The closure of our project
Whilst it is sad to close this project I cannot accept funds for something that cannot be achieved. We set out with true intentions but the climate here in Vidin has changed for the worse. I would like to explain why this decision has been taken.
You may remember that I passed the management and operation of Phoenix Cafe and Bakery on to Niki and Orlina in January of this year. Unfortunately this has not proved to be a success story. The cafe operates with only Niki and Orlina. There is insufficient operating income to employ a trainee. This is a huge disappointment as Niki and Orlina were presented with a fully operational cafe. Based upon the current situation there is no way that a trainee can be employed as planned in our original project proposal. A key element of the project was the employment of disadvantaged young adults in Phoenix Cafe and Bakery.
After months of waiting we have finally been given permission to begin operating at The Masters’ Larder. We still have to find more money to purchase the last pieces of equipment. By the time we open, hopefully, on Monday 16th October we will be way over budget.
Unfortunately, whilst we have been waiting (with a great deal of frustration) the two people who I had identified as employees have moved on into work elsewhere. This is a shame but I am pleased that they are in employment. I hope and trust that finding replacements will not be a problem. What is a major worry is the credibility that we have lost in Sofia. We expected to open much earlier than now. We had presented a range of products that we could produce with wonderful reviews. Now, some four months later, we will have to go back and hope that those clients that were interested come back on-board.
In addition we lost potentially significant summer sales which would have given us a great opportunity to cement our position in the market. As we now move into October and November sales will be not as active. As a result I am going to open The Masters’ Larder with minimal personnel and then gradually add as the enterprise becomes busier and more diverse. I will be employing at least one part time young adult to begin learning with the intention that when the opportunity arises they become a full time trainee.
So what of the future? Whilst the situation is not satisfactory there are still opportunities. Only this week I was talking to someone who took time out to visit me here in Vidin. We discussed the long term potential of creating a training centre here in Vidin. This is still my long term ambition as it will be the most effective way of developing the potential in this poor region. On the down side we have to realise and appreciate that in this region too many young adults, with or without chances, do not have the ambition, the desire not the application to work and grow. This is a worry for someone who is looking to develop skills.
Finally, I can promise that all donated funds have been used correctly; either in Phoenix Cafe and Bakery or with creation of The Masters’ Larder. Who knows if it is possible that The Masters’ Larder may be the saviour of Phoenix Cafe and Bakery. Let us hope so.
On behalf of those we still seek to help and the team thank you for your kind support and patience.
If only life was a bed of roses. No doubt like you we have experienced disappointments and moments of pure joy. Unfortunately for us we have been experiencing a number of frustrations and disappointments here in Vidin. I will try to keep the picture here in Vidin as upbeat as I can but in order for you to fully understand what we are up against sometimes it is good to read the difficulties.
Phoenix Cafe and Bakery
The loyalty and dedication of personnel has always been an issue for Phoenix Inspire over a number of years. However, we thought that this was in the past when it was decided by Niki and Orlina to keep Pavlina working at PC&B after the management of the venue was handed to them both. Niki believed that Pavlina’s maturity and family responsibilities would ensure that she would not let him and Orlina down. How wrong can you be? Towards the end of May she disappeared without warning and giving no notice. We all thought that she had gone to the tourist trap that is the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria to work. As with any major tourist destinations, there is a high demand for personnel during the summer months. Our thoughts were confirmed to us only this week when one of her sons posted a photo of himself working. Not only did Pavlina leave without saying a thing, it is now evident from the photograph that she took some of our uniforms from the Cafe without permission. Niki thought that she had taken some aprons and now we know for sure. This is like a kick in the teeth for so many people who have tried to support Pavlina and her family. Luckily, as you will read in the next paragraph this action has actually helped Niki.
Vidin is now basking in the summer sun and heat. Today the temperature is a nice 33 degrees but during June the weather was very hot with temperatures over 40 degrees on a number of days. This weather is not kind to retail outlets, particularly food outlets. Local children have been sent off to their grandparents in neighbouring villages for the summer whilst those that remain in the city are confined to their house or apartment as it is too hot to venture out. Parents continue to work and shoppers only venture out in the mornings and evenings. The town is empty when it is very hot. Unfortunately this weather is affecting takings at PC&B. However, Pavlina’s departure has helped to offset cost against income. Niki and Orlina continue to keep PC&B afloat during this difficult period. Niki will be looking for someone to train and develop in late August.
An urgent call for financial support please.
The company that supplies PC&B with coffee beans has decided that it is not financially viable to operate in the Vidin region. The company freely supplies the barista (coffee making) machine and grinder as part of the coffee bean purchasing agreement. The barista machine will be removed from PC&B in two weeks time unless we can raise 1200 Lv to purchase both pieces of equipment. To buy new they are over 3500 Leva. Is it possible to raise $600 in short time to purchase the machines? If so, instead of paying 24 lv for a kilo of coffee beans as the agreement is Niki can save by paying a more reasonable amount of 15 lv a kilo for good quality beans.
The Masters’ Larder
You would not believe the frustration that I have been feeling in recent weeks. All the building work is now complete and I have to say that the place looks great inside. However, we are now trapped on the endless staircase of bureaucracy. We have not been helped by the deception caused by Mitko our original architect. When we presented documents to the Vidin Municipality for our license for the shop it turned out that the architect had no licence. Mitko had been working under his son’s license. To complicate matters further his son’s licence does not allow him to work with buildings over six storeys high. The block which includes TML has eight storeys even though we are on the ground floor. In order to finish our application process, to have a shop and convert the registration of the premises from cake to meat, we have to employ a different architect! You guessed it, more money. There is no comeback against Mitko as it would cost us more to process through the courts. Luckily I only paid him part of his remuneration.
So now we wait as all the documents have had to be reprocessed by the new architect, signed and stamped. A formal and official plan of the building that houses TML (supplied by the municipality) has to be signed by the water company, the electric company and the post office to say that it is the same building and it has not moved!!! I am told that on each occasion the formal plan has to be sent to Sofia to be signed and stamped at HQ. All this has to be done before it can be submitted to the same municipality along with all the other documents by the new architect!!! We live in the 21st century and yet the notion of the digital age is passing Bulgaria by.
You cannot believe it, stupidity gone mad. My Bulgarian friends and colleagues just shrug their shoulders and say ‘this is Bulgaria, money, money and corruption’. Is it because I am British and Phoenix Inspire has a positive reputation for good work? No. I am told by Bulgarians. This is just typical of Bulgaria and Bulgarian mentality.
In terms of personnel:- whilst all this has been going on I am pleased to say that Svetla has found herself another job. She was going to work in the shop and packing area. Svetla was offered a good contract (which is rare in Bulgaria) working for someone else as she could not wait for us as we don’t know when we will open. I don’t blame her for taking the offer. I am not sure of Bobby’s situation but I hope that he is managing ok and is still onboard to work with us once we are open.
So why work and support Vidin?
So what does this all say about Bulgaria, or more importantly about the Vidin region? Vidin is seen by others, in other parts of Bulgaria, as being very different almost a different country. Vidin is reported to be the poorest region of the European Union. A Bulgarian friend called Nikoli told me only the other day that a Bulgarian family had returned from Italy to open a shop in Vidin. Mum and dad were born in Vidin and wanted to return to the city. The dad had said to Nikoli that in his opinion ‘people from this region will never mentally change unless they go and work in the west; to appreciate values, hard work, discipline, quality of workmanship, customer values and appreciate aspirations’. It is a sad state of affairs when a Bulgarian can see no improvements in his home town after living in Italy for a number of years and yet wants to help.
I have a theory that those who are in a position of influence don’t actually care about those who they are supposed to help. Corruption is still a big issue for this country. Bulgarians depends upon European Projects and charitable support. Businesses have grown up based upon project applications. I have spoken about positive ideas of support and development to Directors of Schools and Vidin Mayors all without success. Local business leaders bang their heads against walls in despair and yet Vidin gradually goes further backwards.
Christine and I arrived here on July 8th 2008 to begin this journey. Whilst life has been a struggle I look back at what has been achieved during those intervening nine years and I can say that we have altered things, only slightly. What have we achieved to date?
The vision is not complete. There is potential in this region. There are good people in this region. I am told that our work is important for this region. I am told that we embarrass others as we strive to achieve. Yes, mistakes have been made but we remain true and committed to succeed.
Phoenix Inspire, Phoenix Cafe and Bakery rely upon the support of friends, supporters and motivators. This is so important to us.
Funds generated via GlobalGiving will support both Phoenix Cafe and Bakery and The Masters’ Larder. It is our goal that both social enterprises will use this valuable support to help trainees from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain new skills and hopefully a better life.
Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Good morning to everyone
Thank you for your continued support, motivation and finincial aid given to our work here in the Vidin region. It is greatly appreciated and needed.
Since January 1st I have been focused on the creation of The Masters' Larder (TML), a second social enterprise linked to the work of Phoenix Inspire. After weeks of frustration repairs, renovations and improvements we are almost complete. We are now busy creating the necessary HACCP paper work to comply with the Food and Hygiene Agency and the local Municipality. Hopefully, we will have our licenses from both organisations within the next few weeks. Creating TML has been a frustrating and painful process, emotionally and financially.
Based upon a recent visit by a representative of GlobalGiving it was agreed that I combine both our current projects into one. With this in mind future support will be used to help both Phoenix Cafe and Bakery and The Masters' Larder. Here on the ground in Vidin they are in reality already working together. TML will prepare the meat filling that Phoenix Cafe and Bakery (PC&B) will use to make and bake a range of savoury meat pie. Likewise, TML will sell PC&B's products in its shop. I think you call this synergy?!
By working in harmony both organisations have a better chance of sustainability, create more opportunities and be more efficient. The Masters' Larder already has interested customers from the capital Sofia. When the refrigerated van delivers products to Sofia it may also take some products from PC&B too. Maximising our efforts will lead to more jobs.
It is possible that members of staff from one social enterprise could transfer and work in the other thereby broadening their skills and in doing so increase their opportunities for future employment.
We have already identified two member of staff for TML. Bobby will be in the back with me learning how to prepare the meats whilst Svetla will be in the shop serving our customers. Bobby is from the Roma community and a member of the English language group that I support and guide along with Christine. Bobby is unemployed with a family. He is keen to learn. Svetla is currently on some sort of government work programme. Unfortunately, this programme is just window dressing. Like Bobby Svetla is keen to begin a new career with us. If you combine these two with Pavlina at PC&B you are/will be supporting 3 people and helping to create two social enterprise.
The long term vision? If possible, I would like to fulfil my ambition of creating a new training centre. The 'applied learning centre will be a new vision for Bulgaria. If created it would 'shake things up' and change the way vocational education is carried out in a country.
On that note I hope that you approve of recent developments regarding our project and continue to support our efforts here in Vidin.
Thank you and I look forward to posting more information regarding our progress in the near future
I am typing this update whilst I am visiting family and friends and visiting a number of butchers for advice and guidance in preparation for the opening of the Masters' Larder.
Now that the weather is much better life at Phoenix Cafe and Bakery is a little happier. January and February were not good months it has to be said and as a result finances were difficult. Niki and Orlina are still running PC&B with Pavlina. Pavlina is now full time and as a result she is now earning a full time wage. This is good for her and her family. Thank fully PC&B has a solid base of loyal customers to maintain stability and I am pleased to say that Niki is introducing a number of new products to keep interest alive.
Since the early part of February I have been concentrating on the creation of The Masters’ Larder. We are still making repairs to the new venue with a great deal of frustration. Dealing with official agencies has never been easy for me, even when I was in the UK. We have had to deal with conflicting pieces of information and guidelines. One agent said that our plans were good and we were ready to repair only to be told by another that we needed more improvements at more cost and delay. When I return from the UK I will post more information about the developments whilst I have been away.
On a separate note Christine and I deliver English language classes to a group of Roma families in the Gypsy quarter of Vidin two evenings per week. The classes are basic but are designed to improve their ability to speak English. We were asked some time ago to participate in these classes. They are delivered in the local church. We try to include as much dialogue as possible to create a type of applied learning environment.
One of the participants is a young Roma man called Bobby. He is without work and has three children. I have offered him the opportunity to work and learn a new range of skills with me at the Masters’ Larder. I am pleased that he has accepted my offer. Once we have completed repairs and we have all the necessary licence we will begin. Bobby will have a contact and be paid regularly. I hope that Bobby is the first of our trainees. Let us hope that the agencies and
Bulgarian National Television recently interviewed my wife Christine, Pavlina and me about our work and our efforts here in Vidin. The report was aired on National TV just before the recent election took place and maybe the impact was lost amongst all the hype of the election. However, despite this a number of people have reacted to the report positively. Please find within the link to the report
Good morning to you all
I trust that you are well and in good health. Vidin, like all of Bulgaria at this moment, is under snow and coping with minus temperatures and will continue to do so for a little while longer.
We signed the rental agreement for the old bakery last week and began to refurbish the day after. We knew that it would be hard work to convert the old bakery into a charcuterie operation, but I don't think we understood just how bad. I have uploaded a group of photos which shows you what it was like.
In order to make sure that we are doing things correctly we met with a Food Inspector to get her advice and recommendations. Whilst it was good to do so we have to make a number of construction improvements to create a professional environment and prevent cross contamination. This will increase costs but in the end we will have a professional operation for us to develop new skills within. The Food Inspector asked 'was I going to make this place as good as Phoenix Cafe and Bakery'? I answered 'yes'. If you have good standards based upon your experience you don't know any difference.
In order to create as many opportunities as possible and generate a sustainable future we are going to create a shop area in the new vision. This will not be our key source of income but it does give us the opportunity to develop good retail skills. We will sell our products to the local community. For many they will have never tasted or seen our products. As we develop our reputation for quality products more customers will come to sample. I am told that a growing number of Bulgarians are now looking for quality products instead of volume for little money. I am sure that our hand crafted bacon, gammon, hams, sausages and other meat based products will be successful and meet these needs.
I hope that you like the dream and vision. If you are able to spare any loose change please donate and help me create a new opportunity for this area.
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