From December 2020 to May 2021, the Make It Happen programme supported unemployed women from the North East to explore starting a business and gain an accredited qualification.
COVID has changed the lives of every one of us in one way or another. As data began to surface about the impact the pandemic has had on the lives of people across the UK, trends revealed women had been disproportionately affected by its events. The team at PNE were compelled to act, responding to this newly identified need, launching the Make It Happen programme to empower women who were experiencing unemployment to find new opportunities for work, including starting up in business.
Funded by Local Authorities and the European Social Fund, the programme brought together a cohort of 26 women, offering access to a wide range of services, from start-up support, management qualifications, skills-boosting sessions, networking and coaching. It’s launch coinciding with the announcement of a third lockdown, the programme also provided urgent resources to those who didn’t have them at home, including laptops and internet access.
Six months after launching in January 2020, the group has been bubbling with activity and stories of success.
Four years ago, Grace Gorman (pictured left) made the decision to close down her business to care for a family member who had become ill. Through the Make It Happen programme, Grace hoped to reenter self-employment with a new venture, Incommon, which aims to strengthen social networks and support groups within the West End of Newcastle.
She explains, “My life changed when I became a carer, so stepping back into the workplace was not an option and emotionally there was a huge barrier. Doing anything seemed so difficult.”
Grace worked closely with a business advisor through the programme, developing her business plan and undertaking activities to bring her closer to her goal. As the programme ends, she is exploring taking on a workspace in partnership with a charity and continues to work with her business advisor.
She adds, “This programme has given me the opportunity to move forward, to take steps towards starting a business and getting my life back. My confidence has improved dramatically and this programme has shown me that I can do it. I have found the support invaluable and enjoyable. I would probably still be talking to people about what I would like to do if it hadn’t been for this programme.”
During her time on the programme, Alice Hoy (pictured right) made leaps towards her dream of opening craft beer and tap room, Axis. As part of the preparation for her new role leading a business, she undertook a Level 5 Management and Leadership Qualification in Finance, as well as spending time with a business advisor refining her plans. Since enrolling, Alice has secured premises in Gateshead and applied for a Start-up Loan, and she is planning to open the doors to her first customers in June.
Sharing her experience of Make It Happen, Alice explains, “Being on this programme has enabled me to understand more about what to do next and when, and to have the confidence to move forward. It broke the activities down into steps so starting up didn’t seem like climbing a huge mountain.”
Michelle Hall, ESF Project Officer, “The Gateshead Council learningSkills LA6 Community Grants team have been thrilled with the ongoing responsiveness and diligence of the PNE team in supporting their learners through individual challenges heightened during the pandemic to achieving accredited qualifications, employment and further learning opportunities.”
Over the course of the programme, 12 participants were supported to complete accredited Management Qualifications, 19 continue to develop plans to start-up in business and 3 have moved into employment, further education or volunteer roles. As the programme comes to a close, over half the women continue to access PNE’s business support services through other funded opportunities.
Tracey Moore, Make It Happen Programme Manager, comments, “It has been inspiring to follow the journeys of the Make It Happen participants over the past six months. Despite the challenges many of them faced, such as navigating unemployment and caring responsibilities, every individual completing the programme has worked hard towards their goals: starting businesses, gaining qualifications and pursuing new, exciting opportunities for work and learning. On behalf of the PNE team I wish each of them the best of luck with their next chapter.”
Michelle adds, “Delivery has been creative and learners have been fully supported to achieve. PNE have fully engaged the ethos of the LA6 Community Grants project and have facilitated incredible outcomes for their learners and the wider community they support. We are very proud to support everyone involved.”