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Young people from Inverness help young social entrepreneurs in Tower Hamlets get their businesses online

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Young people from Inverness-based IT specialist The Apprentice Store have connected with young social entrepreneurs in East London during lockdown to help them acquire much needed digital skills and get their businesses online.

The Apprentice Store is participating in an accelerator programme specifically for social enterprises organised by the EY Foundation, which seeks to help young people facing barriers to entering work and supports social entrepreneurs. Also participating in the programme is Social Ark, a charity based in Tower Hamlets in East London. Social Ark supports young people from under-resourced East London communities to use their lived experiences to develop social businesses of their own.

However, had it not been for the lockdown, the two organisations would never have met. David Massey, managing director of The Apprentice Store, explained: “There are 43 socially driven organisations on the 12 month Accelerate Programme and nine of them are based in Scotland. Prior to lockdown, we met once a month in person but only within our respective regional groups. Once lockdown began the format changed to a virtual delivery with coffee mornings open to all regional groups. That’s how I met the truly inspiring Lisa Stepanovic, founder and CEO of Social Ark.”

David and Lisa hit it off immediately and it soon became apparent that not only did they share the same values and goals of supporting young people to build a better future for themselves, but that there was a way that The Apprentice Store and Social Ark could come together and do something really amazing during lockdown.

Just before lockdown, many of the Social Ark young entrepreneurs were in the early stages of launching their social enterprises. However, the entrepreneurs struggled to move forward. Lisa quickly identified the need for each of their organisations to have a greater web presence, enabling them to adapt their services around the pandemic.

David worked out that The Apprentice Store could help. He and Lisa developed a programme and over four weeks, five young social entrepreneurs worked closely with The Apprentice Store team developing their websites and gaining the skills needed to manage and maintain their websites.

Supporting David in the programme was Jordan Whyte, aged 18 from Nairn, who has been a web developer with the Apprentice Store since 2019. Over a series of four weeks, David and Jordan did weekly group sessions with the entrepreneurs in East London and Jordan also provided one-to-one sessions. They covered basic WordPress so that they could build websites and they also covered Google Analytics, SEO, e-commerce and cyber security.

Jordan described the coaching experience: “This was something completely different for me. I am an apprentice myself and still learning, so to be the coach and teach people web development skills from scratch was quite daunting at first but by the end of the four weeks, I felt proud of myself and what we’d achieved.”

The Apprentice Store supported a diverse group of young entrepreneurs, each with completely different social enterprises. These included Time to Shine – a commercial and residential cleaning business; YUCAN – an organisation that advocates for young carers under the age of 16; Your Life More Life – an organisation that seeks to support young people to overcome the effects of violence and poverty; Huriah Hemp – an ethical clothing brand that creates T-shirts for change; and True Cadence – an organisation that uses the power of music and video to engage young people.

Speaking about the collaboration, Lisa Stepanovic said: “I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved together. Throughout lockdown, our vision, values and commitment to our young people and their communities drove us forward. The Social Ark and The Apprentice Store partnership would never have come to light without the Coronavirus pandemic. If you’d have told me a few months ago that our young entrepreneurs would be working with young people from the Highlands, I simply wouldn’t have believed it! I’m confident that what we achieved together over just a few weeks could serve as a blueprint for future collaboration.  Shared values and a sense of community have no boundaries.”

The young social entrepreneurs are extremely grateful for the support from The Apprentice Store and are optimistic about the future.  

Emmanuel Ebokosia, founder of True Cadence said: “David was patient and willing to go through things in a way I’d understand. He was on hand to provide support, especially with the coding. I learnt how themes actually work and the different functionalities within WordPress, this enabled me to better utilise the features. It feels good to have an e-commerce website, it’ll enable me to do a lot more, especially when I start selling my courses. Thank you to David and the Apprentice Store team, and also Social Ark for the opportunity.”

Sanyu Musoke, founder of YUCAN Reach, explained: “Over 4 weeks during the Covid19 Lockdown, David and Jordan from the Apprentice Store coached a group of us at Social Ark, supporting us to develop our own websites. Tech really isn’t my thing and I did struggle a bit at first. The team spent lots of 1:1 time with me, going above and beyond, helping me to design and launch the YUCAN website. I’ve learned how to use WordPress and how to update it properly. I’m so excited to have my own website now. Thank you, David and Jordon and my Social Ark Family.”

Saif Bhoja, founder of Huriah Hemp added: “David and one of his spectacular apprentices Jordan supported me in maximising the potential of my website. They helped me to understand many of the potential current and future pitfalls. They provided an insight into essential web systems through individual one-to-ones and group sessions. This process has helped me grow my entrepreneurial toolkit. Allowing it to extend further into various online elements such as SEO, Web Design and more. I am grateful to have received this support, it has propelled me further in my social enterprise journey and I hope that others can benefit from this experience. Thank you, Apprentice Store.”

The team from the EY Foundation Accelerate Programme is proud of the collaboration between The Apprentice Store and Social Ark. Margaret Gibson OBE, Deputy Chief Executive of the EY Foundation explained: “One of the aims of the Accelerate Programme is to promote networking and build a community of social entrepreneurs across the UK. The collaboration between The Apprentice Store and Social Ark was a joy to follow, as it embodied this goal (across a very large distance) and most importantly supported young people. Providing them with vital skills to use for their own social enterprises during, what was and is, a very uncertain time for them.”

Declan Ramsey
Apprentice turned mentor, who would have thought?
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