Helen McQuillan, Project Leader, explains Let’s Get Started, Brothers of Charity Clare – a new project to aid those with disabilities who wish to start their own business.

L to R: Fran Frey, Pauline Malone, Rebecca Fowler, who set up ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, a second hand vintage charity shop in Ennistymon, Co. Clare

Supported self-employment is a relatively new concept in Ireland. A pilot project—Let’s Get Started—led by the Brothers of Charity Clare service and funded by The Genio Trust—is exploring the best ways to help individuals with a disability or illness to plan and set up a small business in their local are, with family and community supports. The project, which started in December 2012, has three phases: 1) research on good practice in supported self-employment programmes worldwide; 2) recruitment of individuals interested in setting up their own business in Clare, focused on person-centred planning around individual business support needs; and 3) development of ‘Start your own Business’ guidance and resources for people with disabilities and support organisations in Ireland.

“ The idea for CAPRE’s model of supported enterprise did not just spring into the minds of the founding members from the outset. It began as a seed growing in the minds of a group of local mothers meeting over coffee to talk about their young children’s futures. A vision of a model of supported enterprise began to evolve: a vision in which the development of entrepreneurs would be supported by circles of caring and knowledgeable people. The main driving force has always been the people that CAPRE supports.They continue to be the true leaders of our organization. I’m excited to hear you’re looking into this model now in Ireland! We’ll be following your progress from our part the world.”
(Peter Wilson, Executive Director, CAPRE, Nova Scotia)

What the research found

Our research wanted to find out if self-employment is a real option for individuals with disabilities, and the types of small businesses people have set up and what is needed to support entrepreneurs with disabilities. We found many good models of ‘supported self-employment’, particularly InBusiness in the UK and Start Up USA in America. In these programmes, people with disabilities are empowered to run their own business, with supports and help from service providers, family and local communities. While individuals receive support and help in setting-up and running their enterprise, they own the business and are key decision makers. The benefits of self-employment include an increased range of work choices, earning an income, greater self-esteem, a sense of purpose and a sense of achievement. There were many inspiring stories of individual entrepreneurs and the families helping them reach their full potential.

Person-centred planning and community partnerships

Building on what we found in the research, and the Let’s Get Started guiding principles of equality, inclusion, active participation and community partnerships, our focus is on:
■ Individuals’ interests, gifts and talents
■ Person-centred business planning
■ Helping people to earn an income
■ Working with families, services and community partners
■ Providing mentoring, training and business supports
■ Showcasing ideas for small businesses and social enterprise across the county, and
■ Learning what ‘good support’ looks like for individuals interested in small business.

Strong community links and community inclusion are at the heart of Let’s Get Started. Membership of the Let’s Get Started steering group reflects this, with representatives from EmployAbility Clare, Clare Volunteer Centre, Clare Inclusive Research, East Clare Community Co-op, Obair New Market on Fergus and Brothers of Charity Clare. The steering group has signed up to the Governance Code for voluntary bodies and is also involved in action research on the project.

Starting small, progressing slowly

An initial goal of Let’s Get Started was to recruit and support 8 individuals who were interested in exploring opportunities for setting up their own business. There was a lot of interest. Fifteen people are now participating in the pilot phase, aged between 17 and 50, across County Clare. The project is progressing slowly. All of the participants in Let’s Get Started have focused on their interests and abilities, set a business or personal goal, working at a pace that suits them, and taking into account the availability of people to support them. Many people have busy lives, with paid work, volunteering and social activities, so the time spent on business planning varies between 2 hours per week and 8 hours per week. Individuals and their businesses are at various stages of business development. Examples of businesses include dog grooming, pet accessories, horticulture, gardening and art and design. Six participants in Kilrush, guided by a life coach and support staff, are developing their plan for a social enterprise involving a secondhand book shop, maritime themed crafts and accessible sailing facilities. They have a long-term plan involving local community and business support that aims to develop an inclusive social enterprise with all participants and stakeholders involved in decision making.

Support staff play a huge role
Person-centred planning template designed for each participant
Person-centred planning template designed for each participant

Let’s Get Started has been a learning experience for everyone involved. Developing enterprises that are inclusive is a challenge, as organisations want to move away from segregated or isolated workplaces into more integrated employment spaces. Families, support staff and local communities have key advocacy and mentoring roles. Support staff also play an important role in helping individuals make their own decisions about the development of their business. Business support skills and training are needed, alongside more traditional professional development. Also important is recognising that while self-employment can offer a real option for some individuals, if the right supports are in place, it is not for everyone. Self-employment carries elements of risk and uncertainty which some people find stressful. Learning from successful programmes elsewhere is crucial, particularly those that have good support for individuals in place. Let’s Get Started is working with a life coach who is helping individuals and support staff to set and achieve goals and ask for help when needed.

Mainstreaming Let’s Get Started

“ The coaching sessions have made me aware of Gabrielle’s real potential, abilities and talents. Setting goals and seeing the achievements is really positive – we’re travelling on a new road and taking big steps together, but we can always go back to base.”
(Laura Noonan, support worker)

The Let’s Get Started pilot finishes at the end of November this year. At that stage, participants will be at different stages of business set-up and many people will need ongoing support to bring their business plans to fruition. The plan is to look at ways to mainstream supported self-employment into Employability Clare and continue to support individuals with an interest in self- employment. The final phase of Let’s Get Started, and the next step in our learning journey, is an important one, developing accessible start –your-own-business guidelines and resources for other organisations supporting individuals with disabilities. Resources developed will use plain English and visual business planning templates and support people though a step-by-step process that allows potential entrepreneurs to ‘give it a go.’

Sharing what we’re learned

Poster1A showcase event hosted by Let’s Get Started is being held in Ennis on 20 September 2013. The ‘Building Inclusive Communities’ conference is an opportunity to share and reflect on individuals’ experiences of exploring and planning their own business. Invited speaker Keith Bates, Head of Employment at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities in the UK, will share the lessons they have learned (as well as their success stories) in a session entitled ‘Rethinking work’. Let’s Get Started and EmployAbility Clare will also talk about their experiences of supporting individuals who are interested in starting a small business.

This is a new area for supported employment in Ireland. To grow successfully and offer new work choices for people with disabilities, collaboration and shared learning are needed. Let’s Get Started has built in opportunities for reflection, action learning and questioning. We are exploring the challenges that support staff face in supporting individuals into self-employment and asking what ‘good’ support looks like. There are many good programmes around the world we can learn from. A review of good practice in supported self-employment has been published by Let’s Get Started and is available online at:
www.brothersofcharityclare.ie/about-us/latest-news/let-s-get-started-2 .


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