Enterprise for All at New College Lanarkshire
The Faculty of Supported Learning within New College Lanarkshire provides educational programmes for a range of young people with additional support needs. Underpinning all of our curriculum planning is the national policy on Developing the Young Workforce. As part of this national agenda, we must ensure that our learners are developing both labour market skills and overall soft employability skills such as self-efficacy and self-awareness.
In support of the national agenda, and funded by the John Mather Trust, New College Lanarkshire runs an initiative titled “Market Day” which aims to help all budding entrepreneurs within our student body to realise their business goals and develop essential skills in employability and enterprise.
Spotting an opportunity and taking the initiative, a group of Supported Learning students on the Skills for Life course at our Coatbridge campus set about applying for Market Day funding to start up a small stationery outlet on campus. They took the initiative to carry out market research discovering what their customer base would like to see for sale on campus, then submitted a successful application for Market Day funding, purchasing stock and getting their business start-up off the ground, thus Student Essentials was born.
Student Essentials began operating from a wooden cart in the atrium of the Coatbridge campus. With the support of faculty staff, the students opened for business 2 days a week and quickly became popular among the student body.
So impressive were their efforts with Student Essentials that the Skills for Life students competed in the What’s the Big Idea? Competition – an event co-hosted by New College Lanarkshire, Young Enterprise Scotland and Bridge2Business – and after a successful business pitch in the Dragon’s Den style competition, the group came in second place scooping a cash prize of £250 to further invest in their business.
Having had a taste of success, the students were ready to expand their business and further develop their entrepreneurial skills. Their new goal was to progress to operating a walk-in shop. Recognising this, the Faculty of Supported Learning expanded their partnership with Bridge2Business to provide the students with the opportunity of joining the Bridge2Business Team Programme and a new course called Ready for Retail was developed for the students to coincide with this. The students also worked with our Estates team to source and convert a large storage area into a functioning shop, which came to be known colloquially as The Wee Shop. At their first official business meeting, the students chose to operate The Wee Shop as a social enterprise with the aim of promoting positive mental health and wellbeing throughout the college.
The Ready for Retail course was designed to provide learners with the opportunity to continue enhancing their practical and entrepreneurial skills as well as gaining further qualifications to support their employability, while the Team Programme element offered them practical business support, a business bank account, cheque book, online book-keeping system and business insurance, as well as a business mentor and identifying a Centre Lead within the faculty to support the students throughout the process. The ethos of the Team Programme was for the students to be at the centre of the decision making about their business, with some support as required to assist them in achieving success.
The Wee Shop opened in December 2019, with the students hosting a grand opening with official ribbon cutting. Since its opening, students and staff have gone on to win several awards for their involvement in the initiative including Social Enterprise Team Award, FE College Enterprise Educator of the Year Award and Team Programme Journey Award at the Bridge2Business Educator Awards 2020.
The Wee Shop was also visited by local MSP Fulton MacGregor who acknowledged the motivation and perseverance of the students, saying “It’s an amazing initiative by the students and it is clear from their enthusiasm for the project the impact it is having on their self-esteem and learning.”
The Wee Shop has become a staple within the college campus, popular among other students for picking up essentials they may have forgotten throughout the college day. Following feedback from their customers, The Wee Shop continued to expand its product range including a variety of environmentally conscious products such as reusable straws, travel mugs and cartons of water in biodegradable packaging. The students also planned a range of activities promoting positive mental health around the college campus such as hosting guided meditation afternoons, distributing wellbeing packs and carrying out random acts of kindness.
Although covid-19 has resulted in the temporary closure of The Wee Shop, the success of the project has resulted in plans to open branches of The Wee Shop on other NCL campuses, offering other students with additional support needs the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial, labour market and employability skills, truly developing our young workforce.