In June 2019 Chichester Community Development Trust (CCDT) began a pilot project to support 20 women to start or grow their own business. Completed in July of this year, including months of virtual support throughout lockdown the results are a resounding success. Businesses started, record sales achieved, websites designed and launched, and most importantly an invaluable network of shared strengths and advice that will carry on uniting the team of women long after the initiative has drawn to an end.
The participants involved in the programme, called Discover Your Future, started businesses ranging from a community theatre, to a speech and language therapy company, stand up comic and social networking business. Each one entirely unique but facing shared challenges and skills shortages without a sufficient support network to help drive them forward. The Discover Your Future programme provided each participant with a one to one mentor with years of experience in business, along with a regular schedule of skills workshops in areas such as accounting, fundraising, marketing and contacts generation.
The report marking the end of the programme shows the tangible difference that such support can make. As one of the women involved commented, “I’ve gained so much from the workshops and general community spirit of the group. I believe I would have stopped working on my project many months ago without the constant motivation and support from the program.” For many the mentoring and network provided ensured that businesses otherwise threatened by the onset of Covid-19 have been able to get through the many difficulties the pandemic presents, “If I hadn’t done this programme before Covid-19 I would be in a mental mess. Thanks to completing the programme I know that it will be a tough year, but I will succeed in getting my business back up and running and that the obstacles I will encounter will be ok. I won’t give up. I will simply approach things differently.”
Tangible outcomes for the businesses of the female entrepreneurs included several websites launched, businesses registered, participants secured places on the SSE start up scheme, fundraising bids written; seed funds raised and awards were won.
Mentoring was provided on an entirely voluntary basis, and funding for all costs incurred on the programme were secured from The National Lottery Awards for All fund. CCDT Director, Clare de Bathe said of the initiative, “We are incredibly pleased with the results of the feedback, and are immensely grateful for the very generous donation of time and energy from those who mentored this group of strong, determined and highly capable women, many of whom discovered and built on strength they didn’t know they had, and each who grew in confidence and ability throughout the year. As a mentor on Discover Your Future myself I found the experience immensely rewarding and am so delighted with the success that it has brought all of those involved. We know the need for such a service is only going to grow as a result of Covid-19 and we hope to learn from this experience and secure funding to roll out further initiatives to support women into self-employment in the region.”