Dr. Birgit Kehrer – The Journey of the ChangeKitchen Entrepreneur
Behind every new enterprise is an individual: often passionate, hardworking, dedicated and vibrant. ChangeKitchen is no different and its strong leader and founding entrepreneur, Dr. Birgit Kehrer, is the true driving force behind this remarkable success story.
Birgit Kehrer has a long history as a business development practitioner, but the story of ChangeKitchen goes further back to her youth when growing organic vegetables from an early age with her father, and in developing a passion for eating vegetarian food made from fresh home-grown produce. In her twenties Birgit learned to cook vegetarian food at the Goldene Gans Braeustueble restaurant in her home town of Augsburg and afterwards travelled to India where she picked up more ideas for world-class cuisine. University studies in both Germany and the UK led to her interest in varied and interesting dishes: meanwhile Birgit started working with disengaged youngsters from Bavaria, and delivered the Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Exchange Programmes, as well as employment and life skills training in Munich. The challenge and buzz of working with young people was empowering and Birgit realised she had clear skills to inspire and support young people.
From 2004 to 2007 Birgit worked as the Women into Business development officer for BreathingSpace Ltd., a charity helping people into self-employment and not only helped the organisation to achieve the Prowess Flagship Award for Women’s Enterprise Support but also set standards and met targets, monitoring and reporting activities to meet the strict standards of European Union EQUAL funding. This was a particularly stressful time for Birgit and her partner – a long period of family bereavements, serious illnesses and unsuccessful attempts for a family of their own led to a minor breakdown and depression. Knowing that she wanted to complete the EQUAL bid funding, Birgit remained focused: with lots of support from her family and friends; a thirst for self-employment for herself and the entrepreneurial spirit of the social enterprise sector led Birgit to set up BSustained in December 2007.
BSustained delivers healthy eating and gardening classes and vegetarian catering. Fantastic networking skills led to quick successes and in June 2008 Birgit delivered ‘Five-A-Day-on-a-Budget’ and allotment workshops every week for service users at SIFA Fireside. She also offered healthy eating cookery classes to a wide variety of service users, including those living rough, attending ‘off the street’ and those in the damp and dry houses that SIFA Fireside were running at this point. Over several weeks in this context a regular group established and improved their cookery skills; they showed Birgit that they had a strong interest in and skills for cookery, but had very few opportunities to get back into paid employment.
As it had been Birgit’s aim to move from the status of sole trader with social aims to be a registered social enterprise, she approached Cath Gilliver, CEO of SIFA Fireside with ideas to start a social enterprise catering company, giving service users the opportunity of paid intermediary labour market placements. Six weeks later, both were overjoyed to hear that they had been successful with their very first attempt to secure funding from Be Birmingham, and once the SIFA Fireside board were convinced that the new business would be have a solid financial base, ChangeKitchen was officially registered as a Community Interest Company limited by shares in June 2010, and the ChangeKitchen journey had begun. ChangeKitchen is fresh, different, colourful, unique and enterprising and focuses on developing all the team’s talent and skills for the future.
ChangeKitchen continues to offer many personal challenges to Birgit, including juggling an emotionally engaging adoption process.
Birgit says, “Overall, I have loved building up and developing ChangeKitchen and feel we have achieved a lot in a short time. There is a lot of love out there for our food, our service, our ethics and our great, professional and dedicated team. I am very proud of what we achieved as a team and with the help of many supporters and I am even more excited about the future."
As the founding entrepreneur, Birgit plays a hands-on role in everything ChangeKitchen does and achieves. The success of ChangeKitchen to-date is down to Birgit’s energy, ethics and drive – she is the lead cook, trainer and business manager and is supported by a strong team that she has brought together and one which will continue to grow.
Birgit currently runs a programme of community workshops and training.
In addition to the workshop programme, Birgit is also available to speak to groups on creating and building successful social enterprises, her 'cooking up change' philosophy, 5 a day and meal balancing on a budget, and on the challenges of working with disadvantaged member of the community.
To discuss possible training, speaking or workshop opportunities, contact Birgit on 07828 825 850.