Creating opportunities for young people
How my local business plans to do more than make reclaimed wood furniture
Since thinkFOUND’s inception 6 years ago — a reclaimed wood furniture making company — I’ve had aspirations to make a business that delivers more than just a product.
I’ve experienced first hand how difficult it can be to progress, and how important it is to get support along the way.
At the outset of my business venture, I was helped by a charity in Waltham Forest that provided me with space to work and also a volunteer to assist me in making the business viable. I have been lucky to have had opportunities come my way allowing me to overcome difficulties.
Being aware of this makes me steadfast on paying this forward, helping others where I can.
Making goods, and making good
thinkFOUND makes made-to-order tables and benches that have a simple but classic design, rooted in the philosophy of the ‘found’ material. We use environmentally friendly products to create our furniture and are always refining the efficiency of the workshop and how we do business.
But alongside the company’s furniture, I have been developing the space to be an accessible workshop and teaching facility.
The aim is to build a business that offers not just a ‘green’ product but also acts as a catalyst for young people to learn about all the elements involved in running a business and ideally getting into long term paid employment.
Throughout my years running thinkFOUND, I have had many young people come and start their first job with me. Neighbours, friends of neighbours, people in the local community who have heard that I take young people on and parents who have seen how my business can help engage young adults.
Many have often fallen out of standard education and employment pathways. A few have been a little rough around the edges and got into mischief but I’ve always been keen to give them a second chance.
This is particularly the case for those young people who have struggled with academia, those who haven’t had the opportunities they deserve, and those that have personal situations that present them with real risks.
These are risks not only for themselves but for the local community as a whole.
Going further: thinkFOUNDATION
Unfortunately I can only take on so many people at one time and my facility was not best suited to house and efficiently train up such numbers to become work ready.
So, I set up the thinkFOUNDATION and started a crowdfunding campaign to fund the necessary tools, machinery and staff to build a supportive work experience programme.
This was with an aim to create something long lasting that makes a genuine difference to people’s lives as well as integrating people from the local community of Waltham Forest.
thinkFOUNDATION is not just my place of employment: it’s where I’ve put my personal faith in the idea that things can be done differently — that you don’t have to run the environment and people into the ground in order to turn a profit and pay the rent.
But this can only happen if such ideals are shared. Genuinely shared, not just by our consumers or our champions and the wider society around us but also by the government, local councils, property developers, landlords, banks, insurers and big businesses who are the architects of making real change.
Young people have been cheated
Our work with young people really matters because if we look at things in the cold light of day, young people really have been cheated.
Opportunities are sparse and social mobility has not just stagnated but declined for a great many people. Without connections or healthy financing it’s very hard to get far and become the best you can be.
Education is increasingly focusing on the ability to pass exams with a lack of emphasis on hands-on learning and the importance of soft skills.
When it comes to work, gaining invaluable experience of real work opportunities is often unattainable and part time work is very hard to come by or limited to a narrow field of employment. Avenues of career development often stumble before they can even start.
I hope our Step Up To Work programme can be the starting point for our journey to become a social enterprise, and more importantly, the journey of many young people’s first steps into work.
A borough of optimism
What excites me is that there seems to be a great many driven people in the borough, full of knowledge and experience who have worked tirelessly for their communities which I can draw inspiration from.
Individuals who know their areas of expertise inside and out and the needs of their community, despite battling against the cuts, austerity, rising rents and increasing taxation with ever decreasing pots of funding.
There is real energy in the borough to find out what everyone is up to and how we can help each other. It’s invaluable to learn from a variety of local organisations; their aims, aspirations and often more importantly the challenges they have faced.
The focus to link up and collaborate with others in the area has been a great first step as we all focus on the larger issues at hand working collectively to be not just a force for good but to be effective and consistent.
thinkFOUNDATION hopes to be a part of the change integral to a brighter future for our young people and strengthening of our community.
I hope from the initial 6 months trial of the foundation we will be able to grow this into a wider programme that is able to help more people get the necessary leg-up into the working world they deserve and much more.