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North East Social Business Boosted By Top Award

Posted on: Wednesday, 12 March 2014 9:06 am

A Darlington/Co Durham/North East social business venture, launched to provide training, employment and business opportunities for young people, is celebrating today after scooping a top national award which will help turn its expansion plans into reality.

Patchwork People is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Gill Walker, who started the venture two years ago in Darlington. The intention was to provide a safe and secure training and development environment for young people as Gill felt the available provision did not meet the need.

The first group of young people came up with and developed the "Labelled brand - re-selling good quality designer clothes and accessories. They chose the name as they felt that young people are labelled by the way they look, they sound and behave.

Initially, the business traded on market stalls at festivals and events across the region from Whitely Bay to Middlesbrough. This provided a showcase for their wares before a'fairy godmother' landlord offered shop premises in West Auckland Road, Darlington, in October 2011.

Yesterday, (April 15) Patchwork People scooped one of the top awards at The Big Venture Challenge Awards Ceremony in London after being chosen as a winner from the tens of thousands of social enterprises operating in England.

Patchwork People will now receive an extensive package of business support in the next year, aimed at assisting with its preparation for growth across the UK. There will also be specialist advice to attract financial investment which will be matched by up to £100,000 from the Big Venture Challenge in grants and soft loans.

This will help Gill and her team take a big step closer towards the dream of launching 15 new stores across the country in the next three years.

âWe are delighted everyone's hard work has been recognized, said Gill, who launched the business venture which is run by young people for young people. "Patchwork People supports young people by helping those furthest from the jobs market by creating self employment and developing skills."

"In the last two years more than 70 young people from the Darlington/Durham and Tees Valley area have been involved in the business and have thrived in a real working environment."

"They are responsible for everything - from pricing, profits, customer care, display and sales, targets to marketing, design and re-investment. Our young people are gaining accredited training qualifications and a whole range of skills."

"Our aim us to build on the success of the Darlington enterprise and open another 15 stores across the UK in the next three years."

"Winning this award is a huge step towards that goal and a great tribute to everyone involved in Patchwork People, said Gill, who has used the skills she developed as a teacher, Head Teacher and Assistant Director of Children's Services in this venture."

"We plan to replicate our unique, high street presence to enable many more young people, furthest from the job market, to enjoy success. Big Venture Challenge will help us to attract the investment we need to achieve this aim.

Patchwork People has already began working on its high street expansion plan which will help hundreds more young people prepare for the jobs market. Recently, Gill and Operations Director Marj Newman have been working closely with franchise specialist Julie Waites, of The Franchise Company, which is also based in Darlington. Together, the trio have fine-tuned the business model and developed an operations manual in preparation for expansion.

"These unique high street venues will support many young people with additional needs to greater personal independence and self employment, said Gill. "This award could not have come at a better time as our business model is ripe for social investment and is timely given the high level demand on social care and benefits.

Julie, who expressed delight at the national award, said: "Patchwork People and its brand, Labelled, is a fantastic social business and I do not have any doubts the model will work across the country, offering a great social franchise opportunity.

The Big Venture Challenge Award is not the first Patchwork People has in its trophy cabinet. Labelled has already scooped Best New Business Award Community (Tees Valley);'If We Can You Can' Face of Entrepreneurship 2011 and been a finalist for WIN Best New Business 2011.

Patchwork People is also approved as Work Choice Provider for the Shaw Trust and has gained enterprise centre approval from the SFEDI - the Government-recognised UK Standards Setting Body for Business Support and Business Enterprise.

The venture was originally backed by UK Steel Enterprise, the business-support subsidiary of Tata Steel, which was impressed with the great potential in Gill's idea to promote business skills amongst young people.

The venture has also attracted funding from The Big Lottery, however, its success and rapid development means its dependency on grants has reduced from 70% in Year 1 to 20% in Year 2 whilst doubling the turnover.

For further information visit: www.patchworkpeople.org.uk

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