Tag Archives: young people

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.

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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

Your Own Place – seeking security

Latest in the new ‘More Expert by Experience’ series

Rebecca croppedI am re-discovering a social enterprise and Community Interest Company – Your Own Place (YOP) in Norfolk – which works with young people aged 16-25. I first interviewed Rebecca White, YOP’s Director and Founder, in December 2013 when we were both at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich. Two years on, I wanted to find out how Your Own Place had developed and, in particular, Rebecca’s experience of ‘going it alone’ as a social entrepreneur now working more-than-full-time on the enterprise.

To quote YOP’s own publicity ‘We aim to prevent youth homelessness through a number of interventions.  At the core of Your Own Place is our delivery of Tenancy and Independent Living Skills (TILS) training.  Our principle outcome is successfully sustained tenancies for first-time tenants who may need a bit of support along the way.’

Ultimately a social enterprise stands or falls by its income-generating capacity. YOP’s first year trading achieved an impressive 36% of total income; the year two figure is slightly down because of the need to focus on raising development funding.

Like all business start-ups, subsidies are important for social enterprises in the early years (unless you have the support of those traditional small business investors – friends, family and fools). I was interested to know about Rebecca’s success with a crowdfunding campaign.

Understandably, she was very happy with the outcome – £7,000 raised (I’d been advised to aim for £1500 – £2000 for a first campaign). Reflecting on the experience, Rebecca has some advice for others thinking about crowdfunding. “You need to prepare well and it’s a lot of hard work to maintain momentum during the campaign. Success depends on having access to [online] networks. I think we did well for a first effort with a fund-raising technique which is quite new to Norfolk.”   

YourOwnPlace logoMore recently YOP has been successful with an application to the Tudor Trust for £56,000. This development is significant for bringing stability and security to the organisation, helping planning and, importantly, taking some of the pressure off Rebecca who is now able to recruit a Peer Training Coordinator.

But how Rebecca would find ‘letting go’ a little, surrendering some control to another employee? Her response was typically honest. “Obviously this is ‘my baby’ and I’m a control freak. But on balance I’m excited more than fearful as I enjoy managing people; we had an employability support worker last year.”

Looking back over the past 12 months, Rebecca’s sees it as a reputation-building period for Your Own Place. “We’re building credibility with funders and commissioners, getting coverage on radio and in the press is easier, and people are coming to us for our expertise. It’s a slow pay-off for all the early work upfront. We’re gathering momentum, making useful contacts (after kissing a lot of frogs…) taking us in sometimes unexpected but exciting directions. 

YOP Peer researchers (4)It would be deceptive to pretend that the past 12 months has all been positive and Rebecca acknowledges that there have been some young people who haven’t benefited as much as she would have hoped. “We’re working with challenging, often hard to reach, young people so, despite our best efforts, some will fall by the way. But I remember some wise words from a supervisor when I worked in London. ‘Don’t take it personally as a failure – it doesn’t mean they haven’t taken something away from the experience. You’ve planted a seed and there may be a pay-off later.’ We had one trainee who ditched a summer course on day one, but later came back and asked for a meeting to find a mentor.”

Rebecca is clear that Your Own Place’s vision remains unchanged – that the destination is the same even if the route has changed a bit. The comment reflects her advice to others to take opportunities and make the most of all the pro-bono support that’s available. For Rebecca, this means returning to the School for Social Entrepreneurs for their ‘scale-up’ programme in London (which also means getting a mentor).

“Don’t be too proud to admit you need help – take all the support that’s going” advises Rebecca. Wise words from someone who oozes self-confidence and authority, but isn’t afraid to ask.

Further reading:

Close to homelessness https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/close-to-homelessness (December 2013)

Follow Rebecca and Your Own Place at www.yourownplace.org.uk http://www.facebook.com/yourownplacecic  www.twitter.com/yourownplace

Respite and other rewards

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

BFF logoFamily relationships are obviously important to Hayley Couldridge. It was her own mother’s encouragement that led her to set up BFF – Breaks for Families – a provider of respite care – giving tailored temporary care to disabled children to give their family members a break.

At the age of 16, it was while tagging along with her mum to give extra support to a young man with particularly challenging behaviour that Hayley discovered she had a natural ability, and the necessary patience, for giving such one-to-one support. The tangible reward for that effort was progress for both the carer and the cared-for family member.

As Hayley explains “Within 18 months, my mum decided I could do it on my own. I took the young man swimming and bowling, and encouraged him to develop some independence in the community away from his parents. I’m now working on building up his self-esteem and confidence.”

It’s clear that Hayley is inspired by the remarkable progress she can see in the nine families with whom she now works through BFF.  She relates the story of a boy with severe epilepsy. “He was 13 but had the ability of a four year old. 16 months ago he was moved to a mainstream school and he’s now thriving and has developed an interest in cooking. He’s more confident and will go and ask people for help. His ability is now close to his age – such progress in just 16 months is amazing.” 

BFF design

 

I ask Hayley about the secret of her success and she responds without hesitation. “The USP [unique selling point] is BFF’s tailored package of support for the whole family, not just the particular child.”

Maybe her ability to relate to young people trying to make their way in the world comes from Hayley’s empathy with them. “At 23, I’m young and inexperienced” she says “But my advice to others is not to let your age and level of understanding get in the way of seeing through your vision or achieving your ambition. You are the expert in your particular field.”

For many, BFF means ‘Best Friends Forever’ and for a very lucky few it also means Breaks for Families. And those young people are lucky indeed to have Hayley as a ‘best friend’ who clearly loves her work.

“Working with children with disabilities is so very rewarding. The smile on a young person’s face when they have achieved something or had fun gives you such a good feeling inside. It’s the best job in the world.” 

To find out more about Breaks for Families, contact Hayley at hayley@breaksforfamilies.co.uk or call her on 07883578976. You can also find Breaks for Families on Facebook and Twitter @Breaks4Families

Hayley is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

Getting out there

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.    

Ian Henderson lIan Henderson, founder of Forest Owl near Bedford, has a Norwegian cow bell in the back of his van. His mum used it to bring him in for tea from the park at the back of their house when he was growing up in London. Absorbed by learning and play in the great outdoors – food for the brain – young Henderson needed to be reminded about feeding his body.

Which explains why Ian is a convert to the forest school approach to learning; something he describes as “more an ideology than being in a forest – a way of working rather than a place of work.

Recalling those early days in London, he suggests “I learnt more being outdoors in the park than being in school. More recently I’ve discovered I’m not alone in finding school didn’t suit me; it doesn’t suit two thirds of children growing up. Children grow kinaesthetically – by looking, doing and feeling. The problem in the classroom is more the method of teaching rather than the content… We’re talking about primary children aged 5 – 11 which is the age when they learn how to learn. Most children start primary school pretty much as intelligent as each other, but something happens between there and secondary school.”

Ian’s theory is that young children are taught in a way that doesn’t encourage them to learn. At Forest Owl they take a little of the classroom curriculum and teach it in a different way that can grow children’s self-confidence.

forest_owl_forest_school_logoForest Owl aims to encourage more children to spend more time learning outdoors – addressing this perceived gap in the school system. The enterprise has a Bedfordshire base and ‘a 22-acre classroom’ at Bowels Wood in Bromham, but the service and support is also mobile. Where access is an issue [taking a class out of school creates considerable paperwork] and where a school has a playground, the forest environment comes to the playground “bringing it alive, making it exciting” enthuses Ian.

Ian’s ambition doesn’t stop with primary age children in the playground. “We’re talking to a couple of businesses about ways of working with their staff – in teams – to help them understand how people learn, in a creative and stress-reducing natural environment. That works whether you’re 5 or 55”.

Knowing that Ian has a background in design and marketing, I’m not surprised that his advice for others is about how you present your enterprise to the outside world.

“Look the part. The reason Forest Owl is getting into schools and talking to businesses is that we communicate effectively through our website and social media. We’re also building credibility by nailing our colours to the mast. We live our brand by getting out and about, not sitting indoors in an office.”

Get out and about with Forest Owl at www.forestowl.org.uk      https://www.facebook.com/ForestOwlForestSchool

To discover another forest school – working with older young people – go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/freedom-to-think-outside-no-box-required