Resources: Toy-maker is model project: A London charity draws on business brains to make its ideas work. Roger Trapp reports

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The Independent Online
DEEP IN south London, a small organisation is doing its bit to reduce industrial waste as it manufactures toys and other educational materials. It makes these available at low cost to cash-strapped schools and local authorities.

Toy Pirates, based in Peckham, was set up in 1989 and is part of the South London Children's Scrap Scheme, a charity that provides scrap and recycled material for use in education and play.

Toy Pirates uses the materials to make puzzles, paint pots, science kits and similar products of its own design. These are then sold to educational organisations at competitive rates.

However, the toy-maker, run by David Eckold, is anxious to expand its activities, and last autumn it launched a project called Artstore to sell basic arts and crafts materials on a non- profit-making basis.

Before the initiative could be launched, there had to be a feasibility study. As Mr Eckold explained, such work is normally beyond the scope of a charity's small staff. But Toy Pirates is supported by Business in the Community, an organisation set up by the Prince of Wales, which encourages companies to be active in their local areas.

And through the Action Resource centre, the charity specialising in secondments to the community, Leigh Foweraker of the Prudential insurance company produced the feasibility report as part of a 100-hour development assignment at the charity.

The success of the project, which looked at ways in which Artstore could be structured, as well as providing detailed information on financial projections, potential customers and suppliers, was marked by a visit earlier this month by a number of prominent business people to the Toy Pirates operation.

The tour, just before the launch of the latest Employees in the Community Awards organised by Business in the Community, was designed to demonstrate how involvement in community projects is good for employees, employers and the community.

The awards, now in their fourth year, are in three categories - large companies, small and medium-sized companies and subsidiaries, and public sector organisations. There are a number of special awards. Past winners include the Body Shop and Allied Dunbar.

At the same time, a survey carried out by Mori to coincide with the launch of the awards, which are jointly sponsored by Grand Metropolitan, the international food and drinks group, and the Home Office's voluntary services unit, showed that two-thirds of employee volunteers believed it was important for senior management to set an example by itself becoming involved in the community.

Mr Eckold, who makes use of other specialists through a variety of community projects, is in no doubt of the value of the project.

The solicitor seconded through Lawyers in the Community is ostensibly there to help with legal problems, but in fact brings a fresh way of looking at things.

In the same way, the Prudential secondment simply 'enabled the project to take place. He was able to look at it from a business perspective'. This is no surprise to Sir Allen Sheppard, chairman of GrandMet, who has long been a supporter of Business Community.

'Our employees can, and do, make a vital contribution to the communities where they live and work. We urge all companies to support their employees in this area,' he said in support of the awards launch.

(Photograph omitted)