Stronger together: On a one-woman mission to get Lancashire businesses Lancasharing
The youngest of five, Lisa Edge came from 'a good family with strong values', in her own words. But then her parents got divorced. "My world fell apart," she says. "By 17, I'd had a baby, I was on Bolton's worst estate, and I'd gone from being a straight-A student to a young mum with no prospects at all surrounded by drug dealers and police raids."
Seeing education as her ticket out, Lisa steeled herself, went to Bolton College, got a job, and eventually moved to Darwen, got married, and settled down. But she wasn't done there. "I started thinking about how much further education could take me, so I went to night school at Blackburn College to do accounting, marketing, management, and just about everything else.
"Eventually they said 'would you like a job; you're here more than the staff!', so I worked there as head of employer engagement for 12 years before getting poached by Preston College.
"That's when it hit me," she adds. "Every employer was asking the same questions: 'where are the jobs, where is the funding, where are the graduates?' while, at the same time, we were sitting on graduates who couldn't get a job, businesses struggling to recruit, funding not getting spent, and contracts going to companies outside Lancashire.
"This information just wasn't being shared. So, I quit my job and created Lancashare."
An online platform which pools business-related resources, creating a one-stop shop for employers, job-seekers, funding, contracts, training, events, and networking, Lancashare was founded on Lancashire Day in 2016. A free platform, it streamlines every interaction between businesses, employers, and employees, saving people time and money, reducing the carbon footprint of business in Lancashire, and pumping money back into the local economy.
"The idea is that everybody shares in it and everybody takes something out," explains Lisa, 46. "You get a web page, social media coverage, increased SEO, contact with other members, tender and contract alerts, job alerts, and funding alerts. We're just a platform, but the combined resource pool is absolutely huge and there's nobody else with the data we've got.
"There's just no downside," she adds. "We save businesses time and money, training helps people, jobs get people off unemployment, funding stimulates businesses, local supply chains help reduce carbon footprints, and we help embed local values. There are 70,000 businesses in Lancashire; surely we're stronger if we work together rather than separately."
A Northern Powerhouse partner which shared over £900m in tenders last year alone, Lancashare's model has also been expanded into other counties across the North, with the likes of Yorkshare and Mancheshare operating alongside Lancashare under the GB Shared umbrella. Lisa has also completed a franchise agreement to roll across 50 counties in the UK.
Later this month, Lisa will also be launching The Gen, a national centralised platform where young people can go for business advice, part-time jobs, funding opportunities, and advice.
"I built Lancashare to leave the county in a better place but, in 2019, my 15-year-old came downstairs and said 'mum, where's the stuff for me?'" explains Lisa. "I thought 'wow, 30 years ago, I was in the same position and nothing has changed,' so we're launching The Gen because businesses have 95% of the opportunities and they need these young people.
"We've seen a massive influx of members during the pandemic because we're digital and we get tenders and funding into businesses at a time when that's dried up," adds Lisa. "We didn't qualify for any business rates or bounce-backs during lockdown, but we haven't wasted a minute and we've helped keep other businesses afloat because - without them - we're nothing."
From the estates of Bolton to goodness-knows-where, it'd take a foolish person to bet against Lisa and her vision for a more communicative, interconnected, and collaborative world.
"I'm so, so proud; my work feeds my soul and I'm so passionate about it," she says. "I really think it can be massive because we don't chase income, we chase impact and I'm on a one-woman mission."