Building a social enterprise is something I am very proud of, it is something that I like to share and has become integral to the story of Same Page Arts. So, what is it?
Well, fresh from graduating with a First Class Honours in Drama I decided I would focus all my efforts into establishing a social enterprise that would help to challenge the issues of people living with social exclusion. Whilst at university I ran drama workshops based at some local homeless hostels in Newcastle Upon Tyne. I saw first-hand the impact the arts had on those who participated. I wanted to further this, so, I took the biggest step out of my comfort zone I have ever made.
I am founder and CEO of Same Page Arts. A Community Interest Company (CIC) that transforms attitudes of social exclusion through artistic expression. We create art with a variety of participants such as homeless or vulnerably housed people, to disabled people. Through workshops, events and performances we provide a platform which offers a voice for the voiceless.
Since September, I have immersed myself into the world of social enterprise. With no other commitments than Same Page Arts I had my back against the wall. During the tougher times I felt like I was living in Dragons Den, yet without a product. It has been hard. Financially, very difficult, my social life dissolved and stresses unbeknown to me, became very known. Yet despite this, I have prevailed. I didn't see these issues as deterrents, or reasons to lose faith in what I was doing. The rent was overdue every month, I had no income and I was working harder and harder every week. I relied on my drive, passion and belief in the social success Same Page Arts was delivering would, in time, deliver financial success, or at least enough to pay the rent. This belief stretched a long way.
Having no previous enterprise or business experience it proved difficult to persuade the doubters that I would succeed. The impact Same Page Arts was having on its clients willed me to continue. With two clients finding employment and three other clients moving into independent living since engaging in our workshops I knew the potential social impact we were having and could have. The fundamental problem facing me was I needed some support, guidance and financial investment. After all, a social enterprise is still a business.
In October I pitched to a small panel consisting of UnLtd and O2 Think Big associates, two companies who have joined together to provide financial support to young social enterprises. This was an opportunity I desperately needed. I knew the consequences of failing to succeed.
It would be six weeks until I would find out. During this time I was on the precipice of reevaluating my life, it became clear that due to the financial implications I was facing, if unsuccessful I would have to rethink what I was doing. This was extremely hard to swallow.
In early December after weeks of waiting, which genuinely felt like months, I found out I had been successful. I was overwhelmed with relief. O2 Think Big and UnLtdD awarded Same Page Arts with £8000 of funding. I was sincerely gratified that the panel had seen Same Page Arts as a worthy social enterprise to fund. It was almost as if all the stresses, struggles and hard work had been vindicated.
It has been the most challenging period of my life. However, it more importantly, has been the most rewarding. I am very honoured to be able to do something I love and call it my job. When telling people about my journey I tell them about the importance of taking that step out of your comfort zone. By doing that I faced every challenge face on and I had to overcome them, because failure wasn't an option.
Dramatic as it sounds, it is true. I have been very fortunate to have a wonderful network of support from those close to me. Keeping my feet on the ground during the highs and encouraging me throughout the lows, that has been an essential component to Same Page Arts achievements.
The support Same Page Arts will receive will be invaluable. It doesn't solve all of my problems, however it will provide me with more opportunities to make my enterprise a success. They have already been extremely active in their presence and the package of support and guidance they will provide will further my knowledge of enterprise and further the impact Same Page Arts is having in the North East of England.