Steering toward a better life

John at Pirates Castle
John Watts shares how social enterprises and charities working together has made a positive difference in his life.

The motto of the Pirates Castle - 'activities boating community' pretty much sums up what this charity is all about. I started volunteering there a while back and quickly became aware of the importance social enterprises and charities have in working together. So, for my first blog for Poached Creative, let me take you on a little voyage…

Situated in the heart of Camden, the Pirates have been going since 1966. Starting out with just a few kids messing about in boats along the Regents Canal, it has grown into a local landmark offering everything from kayaking to canal trips, youth clubs to dog yoga.

Living around the corner in Arlington House, a homeless hostel, I was invited by homelessness charity St. Mungo's Broadway to attend a weekly training scheme at the Pirates Castle.

Through the Pirates, I also worked with Access Adventure, a government scheme for helping disabled youngsters into outdoor activities such as rock climbing, cycling, and orienteering. They aided me to get my disability sports trainer and paediatric paramedic certificates through their collaboration with Disability in Camden and the Westway organisation.

Later, Broadway steered me towards the Poached Creative BigIssue Online Journalist training programme, after I did some English tutoring with Somalian residents in Arlington House through One Housing Group’s support wing.

John interviews now>press>play
Photo by Declan Slattery
Through this training I got to meet and interview representatives of numerous charities and social enterprises like now>press>play’ who provide interactive teaching for kids, and Hackney Laces, a young women’s football team. The training stressed their important role in the local community and our duty as journalists to report this.

Meanwhile I had got involved in the Two Boroughs’ theatrical project the Sound of Yellow for the homeless and disadvantaged at the Young Vic, because I had been attending Cardboard Citizens drama sessions at Crisis Education.

I think it is because of this experience with other charities and social enterprises, and the collaboration and networking of these organisations in offering me these opportunities, that I am now writing this blog for Poached Creative. It has been the hard work and dedication of these organisations that has taken me on this adventurous voyage over the last two years.

Volunteering has driven away that awful despondency coupled with a feeling of helplessness that comes from suffering homelessness. The irony is that by being helpful to others has been empowering in helping myself to recover a degree of self worth and as a value to my community.    

On the horizon the future looks bright. I will continue my volunteering with the Pirate Castle, attend a series of workshops with Two Boroughs with the aim of doing a Christmas show, and will be involved with St Mungo’s Broadway Recovery College’s drama and film ‘skool’ courses.

So, ‘Ahoy shipmates!’ climb aboard and get involved in your local charities and social enterprises, you never know what ports of call you might end up making. 

Social Saturday: celebrating social enterprises

By Yousif Farah 
Saturday 13th September is Social Saturday, the first ever nationwide day dedicated to promoting social enterprises that trade with the public. It’s being launched by Social Enterprise UK, to encourage people to buy products and services from social enterprises.

For those new to the concept, a social enterprise is a business model that prioritises its social mission over financial gain. Investing in people, most of its profits are usually reinvested in the business and the local community. When a new social enterprise emerges, entire communities reap the benefits. Varying in size, purpose and industry, the range from small social enterprises like us to nation-wide enterprises like the Big Issue.

Today there are more than 70,000 social enterprises nationwide, contributing £18.5 million to the UK economy, and employing almost a million people.

When you buy from a social enterprise, you buy social. Buying social means you provide an unemployed person with a career opportunity, or provide a homeless person with a bed for the night, or help the environment, as well as saving money and challenging only profit-driven businesses through competition.

Over the years we have had many partnerships with Social Enterprises across the country, including the Big Issue and Social Enterprise UK – who we proudly created the Social Saturday marketing materials for. We buy social whenever we can. Here are some of our favourite social enterprises:

Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
By Craig Temperly

This beautiful community garden and events space was built on derelict land in Dalston, East London, by architectural collective EXYZT in 2010. Since then it has become a vibrant community hub for holding workshops and events, as well as place for locals to relax and take in the peaceful garden greenery. It's good for the community and the environment, with local residents growing their own food and herbs in parts of the garden. We liked it so much we had our 5th birthday there.

Clarity and The Soap Co
Surely one of the oldest social enterprises in the UK, Clarity has been employing blind and disabled people since 1854 to create and sell beautifully scented hand-soaps and other toiletries. Clarity is also responsible for The Soap Co, which has a local shop in Keswick and a national online brand launching this year. With a 30% employment gap for disabled people in the UK, they create important employment opportunities for blind and disabled people, which make up over 70% of their workforce. 

Access Print
Access Print sells print, copy and design services. They are part of the Working Well Trust, a charity that helps support and train people who have experienced mental health problems get back into employment. All of the income from Access Print is reinvested into the charity which allows the trust to provide training and opportunities.

Access Print provides employment for two people in the shop who are ex-trainees and training opportunities for up to 24 others. Trainees are also given opportunities to move into employment or further education through another part of the charity called Rework, with high success rates. We buy from them and we always find their staff so helpful, polite and willing to accommodate our needs, as well as providing a great service. 

Main article by Yousif Farah, profiles by Grant Kingsnorth and Catriona Kinney.

Poached trainee launches own bike hire business

Anil, founder of Buzz Bikes

By Yousif Farah

2010 saw the launch of the Barclays bike hire scheme in London, developed by previous Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Now colloquially known as ‘Boris Bikes’ after Livingstone’s successor, the bikes have gained popularity among cyclists old and new in the capital.

Anil, one of our former trainees at Poached Creative and The Big Issue Online Journalism Course, contemplated the idea of bike hire long before Boris Johnson was even elected as Mayor.

However, not equipped with pockets as deep as those of the City of London, and lacking the necessary resources, while also struggling to find his own way in life, it took Anil some time to put the pieces together.

In November 2013, Anil applied for a grant, and less than a year later, the application for a loan was approved by Start Up Loans, a charity operating in partnership with the Government.

Despite the current climate of adversity, and despite the Financing Start-Up Enterprise reducing the grant initially applied for, Anil has hit the ground running. The idea progressed steadily from a plan to becoming another new aspiring small business – which is no mean feat in today’s economic climate.

Anil said “It’s been daunting going into business because it’s something that I've never done before and you don’t know how it’s going to be received. It’s also difficult to set up a business with as little money as possible but I appreciate all the help that I have been given.”

It has taken him less than one year from applying for a grant to launching his new service. Today, Anil proudly runs Buzz Bike Hire.

The business comprises of high quality bicycles run by Lithium Ion Polymer or LifePo4 Phosphate Batteries. The bicycles are environmentally friendly, lowering the carbon footprint of the rider. The bikes are power assisted: you can peddle or let the bike do the pedalling for you.

He launched the business at the recent RideLondon FreeCycle event in the city, London.

The future looks promising for Anil, if his business runs parallel to his personal success and triumph, we could hear more about Anil’s Buzz Bikes. Looks like Boris Johnson has some competition on his hands!