The success of an innovative North East social enterprise that helps young people with learning disabilities to gain skills has led to its expansion across the country.
Labelled is the idea of Darlington-based Patchwork People and gives young people with learning disabilities a vehicle through which to learn enterprise skills.
Founder Gill Walker is licensing the Labelled model to operators in Newcastle, Derby, and Liverpool following the success of their first Darlington shop, which sells fashion, accessories and toiletries.
After starting with 70% grant funding and generating revenue of £23,000 in the first year, Labelled now receives only 30% in grants and last year turned over £60,000.
The first Labelled operators will establish a fashion outlet and community cafe; a shop for mother and baby goods and a bike recycling enterprise.
The concepts are designed to give young people the chance to learn skills and gain qualifications through running a customer-facing enterprise in a supported environment.
A Labelled venture managed by YMCA Newcastle is to be the first pilot to launch the new licensed business model.
The Newgate Centre-based store will be run by 10 young people with special education needs, offering them chance to learn business administration skills, serve customers and manufacture, source and manage stock.
Chief executive Jeff Hurst said: “We could have gone through the process of setting up a shop and brand ourselves but we didn’t have the capacity to do that. By using a proven model that’s safe for the young people, we minimise the risk and can meet their needs from the start.”
Gill Walker, who has 30 years’ experience in education and children’s services, began Patchwork People by providing customer-facing opportunities for unemployed volunteers aged 16-25 on stalls at fairs and festivals.
After winning the Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s If We Can You Can Challenge in 2011, Gill was offered the lease on the Darlington shop and approached to support people with learning disabilities.
The Labelled brand was developed by the young people who came up with the name because of how they felt they were judged on how they look, sound and behave.
It has since supported 14 young people who have gone on to full-time mainstream education or full-time employment.
Mrs Walker added: “We have worked really, really hard to minimise the grant funding and become a sustainable business.
“We can demonstrate progress and positive outcomes in our young people and also in the value of what we do with a social benefit worth £2.59 for every £1 invested.”
Most recently they have attracted additional financial support from an angel investment company and the Big Venture Challenge, which selected Labelled as one of the 30 most ambitious social enterprises in the country.
With backgrounds in education and children’s youth and community services, Gill and operations director Marj Newman put in place very early the care plans, safeguarding policies, assessment and monitoring systems and accredited training of a professional organisation, which has helped now they are ready to roll out licences nationwide.
Mrs Walker added: “It was never about opening one shop in Darlington. It was always about the opportunity and doing things differently. Labelled is purely a vehicle to give young people the experience and opportunity.”