Harri Helvon-Hardy - She/Her
Founder and CEO - FABRIC Family, FABRIC Foundation and Stella
Harri Helvon-Hardy is the Founder and CEO of the FABRIC Family and FABRIC Foundation (the FABRIC Family’s registered charity). FABRIC is an award winning organisation that is making a positive difference to young people aged 16+ who are either in care or leaving care. Through housing to support services and access to activities and experiences, FABRIC provides opportunities that improve their emotional and physical well being. Harri is also the Founder and CEO of Stella, a tech system built for the social care sector which the FABRIC Family Operates in. Harri has also been a Big Ideas Wales Role Model for young people since 2018 and a judge on the national Start Up Awards.
Please tell us about your career
I fell into social work. My dad died when I was 21 and I was just graduating from a media studies degree knowing I didn’t want to work in that industry. I wanted to do something that did good and I without much thought chose social work as a family friend was a social worker. I qualified as a social worker in 2011. I realised quite soon that the social work system in its current set up wasn’t for me. After a year in child protection, I took a sabbatical to rethink. When I returned, I started agency working, trying different types of social work hoping that I would find my forever job role (something I’ve never been able to do which I now understand was in part due to my ADHD).
In 2014 I started working with teenagers in care and I loved working with them. I felt really strongly that there was something big missing from the ‘accommodation options’ for 16 year olds. It didn’t sit right with me for example, that a 16 year old girl could be put in the same place potentially as a 25 year old man who had been misusing substances for years - the outcome would unsurprisingly not be positive. So FABRIC was born, a home for 16-19 year olds, where we create as much of a family vibe as possible in shared living. Where our ‘FABRIC Kids’ can have a hug and where they know they are loved. A safe, secure and trauma informed home where they can work through their trauma and start to create the life they want for themselves.
The sector has many challenges, particularly as a business owner, but for me the point was ‘if we can make a difference to one young person’s life it will be worth it’ and we’ve done that countless times.I love that now 7 years down the line, I get to spend time catching up with former FABRIC Kids who are now young adults, carving a way for themselves in the world and who tell me that FABRIC is a big part of why they are now. One of the FABRIC Kids I used to work directly with (before we expanded and FABRIC become much bigger) is about to qualify as a social worker, rents a beautifully decorated home and has learned to drive. This is why I do it - to watch the seeds we plant grow into beautiful realities.
Taking a risk to leave social work and set up a purpose before profit company with no prior business experience was a huge risk. Working for a Local Authority gives job security, a consistent salary, career progression potential, good annual leave and sickness cover and a good pension. It was a risk, but one I don’t regret in any way. I set up FABRIC to create a job for myself. I was never planning on having more than 1 FABRIC home, I wasn’t looking to become ‘an award winning entrepreneur’ - I simply wanted a job I enjoyed. Now we have two FABRIC homes, a head office, plans for a 3rd and also a goal of creating a franchise model to allow social workers across the UK to run their own FABRIC business. Making the change from Local Authority worker to business owner is probably the most defining career change I’ll ever had. It has quite simply changed the trajectory of my life and I am beyond grateful.
I couldn’t be prouder of what myself and the team have achieved so far. Since I opened FABRIC in 2016 we’ve provided a safe loving home to 70 FABRIC Kids. That’s 70 kids who have had way less than any child deserves now being able to know that someone somewhere loves them and that they can always reach out to FABRIC if they ever need help. Our charity foodbank delivers 50 bags of food every week to children and young people living in our local communities. I feel full of pride about the journey so far and I’m brimming with excitement for the future (albeit a little tired after a busy start to the year).
I am in the process of training a team member to step up to replace me as the CEO of the FABRIC Homes, as I will be moving into a position as an advisor across all the FABRIC companies supporting their development to enable them to grow. I am hoping to see FABRIC Homes in every city/town they are needed in the UK and potentially beyond. I am looking forward to seeing Stella make an impact on the often outdated tech systems used in social care. I would love to see some NGO work in my future, I’ve always wanted to do some work with the UN.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
I was diagnosed with combined presentation ADHD last year and the psychiatrist who assessed me said he would say my "success" is down to my ADHD not despite of it. I truly believe ADHD is my superpower, the issue is more learning to apply the breaks to the race car engine. I am passionate, committed, energetic, empathetic and driven. I however lack or have to work hard on understanding the difference between capacity and capability.
I would not remove my ADHD if given the option however I do believe it has impacted massively on overstretching myself (and my team), growing my business too quickly, not getting the finer details nailed, burning out and maintaining relationships. Neurodivergence has so many wonderful things to offer, we can focus on the areas of challenge or focus on the areas of brilliance. Focusing on the areas of brilliance allows me to show compassion to the areas of challenge and nurture them.
Since being diagnosed, I am working on strategies to help me manage. I had my assessment undertaken as I work with children in care, many of whom have a plethora of 'labels' and many of whom have awfully low expectations for their life placed upon them. I wanted to show them that your past/neurodivergence etc does not define your ability to create the life you want to lead.
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
Working in social care can be quite demanding for ND women - the volume of paperwork, deadlines, organisation and challenging caseloads. Also I’ve heard some horror stories about lack of support for ND women despite it being an industry all about helping people. For me, the challenge was being an overachiever - I can burn out and often people don’t tell you ‘what’s enough’ when you first start out. I was working 60/70 hour weeks being paid for 38 because my standards are high and my ideas are thick and fast.
Being an ND entrepreneur in social care has many advantages. You bring brilliant ideas that can change lives and you are your own boss, BUT you need awareness that your level of idea production is likely much greater than the ability of your company to produce. As an entrepreneur, you can create a team around you to plug your gaps. I’m not a completer finisher so I need a team member who is. You can also support your team to understand the way you work and give them absolute permission to pull the reigns in when needed. We have ND team members and I’m sure when we build our franchise model we will have applications from ND women.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Whilst I've only recently been diagnosed (like many women) there are things that have probably been supporting my ADHD for some time. Coaching can help understand the areas in which you excel and the areas in which you need support. It can help develop tools to look at managing work/life. Spending time reflecting on who you are, how you work and what you need enables you to talk to those important to you in your personal life and professional life to give you the best opportunity to succeed in those areas. Finding self care routines that work for you. I use yoga/meditation (don't start with silent ones start with guided ones), breathwork and journaling to help me find balance and calm. Brain dumping can help take it from 'the fleas in the brain' (as a fellow neurodivergent colleague calls it) onto paper which alleviates the tiredness. Acknowledging that your brain works differently is key. If you produce masses of work in a short period of time allow yourself to rest. Knowledge. I have found ADHD 2.0 and Scattered Minds are two brilliant (very different) books that are a must for me.