Camphill Communities of Ireland

Case Study

“Limerick Gateway to Education was born of the idea that everybody should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

BNest Incubator Programme 2016/2017 Participant

About Gateway to Education Limerick

LGTE was set up in 2012 to help parents with the cost of going back to school – by selling donated second-hand school books and uniforms at a nominal fee.
  

Profits generated from the service allowed the project to set up a homework club in 2013 – supporting children that need one to one tuition, advice and encouragement that allowed them to reach the level for their age group.
The project is going from strength to strength, reaching more and more families and gradually increasing the number of children in the homework club from 4 participants to 33 today. Last year alone, the homework club attracted over 80 volunteers, students from UL and LIT supported our cause,there are 14 volunteers involved in running the shop/office and 3 managers – Suzanne Roche, CEO, Paul Kelly, Operations Manager and Karen Keane – Shop Manager.

The Challenge

Suzanne was running LGTE for about 4 years prior to joining BNest Social Incubator Programme. 

When I first started the project back in 2012 – it was like being blindfolded and trying to find your way through the different challenges .There were so many things to take into consideration, so many skills to find and learn – it was a hard process of trial and error.

She admits she wanted to have somewhere she could go to ask questions: It saved me a lot of time and a lot of anguish. That itself was worth its weight in gold for me.

The Journey

Suzanne haven’t participated in any support programmes before and decided to join BNest programme, as it felt like a good opportunity she didn’t want to miss.

I have never recognised LGTE as a social enterprise, but when I started reading more about it – we actually ticked a lot of the boxes, so we’ve decided to apply for the BNest Programme.

I was a little worried if we would get a lot from the incubator programme, as out project wasn’t in a start-up stage – we’ve been running it for over 4 years at that time. But this wasn’t a case – we’ve really benefited a lot from it!

It was very easy to follow the programme, it was really user friendly. The slides were fantastic to take you through the content and I loved the fact we could bring them home. I have all workbooks together and I still refer to them.

One of the main issues before joining BNest programme was a lack of clear message:

What I thought we had was acceptable, but running two projects in one – shop and homework club, made our message a little mudded. BNest helped us to rethink and redefine our message and create new consistent branding, so we can now market our project better.

Other challenge for Suzanne was addressing the potential investors: I had never faced anybody asking for funding – that to me was something I’d run from in opposite direction. What Suzanne dreaded the most – actually became her favourite moment of the programme.  “Asking for founding” part frightened me, it was always the hurdle I knew I’d have to get over. 

One of the programme modules was a simulation where participants were put in front of potential investors and had to present what their projects were about and ask for funding. 

We’ve put a lot of effort into the preparation – it frightened me, but on the other side those were the people who could understand and help our project. It was a great learning curve – I feel so much stronger about it now.

One of the programme’s module “Building the Team”, run by Patrick Cunneen turned out to be very important for Suzanne, as she was already working with many people and managing large group of volunteers.

 We’ve had a session with Pat about management, and I’ve read his book “Becoming a Manager” straight away the same night.

The next day I wrote a letter to every person I was working with to thank them for all the different areas that they supported – and it felt so good.

We’re also prepare regular monthly meetings now with the volunteers running the shop and the office where we address any issues they might have.

This was just one of many different things…

Suzanne stresses the importance of the personal support she have received: 

“You put a lot of thought into a project – and it could be a bad thing if you’re doing it for 5 years… There were some issues that were draining me. What we got from Pauline was really, really important – clearing the backlog, leave what’s behind and be able to move forward – that was fantastic!”

“Eamon – I can’t speak highly enough of him – his personality – you can trust him straight away, you can feel confident in anything you ask him that it won’t sound stupid, he never tried to persuade me into his way of thinking, because it was the right way – he left me to make my own decisions.”

One of the best moments of the programme for Suzanne was the showcase at the end of it. There was a lot of effort put into preparing the stand and some internal research needed to be done.

After Suzanne and her team gathered some pictures, testimonials and statistics about their project – it really struck home: We’ve all put a lot of effort into the project – to see all our effort and the impact we’ve had on our community – all up on the board was unbelievable!

BNest Impact

BNest exceeded our expectations – Eamon, Pauline and Kasia – we couldn’t ask for better people to run the programme.

I really looked forward to every Friday – and I certainly wasn’t the only one – just look at the attendance – no one ever missed a session without a really important reason!

Since finishing the programme LGTE have already reached some important millstones:

We applied for a corporate sponsorship – I’m very happy with the way it went, we presented ourselves well – it was taken very positively.

This gives us an opportunity to expand the homework club and get more children on board.

We’ve now cooperate with over 25 schools in the region, we’re extending our reach to Galway and Tipperary.

We’ve increased the number of kids in the homework club to 33, and we’re working on increasing this number again.

We have also took part in ‘Social Entrepreneurs Bootcamp’. It was a very big thing for me to do – to go out and deliver a pitch about our project – and we made it to the final 50! 

It wasn’t about winning it, but about being able to do that – it was a big thing for me!

Another milestone for me, personally, is that I’m really happy with the project now.

I’ve learned sometimes you need to take time off the day-to-day work to have a look at the bigger picture and start enjoying it.

Another milestone for me, personally, is that I’m really happy with the project now.

I’ve learned sometimes you need to take time off the day-to-day work to have a look at the bigger picture and start enjoying it.

The Next Challenge

Suzanne compares LGTE project to a wheel:

You need spokes to allow it to turn – and each one of the spokes needs to be aligned and tighten for the wheel to turn properly – this is the good foundation that we already have. Taking up the speed is where we’re now – getting to the next level, next destination.

What I’ve learned from BNest is to take each piece of your plan apart and put it back together again – strategic planning we’ve done during the programme has become a part of our overall vision for the next 3 years.

It is great to have that and to be able to use that as a template going forward.

Suzanne’s plans might sound ambitious:

• Reach more parents that would benefit from buying cheaper books and uniforms,

• Replicate the Limerick model in other towns,

• Scale up the homework club, so more children could benefit from it,

but she is confident: 

What’s happening at the moment – our 3 months plans are getting completed in 4 weeks, so we need to constantly find the next connections – where do we go now? How do we make things better?

Recommendation

I have recommended BNest many times already – It has given me the answers I didn’t have before.
It has help to clarify a lot of issues I had at the time.
I’m much clearer on where to go next – our vision is much brighter – you couldn’t buy that!

You couldn’t put the price on thee value we’ve got from BNest Programme.

I also love the fact that the BNest doors are still open for me, even after the programme has finished I can still turn to them for any advice I might need.