European Social Fund - Agora Project (2015)
We applied for ESF funding to run a 7-month hands-on training program for 15 unemployed ethnic minority (BAME) women, who want to learn how to run their own businesses, seek support to find employment or go back to further education. In order to achieve this aim, we provided the women with group and 1-2-1 support to develop key self-employment skills, which they tested by running a community event in Medway selling a range of products and services, including: food, crafts, art, therapies and beauty treatments.
How the project was delivered
5 training workshops were provided on basics of starting and sustaining a business, identifying event ideas, project management, and how to put their learning in to practice when organising an event.
4 technical workshops on Employability skills (including CV writing, interview techniques); Health & Safety & Risk Assessment; Bookkeeping & Budgeting; and Equality & Diversity (and maintaining Equilibrium)
1:1 Mentoring sessions delivered by the Project Manager to check team progress
1:1 Business support mentoring to learners, and the areas covered were product/service, pricing, bundles & packages, discounts, the first customer, sales process, marketing plan, sales forecasts, financial requirements, and action plan.
With regards to the community event, the women took the responsibility of finalising the venue, undertaking risk assessment, designing, ordering and distributing the flyers, contacting speakers, performers, stall holders, sponsors, buying raffle prizes, and keeping record of income & expenditure.
Learners were set a target of making a certain amount of profit on the day, and they doubled the target. The women will use this profit for further training in Health & Safety, First Aid and Food Hygiene.
The project was delivered in collaboration with CAP Enterprise, Ministry for Growth and North Kent Training Service, demonstrating a shining example of partnership working between the public and private sector.
Monitoring & Evaluation
Individual Learning record and multiple Assessment Forms were used to evaluate the project recording the learner’s journey and achieved outcomes.
To assess impact, time was allocated at each workshop to monitor progress and answer any queries learners may have had. This process worked well because the learners felt at ease to talk about their issues openly in a trusted non-judgmental setting. A short video clip was made which recorded the views of one of the trainers, and few learners.
Outcomes & Impact Achieved
Feedback from the learners indicated that the project achieved all the aims and objectives, and the women communicated that this program increased their self-worth, confidence to build on their strengths and address their weaknesses to gain employment elsewhere or in their own businesses.
The women now have the tools and/or knowledge
to turn their business ideas into reality,
to know the legal and financial processes to consider before starting a business,
to know the importance of the 5 Ps (product, price, people, place & promotion),
of how to write a business plan and/or CV, of interview skills, and of the preparation of a GANTT chart when managing projects;
of Health & Safety rules when running your business or at work place, and how to undertake Risk Assessment
of the Equality Act 2010 and how would it affect their business
of keeping the balance between being self-employed and running your own business
Agora gave the learners an impetus to undertake further training after the completion of the project, e.g. NVQ level3 course, Apprenticeship, Assertiveness training course, Numeracy course, ESOL class, “Conversation Café” in a library to improve English, starting a homework club to generate income.
“The sessions were indeed very useful, and a follow up sessions would also be very useful, as I would like to see a future for our Homework Club"
The women have been attending gentle exercise classes to inculcate a sense of well-being and positive attitude.
The reason for the success of AGORA is that formal training was followed by practical 1:1 business mentoring, which helped the learners to turn their “hazy” idea in to a firm one. The Community event provided the opportunity to “learn by doing”, as the principles involved in organising the event would be similar to those when they start their own businesses.
What went well in the project
The learners did not know one another before the AGORA project. The team building exercises at the start allowed them to connect as a team get motivated and enthused.
The community event enabled the women to support one another, share their skills and knowledge, work as a team, and discover their strengths and talents. Consequently, this enhanced their confidence and belief in becoming self-sufficient as majority are seriously disadvantaged due to various factors, i.e. living in deprived areas, language barrier, cultural norms, family structure, and lack of educational/training opportunities. The learners were very keen to make it a success, as they believed that it is “their” event, and not MEMF’s.
MEMF managed to remove as many barriers as possible, i.e. childcare issues, travel cost, and being sensitive to their problems. At our request, the trainers were able to tailor their course content to suit the learners’ needs.
“The 1:1 Business support meeting was very productive and useful. I would like to thank you for everything. Your project was a good start to believe in myself and start something new I have never experienced.”