Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Margaret Roberts, operations director at Shetland firm Nortenergy.
How and why did you start in business?
I spent my 30-plus years paid career working in logistics and supply chain management in the oil industry.
It was the obvious choice, because in my teens Europe’s biggest oil terminal was built at Sullom Voe – just across the water from the croft I grew up on in Shetland.
Working at Sullom Voe would allow me to stay in my community of Northmavine.
Shetland’s peripheral areas are at great risk of population decline and a local charity, Northmavine Community Development Company (NCDC), was founded to support the community in its efforts to buck this trend.
I have been a voluntary, unpaid director of NCDC since 2004.
How did you get to where you are today?
In 2007 NCDC came up with a community growing project, making use of discarded piping from the aquaculture industry to create shared undercover growing spaces for the local community.
We designed and built an extra-strong tunnel, the Polycrub, which can withstand Shetland’s extreme wind conditions.
Individuals and community groups were keen to acquire them, so we began to sell them via a trading arm of NCDC – Nortenergy.
What started as a community project has grown into a business that now employs five people and sells storm-strength Polycrubs all over the UK and as far afield as Greenland and the Falkland Islands – a real success story.
I took on the role of operations director on a voluntary basis.
Who helped you?
The key to success has been the hard graft put in by our small group of staff and voluntary directors, notably Maree Hay, who is now our managing director.
She did two jobs over several years to make Polycrub the success it is.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise has given us valuable support to grow our business, and I found the Federation of Small Businesses’ legal hub a great help in ensuring our formal processes and documents are legally compliant.
All this has paid dividends, literally, with profits ploughed back into the Northmavine community.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Forming a business relationship early on with Polycrub without doing enough due diligence on the person concerned. Once bitten, twice shy.
What is your greatest achievement?
Helping to create a social enterprise that has designed and marketed a fantastic product from the ground up, and which continues to grow and thrive.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
I would change the UK’s voting system to one which allows for more consensual politics.
It’s no wonder a lot of folk, particularly women, are turned off by the archaic bearpit that is Westminster.
What do you still hope to achieve?
To play a part in growing the Polycrub business further, opening new distribution hubs across the country to bring our product closer to customers old and new, and continuing to use the profits to support the community I love.
What do you do to relax?
We have two Polycrubs and a large garden, so my spare time is mostly spent growing and tending plants.
I am passionate about food security and the value of local production.
At this time of year we are processing and storing tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and apples from the Polycrubs for the winter, and outside the tatties are ready to lift and store.
What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?
I’m reading A Very English Scandal by John Preston. I am a big Archers fan, and I don’t like to miss an episode of Gardeners’ World or Beechgrove.
What do you waste your money on?
I don’t often waste money – I spend it on the things I need and enjoy. Too many plants when I don’t have space for them perhaps?
How would your friends describe you?
I dread to think but probably that I can never resist taking on more than I have time to do – and that I’m always late.
What would your enemies say about you?
The boss of a contracting company was once heard to say through gritted teeth: “She’s very straight that Margaret Roberts.” I took it as a compliment.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive a 2010 2L diesel AWD Subaru Impreza. When it finally gives up the ghost I dream of a sporty AWD all-electric hatchback, with a long range that I can charge from my wind turbine.