A pleasure doing business with you

26 July 2023

A lady with short dark hair standing in a field wearing a gilet and scarf, laughing and looking just off camera

The Lily Foundation is built on strong partnerships, and as well as the individuals and families who support us, we have a number of corporate connections who help us raise funds too. One such connection is with family-run business Mandarin Stone and their founder and Managing Director Alma Small. And whilst this is a corporate relationship, there’s a very personal reason why Alma donates to us year after year.

As a youngster, Alma cut her teeth helping out at her grandad’s butchers, and honed that business acumen when she had to take over her father’s garage at just 19 after he died suddenly from a heart attack. Then in 1989, as her son started school, she fell accidentally into what has become a very successful natural stone business.

A connection through her husband’s roofing company asked her if she would sell a consignment of flooring slate from San Francisco for him. Alma’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, she sold the slate from the back of her car and the rest, as they say, is history. Today her company is driven by a workforce of almost 250 people across 14 – soon to be 15 – showrooms, and Alma’s passion for, and knowledge of, stone and porcelain is still the foundation of the business.

One day, during a photoshoot for the Mandarin Stone website back in 2013, a freelancer the team were working with excitedly announced that she was pregnant. Her baby was born, but only months into his short life he fell ill and was taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital. That’s when Alma first heard the term ‘mitochondrial disease’ and came across The Lily Foundation.

Sadly, that little baby lost his battle with mito, a tragedy which prompted Alma to start supporting the charity. And then an amazing coincidence was uncovered. A long-time employee at the business, Gareth, asked Alma how she knew about The Lily Foundation. She told him what had happened and he replied, “But that’s what I’ve been diagnosed with.” Alma had no idea that for all those years someone else with mitochondrial disease had been working alongside her!

Alma’s first donation turned into an annual gift, and to this day Mandarin Stone still give regularly to Lily and in total have donated almost £50,000. “As a company, we tend to give to quite a few charities every year,” she explains. “Once we establish it’s a worthwhile cause, if there’s enough money in the kitty, we’ll give annually. And we have an employee with mito, which made it all the more poignant that we give to The Lily Foundation.”

Alma is full of admiration for the work of the charity, and very specific about where she wants to see her money invested – research. “With no cure, there’s got to be a plan B for people affected. We’ve got to do something, in this day and age,” she urges. “We can go to the moon, we can do this, that and the other, surely we can look into it. Cancer, heart disease, they’re very much out there, but you don’t hear a lot about mito, and now I know about it, I know people who have had it, one living and one not living, let’s help to get some more research done.”

And the company intend to continue making their valued donations in the future. “We’ve given every year since we started and hope to continue to do so,” Alma says proudly. “Luckily, we’ve got a good business, a growing business, a profitable business, one that can give to charity every year. With the cost-of-living crisis, not everyone can.”

We’re incredibly grateful to Alma and Mandarin Stone for their ongoing support, and indeed we’d like to extend a big thank you to all of our corporate partners for their donations over the years – we wouldn’t be where we are today without you.

Find out more about becoming a corporate partner with us.