How a shop gives power to young people

Jo Stephenson
Monday, September 2, 2013

Young people get experience of business and customer service through a shop run as a social enterprise.

Gill Walker and Marj Newman (right of picture) set up Patchwork People to give young people experience of business
Gill Walker and Marj Newman (right of picture) set up Patchwork People to give young people experience of business

Project: Patchwork People

Purpose: To tackle youth unemployment by giving young people work experience and training

Funding: The shop has two full-time staff and costs about £70,000 to £80,000 a year to run. It generates about £90,000 income a year from placements alone

Background: When former head teacher and assistant director of children's services Gill Walker was made redundant, she decided to set up a social enterprise. The idea was to set up a profitable high street shop selling fashion and accessories that would give young people genuine experience of running a business and working with customers, something she felt vocational training often lacked. "I was concerned that young people were going into training centres to learn about customer service and enterprise but there wasn't a customer in sight," she says.

Action: Walker set up Patchwork People Community Interest Company, joining forces with colleague Marj Newman who had a background in youth and community work. The company began working with a small group of young people to create a "shop for young people" and developed a young person's brand – Labelled. They started trading at events and markets and went on to open premises in Darlington in October 2011.

The company was soon able to offer placements to vulnerable young people, including those in alternative education and with learning disabilities. They were also approved by SFEDI, the government-recognised standards-setting body for business support and enterprise, to offer a range of qualifications in enterprise and retail.

The shop also has a garden where young people learn skills and grow produce to sell. "Some of those with learning disabilities are 25 and have never worked before, but we're helping them move to self-employment or a mix of self-employment and part-time work to get them off benefits," says Walker.

Outcome: Patchwork People has worked with 70 volunteers in its first two years. Seventy per cent of those were not in education, employment or training. The project has a 100 per cent retention and attendance rate.

It supports six young people with learning disabilities a year. An evaluation of progress shows an average 32 per cent improvement over six months in scores for areas such as coping with difficult situations and speaking to strangers.

The aim is to gain enough investment to set up shops in other areas.

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