Back in 2013, during the pilot phase of The Skill Mill, The Guardian newspaper ran a feature called ‘50 voices of Social Enterprise’. Paul Martin, the former Prime Minister of Canada was there. Nick Clegg the former UK Deputy Prime Minister was there, as was Theo Paphitis - formerly of Dragon’s Den - and a host of other luminaries from the political and business world. Sir Richard Branson was also featured and made one of now many statements in support of the Social Enterprise sector. If you look closely at the top row you will see that The Skill Mill was one of the voices - but rather than as an expert - we preferred to let the young person do the talking. What Social Enterprise meant to him was deeply personal as he shared his hopes for a better future.
This was our first ‘encounter’ with Virgin and Richard Branson. A couple of years later Sir Richard spoke by video-link at the Working2Change Employability summit in Edinburgh 20th May 2015. He talked about the importance of employment for offender rehabilitation. In his words, ‘I can’t think of a better investment’. That is all The Skill Mill has been doing and we continue to invest in young people.
During 2015, The Skill Mill applied for and was awarded some grant funding through the Virgin Money Foundation. This came at a critical point and helped take us from a fledgling Social Enterprise and focused our efforts on moving from grant dependency to becoming more reliant on sales revenue. This transition was critical for The Skill Mill to build in sustainability. The grant funding from the Virgin Money Foundation was enormously helpful but the mentoring support from Bill Percy, Customer Experience Director, Creative at Virgin Money, afforded to our incredible Business Development Manager Charlotte Clarke was just as important. Charlotte had joined the Skill Mill following a placement through Northumbria University and continued as a volunteer to eventually become the Skill Mill’s first full time employee. This investment in people who have enormous potential is central to The Skill Mill’s mission. We resisted the pressure we came under to recruit an experienced sales executive and held firm, sticking to our belief that the fundamentally important part of Skill Mill is caring about the programme and the young people that benefit from it. Charlotte has this in abundance and Bill harnessed this passion and gave Charlotte the necessary Skills, knowledge and, most importantly, the belief in herself to succeed in the role. Over 8 years later, The Skill Mill has supported over 296 young people into employment, achieved an 8% re-conviction rate which compares with 72% nationally for young people with 11 or more previous convictions.
Again, thanks to Virgin’s Better Chances programme, Charlotte attended an event in London January 2020 and reunited with Bill and the team. That was just before Covid-19 and lockdown #1. The impact on all of us has been seismic and we know how many organisations are still suffering from the impact. We stopped operations for a short period but quickly managed to get our Covid Guidelines in place and have been working continuously since May 2020.
During the first national lockdown we exercised our creative muscle and set about making our own face-masks; first of all for ourselves and the teams but eventually for others. So far we have made over 40,000 pieces and provided them to members of the public, private companies and other Social Enterprises, universities and charities all across the world.
The Virgin Management Team in London commissioned a mask with their very own design. What better in these testing times than putting a smile on your face
The masks were hugely popular and Richard himself has taken to social media, describing them as, ‘a mask with a better purpose’.
A mask design competition organised by Holly Branson also proved a winner with the beautiful winning design chosen by Holly herself and created by The Skill Mill. 2020 will be etched in our minds forever.
We also received some support from the Virgin media team to help with our own online presence and Kay Finlay was extremely grateful for the input she received from Kami White and Alex Gerrity.
Following the first Covid19 lockdown we expanded our environmental teams to provide even more jobs in Leeds, Durham, Nottingham, Rochdale, Birmingham, Surrey and Croydon, as well as Newcastle. During 2021 we opened in Northumberland and West Sussex and during January 2002 in Oldham , Northamptonshire and Norfolk.
To top everything off, The Skill Mill was awarded 2 Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. One for Sustainable Development and one for Promoting Opportunity which marks the pinnacle of achievement in this most difficult of times. It is especially exciting to be representing the Social Enterprise sector in this way.
So thank you to the Virgin Group and to Sir Richard for supporting Social Enterprise, championing offender rehabilitation through employment and especially for supporting The Skill Mill and our staff.
If you are interested to know more or would like to do business with Skill Mill then please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.