What a difference a year makes
This time in 2018 we were taking our first baby steps as a Community Interest Company, welcoming in our new founding supporters, inviting mentors to help define our values and getting busy with pop-up events, like this one at the BMJ and this one at the Institute of Imagination.
Fast forward a year and we’ve raised over £26K of funding, had more than 700 people register an interest in mentoring and run 8 successful after school clubs. Thanks to all our lovely supporters for making things happen!
Here’s what we’ve been able to achieve:
1. Inspiring children
As we said back in our Q3 update, our target has shifted from number of children reached to volunteer-led clubs started. We decided we would rather build more meaningful relationships with fewer children. Here’s a little more on why after school clubs feel like a good fit. We’re aiming to start 50 after school clubs in 2019. So far we have started 8.
2. Measuring impact
We trialled a new version of the feedback form at spring term clubs. The format’s still not quite right: it’s good that the form is part of the workbooks but it’s still not easy for mentors to return to us. We can see kids are very engaged in activities, but capturing the change being made is an ongoing challenge. From speaking to similar organisations we find they’re facing the same issue. When kids have had a great experience, the last thing you want to do is put a feedback form in front of them! At this early stage, we’re finding measurement is very much qualitative and anecdotal: we know we’re doing some good from the things people are saying about us. It’s great to get positive comments from the community. Like this one:
3. Developing partnerships
After collaborations with design-friendly organisations like the Institute of Imagination and WIRED UK (below), we’re now focusing on partners who can help us grow after school clubs. We’ve been speaking to Service Design Academy, Young Scot, STEM Learning, Raspberry Pi and the Foundation for Digital Creativity. We’re thinking about running a “foundation schools” programme where schools which have already had one or more successful clubs can connect and learn from each other.
To ensure we reach a broad demographic of children, we need to actively target schools where there is a higher than average incidence of free school meals, English as a second language (ESL) and special needs. Up until now, this process has been mentor-led but we’re seeking to knowledge-share with other organisations in order to speed up identification of, and contact with, relevant schools.
4. Creating mentor processes
In the last year we’ve replaced the mentor toolkit with a Resource Hub containing guidance, session plans, activities and a help desk, and continued to use Slack as a support channel for active clubs. After the success of our first peer-led mentor Meetup in March, we ran another with the same format in June, and will follow again on 4 July. We are arranging shadowing in our existing clubs and will run a preparation workshop in early September for clubs starting in the Autumn term. We are planning one or two pop-up events over the summer as a further opportunity for mentors to get some hands-on experience. [Like this one at the Science Museum on 12 July]
5. Growing mentor network
To date, we’ve had around 700 people register via our website. Around half of these are UK based, but not all are interested in or available to run after school clubs. We have had around 230 people sign up to our London-based Meetup group, and 90 have attended at least one event. Outside of actual clubs running, this group seems the most active barometer of interest. We have 20 active members in our Slack channel.
6. Prototyping new resources
We’ve developed and soft-launched our project showcase, which mentors can add their Marvel projects to (still in beta).
We’re also developing an advanced app design project. The new resources will hopefully be ready for clubs starting in September.
We have started speaking to the Centre for Digital Creativity to discuss design thinking for the Internet of Things (looking at projects around wearables and robotics).
7. Designing a framework
Following mentor feedback from Spring clubs and a strong demand for high-quality resources, we’re re-designing our Resource Hub to be more modular and project based.
8. Exploring revenue opportunities
We still plan to create an online shop — just need to get started by experimenting! We have a few other revenue-generating projects in mind and will publish the full list on our blog in the coming few weeks.
9. Applying for funding
We’ve raised a total of £26K since the start of our journey. Last year, we put out a call for Founding Supporters. This year, we launched our Growth Supporters programme. These have brought in £16K from corporates and individuals (still open if you’d like to support us!). We raised £6K in one evening through The Funding Network, and another £4K through The Mozilla Foundation. We’re now looking for grants that will help sustain us through 2020 :)
Things we’ve learned
- Conversion from initial interest to running a club is a very steep curve! Because over time, as individuals, we’ve organically grown our relationships with schools, and feel comfortable in a school environment, it’s been easy to forget that not everyone has had that experience. We’re working on ways to make it easier for mentors to volunteer their time — such as finding partners to mentor with and schools to shadow mentor in.
- Face to face communication and relationship-building on the ground really works. 4 out of our 8 clubs run so far have been in West London, and all our clubs have been Greater London based. We need to increase our reach. Because of the importance of face to face, we’re exploring the idea of City hubs — hopefully we’ll be in a position to start setting these up early next year — watch this space!
- We’re more comfortable staying relatively small than scaling at all cost. Feeling like a family, establishing firm friendships and developing rich experiences for children and mentors alike are all important to us. The after school clubs space is crowded but there’s definitely scope for a design-led club. We’re keen to keep the word “Design” as a continued point of differentiation, even if that means we remain more niche.
Here’s to the next 12 months
We’re keeping our 2018/19 goals open until the end of the year. It’s been an exciting journey and we’re testing and iterating along the way. We may not know exactly how Design Club will look this time in 2020, but we know we’re making a lot of children (and people) happy.
We’re keen to raise a glass to that! And to thank all of you who’ve made this journey possible. We’ll be officially celebrating our first year in September at a late summer party. If you’re a supporter or club mentor, your invite will be in the post. If you’re not yet either of these, but would like to come along, please let us know.