Emerging practice details


C4EO theme: Youth

Labelled - a safe, supportive trading, training and enterprise environment for young people to thrive, Patchwork People CIC, Darlington

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Youth
  • General resources
  • Local area early intervention strategies
  • Early Help

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Patchwork People Community Interest Company – not for profit, community based social enterprise

    Local authority/local area:

    Darlington, North East


    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    Patchwork People CIC has developed a safe, supportive, trading, training and enterprise environment on the high street for young people to thrive in. We work with young people furthest from the job market and offer valuable work experience in retail. Our success is measured by the difference we make to young people’s lives.

    Context and rationale
    Patchwork People Community Interest Company (CIC) was created in early 2011 by a group of people experienced in working in the public sector and with children, young people and their families. It is developing rapidly and has reduced grant dependency from 70% in Year 1 to 20% in Year 2 whilst doubling its turnover.

    The idea originated from the drive to put young people at the heart of the social enterprise ‘by young people for young people’. Alongside this was an ambition to create a real environment for young people to experience, engage with, develop and grow. Over many years, by observing the experiences of young people in vocational training, it became apparent that what was missing from gaining skills in bricklaying, plastering, catering and art development, for example, was the link to business and customers. Often ‘centres’ would be located on industrial estates or large educational premises and the ‘audience’ or ‘customer’ just weren’t evident. A high street base was therefore seen to be important.

    The stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment also offered the challenge – to do something different for those furthest from the job market. For young people with additional needs for example, it was also apparent that at the end of their school career they might attend a college course but often this was done with no real sense of how these young people might achieve increased independence – socially, emotionally and financially. When their college career ends, some young people with additional needs can attend ‘day centre’ type provision and, although the focus is occupational, is not sufficiently developmental for them. The support that is currently provided for young people with additional needs creates a dependency culture. They are also unfamiliar with basic community resources and managing their personal lives.

    In order for Patchwork People to offer an effective, efficient alternative which would improve the outcomes for these young people it was vital to create an appropriate staffing profile. Our high street, community based venture would offer skilled, experienced staff to scaffold these young people to a greater independence.

    Patchwork People’s social enterprise enables young people to learn the ‘business’ of business in a high street enterprise environment with a skilled staff team. Practical life skills training are offered which familiarise them with local community resources and help them to manage their own personal lives. This is delivered alongside a programme of enterprise development.


    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    Patchwork People was registered, with three Directors, in January 2011 and began trading in April 2011. In addition to the Chief Executive, the Operational Director has many years’ experience in youth and community work and works on a daily basis in the business. The third Director is a qualified accountant.

    From our significant public sector experience, it was decided to prioritise the safeguarding aspects of the business. A small group of skilled and experienced young volunteers became the core, sessional (unpaid) staff. Criminal Record Bureau checks were completed as well as creating a comprehensive set of policies and procedures, including safeguarding, and first aid training for example. Appropriate insurance was also sourced before we began to meet with any young people. Young volunteers from the Connexions one stop shop in Darlington were recruited, basically asking them if they might be interested in developing a shop ‘for young people by young people’. The group met weekly and developed the young person’s brand ‘Labelled’.


    This was chosen as young people felt they can be ‘labelled’ by others, for instance, by the way they dress, the way they look or the way they behave. The trademark has now been gained, new products developed and ‘Labelled’ is the name of the first shop in Darlington which opened in October 2011.

    During the first eight months of business, we traded at markets and festivals across the region – these included Urban Games and Hip Hop, Newcastle Mela, Redcar Rocks and Freshers’ weeks at local universities and colleges.

    The shop is run by young people for young people and families and offers a commercial, social environment for young people to thrive. It is a fashion and accessory reseller, and it showcases young designers, sources vintage items, and sources 'on trend ' items.

    The young people are the decision makers - they decide which items will or will not be stocked, and they negotiate and agree with our registered ‘resellers’ a fair price. They then price up the products and put them on display, make the sale, and process the payments to Patchwork People and to the reseller.

    The environment provides a comprehensive offer of accredited training and progression. Patchwork People has been approved as a SFEDI, the Government’s recognised UK Standards Setting Body for Business Support and Business Enterprise, centre to offer a range of qualifications in enterprise and Foundation level learning in Retail. The company has also been approved as a specialist intervention provider for Work choice for the Shaw Trust.

    The ‘shop’ is also used as a ‘hub’, a safe base, to explore all potential self-employment opportunities, for example, window cleaning, garden maintenance, building, decorating, handy- person, and craft development.

    Supportive placements for young people with learning difficulties are offered. This enables young people to gain experience in a high street working environment whilst pursing individual routes to employment. We also develop individual plans for progress. This is developmental, incorporating personal and social aspects, and other young people aged 14-16 from local secondary schools can also attend ‘Labelled’ as an alternative curriculum offer.

    The company has been described as ‘the safest hands on the high street’ and offers innovative and unique opportunities for young people in a profitable trading and training environment. The safety first approach enables us to begin to break the dependency culture that currently exists. Training in practical life skills is offered thereby familiarising them with local community resources and helping them to manage their own personal lives in areas such as money, personal hygiene and social media.

    Who is involved?
    Core team of staff – teacher, youth or PETTLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) qualified.
    Local Jobcentre Plus.
    Local social care teams.
    Local schools/colleges.

    The referral process has two main routes as shown below.

    Fig 1

    The key elements of safeguarding, supporting, enabling, trading, training and enterprise are now in place and embedded in the daily running of Labelled.

    A rolling programme of opportunities is offered which is tailored to individual need. This might be a short one-off opportunity to volunteer at a local event or festival and these ‘one off’ opportunities are open to any young person who wants to get involved. We also recruit from local schools and colleges and advertise these opportunities through the Facebook social network as well as holding planning meetings prior to any event.

    Ten young people volunteer on a regular weekly or monthly basis.
    Individual programmes are developed, for young people with learning disabilities, with their social worker and parent/carer. These are anticipated to involve daily involvement for one year and then we expect some movement to self employment. In these circumstances, we expect ‘Labelled’ to continue to be the ‘community hub’ and will assist with the ‘business function’ diary management, taking bookings, and book keeping, for example. If any difficulties are encountered, we can give the early help and reassurance needed to the young people before things escalate.
    Young people aged 14-16 also have individual plans which are developed with the ‘host school’. Staff members from Patchwork contribute to multi-agency assessments and any ‘Team Around the Child’ meetings.


    Achievements so far

    Further details on your achievements

    The measure of success is that young people, with our support, move onto successful futures – education, training, employment or self-employment. This is in the context of a sustainable business as a social enterprise, maintaining the business/social purpose balance.

    Evidence collected so far
    Additional documents for this example, feedback comments plus Patchwork’s methodology and Social Return on Investment, are available from the C4EO team at the NFER.

    The business model – grant dependency has reduced from 70% in year 1 to 20% in year 2, and turnover has been doubled.

    Volunteers - Patchwork People has worked with 70 volunteers over the two years since the company was established. Of these, 70% were unemployed or NEET, not engaged in education, training and employment. A core group of ten volunteers work with us on a weekly basis. The volunteers have supported a number of mobile market/festival trades. Each volunteer has committed approximately ten hours per event (including preparation and travelling time). Sixteen events have been attended and on average there are eight volunteers at each event.

    Of the ten regular volunteers, three of these young people have now gained employment and one young person has a weekly placement with us as part of his university studies.

    Supported placements for young people with learning disabilities - we can support six young people with learning disabilities per year (this will increase as young people move onto self-employment and placements become available). This includes accreditation training opportunities. Two young people with learning disabilities are currently completing Level 1 enterprise qualifications and are making plans to become self-employed gardeners in summer 2013. These two young men are now 25 and have never had a job.

    Placement progress wheels - a simple progress wheel is completed for young people with learning disabilities. This captures the young person’s perspective early in the placement and six months later. The areas we consider are ‘speaking to strangers, coping with difficult situations, feeling valued, saying no to people, speaking to a group, and walking into a room of strangers.’ Analysis of this data to date demonstrates an average 32% improvement in scores

    Retention rates are good i.e. 100% of those staying with us have continued.

    Attendance rates 100%.

    Organisational or cultural change
    As children, young people and families’ professionals we were not retail experts. This has meant that all ideas that are generated about how the ‘shop’ should look and run are valid. Organisationally, this means that that the decision-making process is extremely democratic. Everyone has a right to a view and the best ideas are actioned.

    Unexpected benefits
    • Enhances local economic value – new business moving into an area.
    • Boosts the local economy – for example, use of local services by young people, shops for lunch, post office.
    • Increases public awareness of learning disabilities and talking to local businesses about how the young people with learning disabilities might play a role, for instance, providing banking support for these young people.



    Other details

    The biggest challenge has been around cash flow. Patchwork is a social enterprise committed to reducing grant dependency. In the early days of development we needed to build the ‘safe platform’: safeguarding, CRB checks, policies, procedures and liability insurance all needed to be established and in place prior to any work with the young people. Cash flow became a further issue when we began to lease our premises – before our placements could be fully operational, we needed to establish the training programmes and gain approval as an enterprise centre.

    We now have a fully costed model which we plan to replicate to support others to create sustainable community based, social enterprises. There has been a lot of interest locally and nationally in this initiative and others can be assisted in offering this opportunity to other young people. Advice has been sought on the costs of such replication and it is anticipated that this ‘package’, initially, will be in the region of £15K.An on-going ‘quality assurance, relationship with our ‘Labelled’ community is planned and this will protect the integrity of the model.

    Potential savings
    As young people gain confidence and increase their independence, we expect savings to be made in the social care budget.

    As we support young people from unemployment to employment/self-employment, we anticipate savings as they move from ‘workless benefits’ to ‘in-work benefits’ initially, and then to potential financial independence.

    Learning from experience
    As all the systems and processes have been recorded, for example, safeguarding, policies, procedures, this has resulted in Patchwork now being very well prepared not only for individual placements but for larger contracts and for the planned replication. We also began a simple data set from day one. This included the details of the interactions with young people, number of volunteers, numbers of hours involved, individual plan development and review and this will assist in beginning to assess the impact of our work.

    Core leadership behaviours
    The following eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. The leadership behaviours that apply to this example have been emboldened.

    i. openness to possibilities – given the new ‘enterprise’ environment the model had to develop to ensure it would be sustained without compromising the integrity of the social purpose. All possibilities needed to be considered.

    ii. the ability to collaborate – collaboration was a key factor, we built positive relationships with the social care teams and Jobcentre Plus to ensure that the young people, who would get the best benefit from this new way of working, could be identified and begin working with us successfully.

    iii. demonstrating a belief in team and people – the hardworking volunteer team were key in this development. The total belief in our ability as a team to offer something unique for young people has been extremely important to the success we have enjoyed to date. The team has committed hundreds of volunteer hours to making this work.

    iv. personal resilience and tenacity – redundancy was the trigger to develop this model and a real belief that we could create a new way of working with young people. Personal strength, drive, ambition and unfailing determination resulted in our accelerated progress.

    v. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system – although engaged in reflective practice and having to maintain an open mind to possibilities, we have also had to be single minded to ensure that what we are developing continues to fit our purpose. This single mindedness has created our identity – a recent visitor described us as a ‘value driven company’.

    vi. focusing on results – our two measures of success have been vital: with Patchwork supports young people into successful futures within a sustainable social enterprise (the measurements are success of young people and success of the business).

    vii. the ability to simplify – navigating new territory, the world of business planning, cash flow forecasts, training providers, and workless benefits for example, were very new to us. As we are supporting young people through this process, it has been really important for us not only to understand it for our business purposes but also to be able to translate this for our young people to understand.

    viii. the ability to learn continuously – this happens every day!

    C4EO Golden Threads
    The Golden Threads that apply to this example are:

    You can do it – promoting resilience - high expectations and self belief are fundamental.

    Together with children, parents and families – involve service users. Our service users were involved and continue to be involved on a daily basis, from brand development to market trading, stock choice and pricing, shop redecoration and ongoing maintenance. Through workshops, feedback commentary and open conversations every voice is heard.

    It takes a community to raise a child – see the bigger picture. Our high street presence has a daily relationship with the business community, and our young people belong to the community that trades in our street.

    Holding the baton – our organisation is staffed by trusted adults, we offer stability and continuity – we have a wider volunteer group also ‘known’ who ensure that even in times of change we retain a familiar feel.

    Culture not structure – learning together. As a new social enterprise it was all about culture, a culture of high expectations, a culture of belief that we could make a difference, a culture of transferring our learning to the high street.

    Shape up and keep fit – learning together. We have all had to learn so much.

    Prove it – making change happen. Systemisation from the start with the establishment of simple monitoring processes enabled us to begin to monitor. These processes are now becoming more ‘sophisticated’ and responsive.

    From good to great – leadership, vision and embedding is key. Strong leadership with clarity of vision is a key factor in Patchwork’s success. Self reflection and a total commitment to positive outcomes are also very important.

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