Tag Archives: learning

What price learning?

There’s a famous Mahatma Gandhi quote “Live as if you’ll die tomorrow, learn as if you’ll live forever.” I love it because it puts learning in its rightful place – at the heart of our lifelong journey.

This love of learning in its widest sense is exemplified by a social enterprise in Cambridgeshire – GAP Learning. The two creative sisters who run the enterprise sent me their newsletter some time ago and, with permission, I’ve reproduced it for this blog.

Austerity hits hard

Local authority budget cuts are visible everywhere. Brilliant organisations that provide meaningful social impact and community cohesion are lost. For example, more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010; 45% of councils have cut provision for young people by around 30%. Public spaces are closing, social and essential services are experiencing crippling budget cuts. Closer to us, the Cambridge & District Volunteer Centre closes its doors tomorrow after 26 years; HOPE Social Enterprises in Huntingdon, a Craftworks venue, closed last month with the loss of their volunteer programme and shop. Everyone we partner within the training, advice and support world seems to be affected.

And Adult Learning (our world) will be doubly hit. Due to Brexit, the UK is losing the European Social Fund which part-funded almost all our free courses such as Fullspoon and Craftworks. What money there is, is increasingly difficult to secure with lengthy applications that, even if you have the fortune to win, have so many limitations attached the people you are trying to reach and support are knocked back by the sheer force of documentation and data gathering required for them to access the help. And if you’re a small charitable business, like GAP Learning, it’s tough out here with no credit rating or specialised departments. We’ll even have to say goodbye to our office in October.

But that’s what’s happening to us as a small business, it’s nothing compared to how some of our fellow humans are suffering and there will be no means to help them if things continue as they are: people facing cuts in welfare and benefits, people facing mental health challenges, people living with disabilities, people who are lonely and in need of a friend. There’s never been a better time for people to get together in their community to support one another. Teresa and I identified that people feel better when they make or create and that space to think is enough to see that changes can be good and necessary. We set about building a business that provided the means for people to get together to have fun, build passion and confidence and inspire hope in a future, whatever that may be.

Cambridgeshire County Council have been instrumental in enabling our work thus far and we will always be grateful for the opportunities they provided for us to support learners hardest to reach. We may have no contracts upcoming but we will not give up on our mission [see manifesto below]

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GAP Learning Manifesto

We will make positive change for the vulnerable, the unheard, the overlooked to give those without voices a means to communicate

We will create a sustainable business that puts people first – not the profit. We don’t give two hoots if you ticked the financially unviable box. We all have value

We are the change-makers, activators and will enable others via non-threatening, empathic, loving and caring means to open new ways to breathe

We are not commercial – we are utilitarian. We use sustainable materials to make products that will last. That have meaning. A purpose.  A beauty

We celebrate diversity. Not just recognise a random festival once in a while

We will not stand for racism, sexism and all other everyday isms that belittle, degrade or maintain control over others

We stand for Equal Opportunity for All.  The same mirror for each reflection – full and bright and clear

We recognise, support and partner individuals and companies that want to make a positive change in society

We value sisterhood. Family; Love; following your dreams; the small, quiet voice in the corner, in the shadow; the darkness

We value the symbiotic, natural world around us

Our language is clear (for those over eight years old).

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A hopeful future

Our idea is to become sustainable as quickly as possible by selling goods and services. We’ve been getting the Craftworks Rocks ready – with new branding and everything and are actively looking for venues to host a box for us.

We will develop more corporate and paid-for workshops but of course we will still look for small grant pots to run stand-alone projects. In fact, we’ve got a new project The Fixing Shop funded by Santander Foundation starting over the summer.

*     *      *      *     *

If you take a look at the Gap Learning website (http://gaplearning.co.uk) you’ll get a good idea at what’s at stake here. And while you’re there, check out ‘She Loves him tho’’ for another demonstration of the sisters’ creativity.

As Teresa and Amanda point out, what’s happening at GAP Learning is, sadly, nothing special. The current cuts have no respect for quality. But I’m sure they would love to hear your thoughts on possible ways out of their current sticky patch. I know the sisters won’t be giving up and you could be part of their fight!

STOP PRESS: A recent [ 7 July 2017] newspaper headline confirms how budget cuts are hitting local services for young people –  Council plans to scrap four dedicated children’s centres in Cambridge and 15 others across county in bid to save £1million www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/childrens-centres-cambridgeshire-county-council–13291759  and there’s a petition against the closures  www.cambridgelibdems.org.uk/no_childrens_centre_cuts

Read more about Teresa and Amanda at:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/gap-learning-a-growing-family

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent

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The accidental fixer

vac-inspectionIt says much about the kind of people who attend Repair Café events (and many return because they enjoy the experience so much) that Peter Howarth turned up to a recent repair session in Royston, Hertfordshire, with his broken vacuum cleaner and ended up fixing someone else’s instead!

I wanted to find out a bit about the man behind this generous act, this is what I found out…

Have you always been interested in repairs? 

No, not in repairs exactly; it’s more about being interested in finding out how things work… as well as in the general challenge of solving problems of course.

Did you have any formal training?        

No, though as a teenager growing up in Lancaster, I used to work in my dad’s farm and garden equipment business on Saturdays and during school holidays. This included machinery sales, servicing and repairs, so I had quite a lot of ‘on-the-job’ exposure to practical problem-solving, with things like lawnmowers, cultivators and milking machines. 

In general, are you a practical person? 

Yes, I guess so. However, I think my interest mainly comes from inquisitiveness. From an early age I used to take things apart to see how they worked… and (happily) I gradually got better at putting them back together again. 

This was not without a few hiccups along the way though…  I remember years ago investigating the family video recorder after a tape got stuck, which is probably an experience best forgotten… It took me the best part of the weekend to get it back in working order, and tapes still stuck afterwards!

Also of course, when growing up, I had to service and repair my own bikes and cars to save some cash, so you learn as you go along. I must admit though, that today’s cars have many more electronic ‘black boxes’ and computerised engine management components under the bonnet, so they are not as straightforward to repair for the interested ‘home mechanic.’

vac-fix-success

At the recent Royston Repair Café session, how did you end up helping someone else fix their vacuum cleaner, but not your own?! 

I brought along my machine after starting to repair it because I realised it had a clutch problem and thought there may be someone there with more experience of the servicing routine.

However, while I was waiting my turn, I saw a chap with another vacuum cleaner who had been waiting for a while and asked if he’d like me to take a look at it for him. He was happy for me to take it apart to run some tests and happily we managed to find the cause of his problem and get it up and running again. I enjoyed doing something practical and he was able to return a working machine to his daughter – a good result all round!

Has the experience whetted your appetite to be a volunteer repairer at the next Royston Repair Café on February 5th?

Yes, there’s a lot of satisfaction in making something work that has previously been a ‘dead duck’ and it’s great to keep things out of landfill if they can be mended. 

Also, during the working week I’m a freelance marketing consultant who helps people to grow their businesses, so the Repair Cafe was a complete change from the day job and it was really good fun to be a member of the team.

Further information:

Royston Repair Cafe: http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe                                              Peter Howarth and his business: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/peterhowarth

In praise of praise

standing-ovation-croppedA decade ago I was on a 12-week train-the-trainer course. The tutor was brilliant and I hope and believe I’ve applied what I learnt from him in a number of teaching roles over the past 10 years. He told us there are very few hard and fast rules about how to inspire learning in the classroom, but he stressed one; “Praising your learners will achieve more than any amount of negative criticism”.

We were then asked to describe a bad learning experience to the class; mine was singing in a choir. At that time, I’d been one of ten tenors for five years and I said I didn’t feel my signing technique had improved much since joining. I was asked to describe a typical rehearsal – “We turn up every Tuesday evening, our choirmaster shouts at us, particularly the female singers, and we go home two hours later.” The tutor didn’t need to say a thing – I’d made his point for him. “But our concerts go well” I added, out of loyalty to our choirmaster.

Fast forward to the present and a new choirmaster has, as reported in an earlier blog, transformed the choir over the 12 months. I feel he’s also improved (‘transformed’ would be an exaggeration at this stage in my singing career) my technique. A typical rehearsal now is one I relish –  singing technique is part of each two-hour session alongside note-bashing and attention to our diction. We are encouraged by frequent praise (although I’m not sure we always deserve it…) making any criticism more effective when it comes. Being harangued under the old regime meant we tended to simply switch off and stop listening; a few people voted with their feet and left the choir altogether.

Our new choirmaster’s impact was almost instantaneous. Unlike the arrival of a new football manager (reference my earlier blog) he raised our game and we have sustained it.

I was reminded of the motivational power of praise when reading a fascinating ‘pop psychology’ book by Claudia Hammond – ‘Mind Over Money’. The author reports on research showing that praise is more motivational that money – increasing both commitment to the task in hand and, it would seem, the pleasure in undertaking that task.

These lessons have stood me in good stead in a new role – working with young people who live complicated lives and, where possible, I support their efforts to start viable businesses. Our four-day enterprise course talks about passion and profit in equal measure. Both are important but I suspect that, in the long term, job satisfaction and the approval of others will ultimately out-motivate the understandable desire right now to make money.

Further reading:

Something to sing about: https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/something-to-sing-about/

Mind over Money: http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Claudia-Hammond/Mind-Over-Money–The-Psychology-of-Money-and-How-to-Use-it-Better/20322471

Small change, big difference

Tc-9R-road-diversion-warning-signIf you’ve ever read a book on organisational development, you’ll probably know the quote (variously attributed to Henry Ford and Tony Robbins) “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This is closely followed by Albert Einstein’s “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  

So the message is ‘dare to do things differently’.

Translating this to self-help personal development, the theory is that if you feel stuck in a rut and/or want to boost your creativity you should take a risk, break a routine and jolt your brain into a new orbit.

The standard suggestion is to take a new route to work (or it you’re doing a Fitbit Challenge, you can get off the bus a stop early and take the stairs instead of the lift when you arrive at work). Only small changes, but the idea is that because they’re small and specific they’re less scary (we tend to fear change) and more achievable – think how many new year’s resolutions come to nothing because they are too ambitious and vague.

In my case it’s my regular running routes that I vary. I try to run circular routes and alternate clockwise and anticlockwise if nothing else. Whether I introduce other diversions depends on whether I’m in mindful mode (I stay on track) or problem-solving mode (I explore new routes).

Then there are people who do something different because…

One person did what would be unthinkable to many – deleting over 700 e-mails without reading them. They had arrived in his inbox while he was away on a two-week holiday. He didn’t find any real downsides – most e-mails were time-wasters and the ones requiring action were eventually re-sent to him. He saved hours of trawling time that would have undone the good of the vacation.

I once worked in a place where a member of another organisation dressed in black every day of the working week (and at weekends for all I know). I don’t think he was in mourning – he did it for years, and nor was he a goth. I think it’s just he didn’t want to have to think what to wear in the mornings (a bit like a business suit I suppose). He had an appropriate first name – so we called him ‘black rod’.

Then there was someone else I worked with who cut his hair once a year – on July 4th. If you saw him on July 3rd (long hair) and July 5th (head shaved) you wouldn’t know it was the same person. He wasn’t from the USA; I never found out the significance of 4th July or why he did it.

Recently, as part of a course I was doing, I said hello to strangers (only to women if there was eye contact). Most seemed pleased and said ‘hello’ back to me and I didn’t get as many strange looks as I’d expected!

So why not be bold – do something different and see where it takes you?

 

From tabletop to laptop – Recover

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series. For other profiles, see http://bit.ly/1rd75hZ

Recover logoWhen I last spoke to Ian Block about his business plan, he’d three years to achieve self-funding from sales of quality upcycled pre-loved furniture. At that time (February 2014) Recover – the social enterprise he leads in Welwyn Garden City – was one year old. I wondered how the three year plan had progressed over the previous two years.

“Our mission has remained the same throughout” confirms Ian “It’s about helping people reintegrate and get themselves worthwhile employment that will stay with them, and help them to be the best they can be; that they feel fulfilled and their lives are worthwhile.”

I asked whether there had been any surprises – good or bad. Continuing the theme of benefiting the volunteers, Ian points to success at the rate at which people have gained and used new skills. Recover has helped raise expectations to the stage where, says Ian, most volunteers are keen to progress.

Looking back, Recover have learnt some hard lessons about the reality of working with people who are furthest from the jobs market. One lesson is a well-known ‘problem of success’ for many social enterprises – that the most capable and productive unemployed volunteers move to paid jobs – an occupational hazard! And for those that remain…

Recover people and products

“There are a broader range of issues facing our volunteers than we anticipated. Their lives are complicated and it takes more time and support for people to move on and stay moved on, particularly when they are older or have lower self-esteem.”

“We thought that the majority of volunteers would progress relatively quickly and then help run Recover. But once out of treatment, when they come to us, the original problems may resurface; they need a lot of hand-holding to develop a sense of self-worth.”   

The first step, of what is often a long journey, is turning up on a regular basis – establishing some structure and routine. Recover offers work and life skills development through refurbishing quality, high-end furniture and Ian doesn’t underestimate the challenge.

“We’re not making sandwiches here – the work takes skill, concentration, focus, practice creativity, Recover recoveringtechnique. We’ve developed methods, systems and processes to keep it as simple as possible, but it still takes a lot of time to teach and embed the learning.”

The intensity of the hands-on support for volunteers means that Ian is finding it harder to balance the books from sales than he’d anticipated. Recover is currently aiming for 50% of income from sales and 50% from funding.

The biggest single development over the past 12 months has been the transition to independence from Recover’s parent charity. Recover is now a Company Limited by Guarantee and Registered Charity in its own right. This means more paperwork as back office functions are taken in-house, including insurance, funding applications, and reporting to the new directors.

Despite the increased demands on his time, Ian is clear about what matters “My priorities are supporting our team and making money. The backroom work has to be fitted in around that. Reporting alone could become a fulltime job if you let it – I started out working on dining tables, now I spend a lot of time on computerised tables!”

Looking ahead, it’s about finding the right balance between growth and consolidation. For Ian the books must balance to keep the doors open. Recover aspires to raise their 50:50 funding/earning ratio to 100% income from trading, but wisely he doesn’t set a date for this.

In the meantime, Recover are getting to grips with pricing – an issue for many social enterprises and an area where Ian is learning fast ‘what works’.

                                                                     Ian gets hands on

“We’re educating people about value – the quality and cost of our work. We’ve been  able to reduce prices as we’ve got better  and faster at refurbishment. The pieces   that we turn into ‘artisan one-of- kind items’ are well-priced compared with mass produced generic flat pack furniture from economy high street chain stores. Items     we don’t refurbish are sold at considerably lower prices than charity shops. Sometimes, we just ask people on low income for a donation that suits their budget.”

Another ‘problem of success’ – in addition to losing the most capable volunteers – relates to Recover’s high profile (“done without any paid advertising” adds Ian proudly).  The two staff members are finding increased demands on their time – from media people, businesses (all support welcome!) and statutory sector staff.

A timely reminder that I’ve taken over an hour of Ian’s time. As I leave, he joins his team for lunch which, he tells me, will be a main meal of the day for some. Yes – two years on from our original meeting, the strengths and values of Recover are still very much in evidence.

 Further information and contact:

http://www.recoverteam.co.uk https://www.facebook.com/recoverteam.co.uk https://twitter.com/RecoverTeam

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-art-of-adding-value (February 2014)

 

 

Growing your enterprise – Nurture by Nature

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series

New Nurture by Nature logoNurture by Nature are connecting young people with nature and history at their stunning 6-acre site of ancient Norfolk woodland. Hannah Burns, fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, is the inspiration behind the creation of an oasis of tranquillity. Exactly two years on from my first and last visit to Attleborough Wood, I get an update.

I’m surprised to hear Hannah summarise developments over the past two years as “laying the foundations and getting the structure in place.” This seems like an extended gestation period, but then I remember she’s in this for the long term; Nurture by Nature has a 20-year management plan. 

In reality, Hannah’s baby is now an energetic toddler as she explains “we’re trying new things, lots of activities, we’ve got a growing team, we’re working with more schools, we’ve got an office and tool shed [play area] and equipment [toys].”

But importantly, Hannah is clear about the reason she set up Nurture by Nature in the first place. “The ancient woodland is our priority – we’re here to take care of it as guardians and advocates. We’re trying to educate the next generation; make them more mindful about minimising their environmental impact.”  

The fresh air and exercise is obviously working well for the three staff members, four directors, and up to 15 volunteers. There is now talk of ‘scaling-up’ – hopefully with further support from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London.

Hannah B - Nurture by NatureFor Hannah this is also about recognising her limits “admitting I’m not an expert in everything”, letting go “we’ve now got a strong team”, and bringing in outside help “we’ve had external marketing support to develop our public image”.

The painful pregnancy and birth that seem to accompany many, if not all, social enterprise start-ups are reflected in Hannah’s advice to other would-be entrepreneurs. “Don’t give up – it’s about your head and heart. I’ve been tired and tearful, had sleepless nights about taking risks, some months I’ve been unable to pay myself, and it can be lonely. But the change in the last year has been amazing. I’ve got supportive directors, each with specific expertise and, as staff, we care for each other.”

Another characteristics of people like Hannah is that they have too many ideas for the time available – mindfulness courses and weekend retreats being just two. Funding permitting, the next ‘big thing’ is a visitor centre, regular opening hours, and more work with schools.

“Think future, act now” could be Hannah’s mantra as she, no longer alone, continues to grow young people and ancient woodland in rural Norfolk.    

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/freedom-to-think-outside-no-box-required (Nurture by Nature, November 2013)

Find out more about Nurture by Nature  www.nurturebynatureforestschool.co.uk www.facebook.com/NurtureBNature www.twitter.com/nbnforestschool

Repair Shed Star – Bob

The Repair Shed brings older men (and women) together to stay healthier and happier for longer by making, mending and learning. Member profiles are based on recorded interviews by evaluator Nick Parsons

IMG_7958“Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed”

Bob, Repair Shed member since July 2015

I really enjoy making things from wood. My background is in all aspects of computing – hardware and software. I’ve helped the odd shed member with their IT problems, but in fact getting away from computing and making things is really so relaxing and rewarding. Its learning old skills again that I learnt at school.

I come into the workshop every week, but also help on other days in the community. I helped with refurbishing an outdoor metal play train at a nursery, and went out to look at a lady’s kitchen which needed some work.

The Shed group works well – I like meeting other people. But it’s important to see others who may not be integrating so well, pair up and involve them.

Making something that was defunct work again is rewarding. I also get a buzz out of making something out of a pallet that would otherwise be scrapped. I’m now making things at home – always thinking about new ideas for things. Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed. In the more ‘arty’ shops that have things made out of wood – I think – we could make something like that. I sometimes take photos to study back at home. Even my partner has started to look at things and suggest ideas for me!

I feel good, happy to be here meeting people. I always go away from a session with more information and understanding than when I arrived which is good. Everybody has experiences of life that they are happy to share. Having been out of work for three years, being in the Shed shows a commitment on my part and is a real boost to my confidence.

More about The Repair Shed at:

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed                                www.communityactiondacorum.org/The-Repair-Shed