Social Entreprenuer Index Nominee - A Mind Apart
What does your social enterprise do?
Mind Apart is a unique performing arts organisation with around 12 years of experience. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to develop themselves creatively, and have access to performing arts, irrelevant of background or age. We work hard to create caring and safe spaces where children, teenagers and adults can learn and develop together and grow in confidence and self-esteem whilst developing their creativity and skills and learning new techniques.
Our services are divided into three areas: Education, Community and Classes and professional and business development. They include alternative educational provision for students not in full time education (some of the most vulnerable young people in the city), after school clubs, evening performing arts classes, holiday clubs, adult classes and courses, project work with a wide range of groups, from Age UK to youth clubs; and consultancy and support targeting creatives wanting to make their art form work for them. Fundamentally we aim to make performing arts accessible and encourage people to use it as a tool for change whilst also supporting creatives in their professional journey and encouraging them to make their career work for them in one of the most challenging sectors to work in.
Working closely with professionals and teachers, we offer skills training, support and consultancy in using our tried and tested ways of working. Our team are constantly being innovative and engaged in the theatre, arts and education industry; from consultancy to performing and directing. We offer a wide range of skills to all those we work with, whilst making sure we stay current to the needs of the areas we work in.
What made you start your business up? When I was 18 I volunteered in Brazil for 6 months working with street children. It was here that I started my training in working with challenging groups and some of the most vulnerable in society (street children). Following this I studied my Drama degree at University and fell in love with a social political theatre technique that underpins the work of A Mind Apart. It was my passion for preventing injustice, and my love for performing arts that has led me to create a business that supports others, and offers a skill in a caring and nurturing way. Throughout my career I have also been acutely aware of how children are treated in the performance industry and the way that the industry can often destroy their childhood and their mental health. A big part of what we do in our teaching, is to support and mentor our students, whilst creating a non pressured environment where they can learn and develop in the skill if they want to, or simply build on the soft skills and confidence in order to face the world ahead of them. I am passionate about working with others in the creative sector and in supporting them to make their passion work for them. This is something artists can often find difficult, and often lack the business knowledge to grow their work. This led me to completing my Masters in Cooperative and Social Enterprise Management, enabling me to then develop the business support that we offer to them.
How do you measure your impact?
Our social impact is monitored with attendance, achievement and progression of our students from the alternative education work. The rest of the social impact across the company is measured through student numbers, retention and case studies. This often leads to individuals that would never have considered of being capable of going to study performing arts at college or Drama School. Throughout all of our services we work with around 1000 students a year (from ages 5 - adult), just in Sheffield. This is based on regular students attending our classes within a year, our students on our alternative provision and those we work with in schools on short projects.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
I started my social enterprise in 2008 when the recession hit the UK. At that time there was very limited funding around and the Arts Council were not committing to supporting many organisations financially. I made the decision then, that I need the organisation to be self sustaining, and for any funding to support pilot projects and not more.
There was however some funding in working with consultants to help me understand the fundamentals of setting up a business and supporting me in writing the constitution and working out the best legal form. There were also some free business courses that I attended. Beyond this, support was very limited.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
I was clear that I didn’t want my organisation to be a charity, as I wanted to maintain some ownership, but at the same time, it was very important to me that my team members, students, parents and the community were also able to have an input, feel they had an element of ownership and that I was accountable to them. A social enterprise model allowed for this, and for me to be able to drive an organisation that wasn’t reliant on funding and grants, but that could adapt easily and diversify without being concerned with high amounts of restricted income. I also felt that I didn’t want our work to be reliant on funding, as I saw too many arts organisations disappear and struggle and their good projects stop because the funding stopped and it hadn’t been created sustainably.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
I LOVE being a social entrepreneur. I love the freedom of working for myself, but the knowledge that in everything I do, it is for a bigger cause and social impact. I am passionate for the people and communities that we serve and I love engaging with out customers. Ever since being a child, I have worked hard for things, and although can work in structure, the artist in me loves not having a structure and having to take every day as it comes. I think this quality also means that I am able to support artists better in my consultancy work, as In understand there most natural way of being, but I also have learnt through having my own organisation, that you can’t move forwards consistently without some structure and planning. I also love inspiring people, and I get so many opportunities to do this as a social entrepreneur. I have considered what I would do if it wasn’t this, but I genuinely struggle to think of something that would make me this fulfilled, and be a clear expression of who I am as an individual.
What have been the three biggest challenges that you have overcome (or that you’re still working on)?
We work across two of the toughest sectors, Arts and Education, both of which have little investment from the government in the UK, and little funding from other places. This is a constant challenge, and probably the one thing that does get me down when things feel hard. It often feels like we are fighting the impossible. But somehow, 12 years later, we are still here standing. And that’s what I hold onto when things are hard.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Don’t do it unless you’re prepared to give it sweat and tears. There will be moments when it takes over your life, so be prepared for that. In the early stages, use your time to be with other social entrepreneurs, to learn from other people in all walks of business, and to soak as much knowledge and information as possible from others already on the journey. Never assume you know everything! Twelve years later, although I’m sure of what I do know, I never assume I know it all, and I am always prepared to learn and add to my knowledge. Never be afraid to admit you’re not sure.
Why do you think social enterprise is important?
The public want accountability from businesses to politics. I think social enterprise can offer this. I also think that there is a new generation of business people who want to see differences made that they feel haven’t been made before with business. They are keen to develop businesses with real social purposes and that are community led. I think for this reason and the fact that no matter what happens in politics and business, community is still important, social enterprises are more important than ever. The bring community together, and create a more level playing field for those involved. They have their social impacts at their heart, but still understand the necessity of creating a profit in order to drive that social impact. Businesses have always been able to influence the world and in many cases politics, so it’s important to have businesses that are community driven, that impact communities in order to have the influence to make a difference in the world.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as a social entrepreneur?
The times I find it most rewarding is when I have a student come back and visit us and share how well they are doing with their lives and how they would not have been able to achieve it without A Mind Apart. I also find supporting other social entrepreneurs and creatives with their passion leaves me feeling rewarded.
What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
Social Enterprise UK and Co-operatives UK are invaluable sources for those working in the UK. They can also offer advice and support depending on what you are wanting your model to be. Social Enterprise UK does a lot of advocating on behalf of social enterprises, at Government level, and is a great source to help anyone understand how their adventure might fit into a bigger picture country wide. The Fair Shares Institute (http://fsi.coop/) is also a great source and a fairly new model for social enterprises to consider. The people behind it are all practitioners and academics in the field, and very passionate about fair business.
Other than that, I recommend speaking to anyone that will speak to you and offer advice. Don’t just look to social enterprises, look at other business models too, in order to get a full understanding of how you can be different from them. Seek out businesses in your sector and learn from them what to do and what not to do. Although some mistakes were made by me in the early stages, I made less than I could have done, because I found out what mistakes others were making, and made sure I didn’t make them!
What’s been the most surprising thing about creating a social enterprise?
The amount of support there is out there for social enterprises, and the growing understanding of the models. When I started these were very limited and it was a fairly new sector. I am always surprised at how much that has now changed.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
We are currently evaluating our entire business and all of our services, in light of the Brexit and Government in the UK. We are impacted quite a lot by politics in education and the creative sector. We intend to build on some of our key areas such as after school clubs and evening classes, and look towards new models of running these services, that would enable a wider growth of our work. What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?
For the gap between the poor and the rich to minimise, and for young people to feel fully represented and valued (I think young people in the world are loosing hope in our systems and leaders).
What have been your three proudest moments as a social entrepreneur?
1. Hiring my first employee.
2. Reaching 10 years in business.
3. Every-time a student returns to us to say thank you and tell us about their successes that would not have happened without our intervention. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and stress, but at times like this, I realise how important our services are and it reignites my fire to make sure we can continue as we are.
What would you say to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider the social impact of their businesses?
The social impact of a business can be so important, and be a way for your staff to fully engage with the work you do and support it beyond their day to day job. It’s a way to get them bought into the values of the business, but on top of that, with every bit of business you do, you will be making an impact either in someone’s life beyond the business, or on the environment for the better. I think it’s more important than ever, and if you’re not a social business, I believe you should at least have a strong CSR that can support some social impact.