to everything from a hairdressers to where they can get their car's MOT [the UK equivalent of a Warrant of Fitness]."
LYDS popularity grew across greater London's post codes.
The LYDS name has now been trademarked in the UK and New Zealand and other countries have it on their radar.
Emma's not the only product of Rotorua to have LYD input. Childhood friend and cutting edge graphic artist Sarah Delaney designed its eye-catching logo. Who dares say Rotorua's not a breeding ground for across-the-board talent?
As the daughter of one of the city's major tourism operators, Neville Nicholson of Skyline Skyrides, and his wife, Alison, Emma reflects it's what's made her so community conscious.
"That environment taught me how to form strong relationships, connect with those of all ages and nationalities."
She admits at school she wasn't as hot on scaling the same academic heights as her brother, Simon, who became a Fulbright scholar studying in Washington DC, where he remains lecturing at the university his scholarship took him to.
"At Heights [Western Heights High School], I wasn't as committed to studying as I could have been, I was more interested in being creative, often hiding out in the ceramic room."
Creativity apart, she had personality on her side, the attribute that won her the Miss Thermaland title and the role of the city's ambassador for civic functions hosted by then mayor Grahame Hall.
It's this people-meeting-people experience that's given her the innovative edge over traditionally reticent Londoners.
From Heights, she moved to Tauranga's Performing Arts School. Eighteen months on, she and school friend Andrea Derecourt took a Contiki tour of Europe, "18 countries in 45 days".
Once home, she joined Telecom's relatively new mobile department in Wellington - "exciting times technology-wise".
By the time she left the company for her second round of OE in 2003, she was in charge of the Auckland office's key mobile accounts.
From account manager at BT (British Telecom), she moved to City and Guilds, one of the UK's oldest organisations running vocational courses. "They gave me this really amazing job as business development manager in their publishing arm."
Emma hadn't been in London long when she met husband-to-be Carl Rigby - in a pub. He's a recruiter for the international bank HSBC.
"He asked me for a date, we got married soon after."
Theirs wasn't your usual "run of the mill" wedding. They eloped - to Barbados.
"It just about killed my mother and father but we were having a lot of hassles with UK immigration ... we appeased my parents by coming home for a blessing."
It comes as no surprise the venue was Skyline and, wearing his celebrant's hat, Grahame Hall officiated.
Son Jackson was born in 2007, Meghan followed in 2010.
Their mum fits her working life around them and couldn't wait to bring them to Rotorua at the height of the summer while Britain wallowed in winter.
They adored it.
"I hadn't realised until I got back how home homesick I was, how proud I am to be a New Zealander. It's such a laid-back way of living here. Jackson's been trout fishing, they've both done things I took for granted as a child. There's a real edginess here and that's really cool."
Does this mean she's ready to quit London and what she admits is the rat race her burgeoning business has enmeshed her in?
"It's possible we'll return one day and bring Love your Doorstep here, but I've still got a lot more to achieve right across the UK."
EMMA RIGBY (NEE NICHOLSON)
Born: Rotorua, 1977,
Education: Selwyn Primary, Kaitao Intermediate, Western Heights High,
Family: Parents Neville and Alison Nicholson, brother Simon (Washington DC), sister Sarah Moorecroft (Tauranga), husband Carl, son Jackson, daughter Meghan.
Interests: Family, business, theatre, reading "business, inspirational and motivational books", exercise, yoga, travel.
On Rotorua upbringing: "There's no better place to grow up, here you are encouraged to develop as an individual."
Personal Philosophy: "Work hard - follow your dreams."ACHIEVER: Emma Rigby with her children Jackson and Meghan, back home in Rotorua.