GAP Learning - a growing family
Latest in the newMore Expert by Experienceseries by Chris Lee
Nearly 18 months after graduating from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, I discover that fellow fellows Amanda Page and Teresa Crickmar are sisters. Well I only studied alongside them for 12 months… There has also been a wedding, but more about that later.
When I first interviewed the two sisters separately, almost exactly two years ago, they were developing two different social enterprises - FullSpoon (Amanda) and Craftworks (Teresa). I hadn't a clue they planned to work so closely together to launch GAP Learning, but then I've discovered there's a lot I didn't know about them.
The Craftworks and FullSpoon courses are still happy and healthy* but they have now been gathered under one roof - GAP Learning (a Community Interest Company) with a new upstart moving in - She Loves Him Tho'. GAP stands for Generating Alternative Possibilities with a mission to reach out to get people at biggest disadvantage into education, training and employment through volunteering and learning.
As Amanda explains, that learning includes"a free five-week 'Healthy Eating on a Budget' FullSpoon course which includes food safety, budgeting, reducing food waste and cooking."In comparison, Teresa describes Craftwork's training as"A mini product design course, getting people talking, thinking about a stress-free life, thinking about learning and gaining new skills by making beautiful products to sell, with an option to set up in business."
Working with 'hard to motivate' learners can be exhausting but, for both sisters, this makes the small and large breakthroughs all the more rewarding."It's the elation of anything from a learner eventually 'getting it', to prising someone out of bed in the morning!"
Like nervous parents with fast-growing children, Amanda and Teresa don't like to see their learners leave when the courses come to an end, so they offer them lots of progression routes instead. And, like teenagers who don't really want to leave the comfort of home, some of the learners are only too happy to stay on!
Teresa explains"Once a course has finished, around 20% of graduates sign up to stay on for work experience with, for example, our partners at the local Love Food, Hate Waste project. Some graduates progress to paid roles for a few hours a week and also volunteer with GAP Learning."Amanda elaborates"Two learners are now tutors, having been trained at Cambridge Regional College. Other part-time roles include administration, design and social media. Then there are one-off volunteering opportunities like event management."
Craftworks Rocks is their latest innovation, with young men being trained to make stylish pallet-wood boxes to store and display crafted magnets made by other learners and sold to the public. The plan is to locate the boxes in coffee shops and retail outlets nationally with income being used to pay the producers for more and subsidise the courses to keep them free to learners. Craftworks Rocks was the focus for a recent crowdfunding campaign which raised enough to launch the initiative to meet early demand for the boxes and magnets.
It was a 'Social Venture Weekend' at Cambridge Judge Business School and a wedding that sparked the latest addition to the GAP Learning family. Amanda was getting married and as she recalls"I realised there was nowhere that creative people could have the fun of crafting their own wedding items - making rings and other jewellery, designing and printing invitations and menus, decorating shoes."'She loves him tho' was conceived "It'sa programme of workshops for brides, grooms and their relatives to create a bespoke ethical wedding range that helps make someone else's life better."
Amid such change and growth, has Amanda and Teresa's mission also changed?
"No"says Teresa (like all close sisters, I realise one often speaks on behalf of them both)"Our mission has stayed the same - we want clear positive change through group learning for people with challenges. We've put some boundaries on who we work with and, even if we can't really afford to, we'll say "no" sometimes because of our strong values."
Building the team has also meant that Teresa and Amanda have had to learn how to manage - both people and processes."Because we're now paying people we have to equate our own time and theirs when costing items. We have to set targets and deadlines and it helps them that we're clearer about expectations. We're training them for the world of work so time management and good discipline are important."
"For our part we have to be more realistic about how long things take, get a grip on cash-flow (were learning how payments can lag behind sales)and remind ourselves that unlike the understanding between the two of us, other people can't read our minds!
As our conversation comes to an end, I ask what's on the horizon. I admire social entrepreneurs who are self-aware and confident enough to admit their weaknesses alongside trumpeting their successes. Amanda and Teresa are upfront about their needs; funding and financial management are next on their to-do list. Sounds like a good topic for a new GAP Learning course…
*The health of Craftworks is shown by a recent Social Return on Investment (SROI) calculation showing that for every £1 invested, the service creates £60 in social value. More at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk/documents/SRoI_Report.pdf
https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent (Craftworks, February 2014)
https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners (Full Spoon, March 2014)