What does your social enterprise do?
Little Gate Farm provides work training and skills for learning disabled adults and children so they can go onto paid work in the community they live in, through supported employment. The work takes place at Little Gate Farm, a 46 acre farm in East Sussex, and in local businesses in Hastings and Bexhill where we help vulnerable people to develop skills which promote confidence, enterprise and employment skills. By increasing independence among people with Learning Disabilities we improve physical and mental health, reduce dependence on social care and improve integration into the local community.
Why are you passionate about this cause?
I passionately believe learning disabled adults should have the right to go into paid work if they want to. The current situation is a huge social injustice and from an economic perspective an untapped resource. Unemployment brings poverty, poor housing and poor physical and mental health. If you have a learning disability as well, you rarely get to even choose who you live with, or what you can do with your life.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your social enterprise?
It was a big project to start and my biggest challenge was fear; I was actually terrified! Setting up took 18 months and as it got closer to opening I really questioned whether I could do it? Did I have the skills, the leadership, the support of others?
What I did have was a vision and a real drive to challenge the view of learning disabled adults. The right people turned up when I needed them and I really have SSE to thank for giving me the initial boost of confidence to go for it.
How has the School for Social Entrepreneurs supported you?
I’m a big SSE fan. I started my journey on the start-up programme in Hampshire and I was thrilled to get on to the Scale up programme in London. I love the honest, often hilarious, and always educational witness sessions and the Action learning sets. The best learning comes from others on the programme.
I remember the first day feeling a bit overwhelmed and in awe of many of the other students, but quickly realising no matter what the project, we have so much in common and many of our challenges are the same or similar. Everyone is really happy to share, the good and the bad and this makes SSE a very powerful space.
What are your plans for the future?
This year we are focusing on three projects that we are starting. We want to be able to employ learning disabled adults in our garden service, in our woodland enterprise and in our Horticulture service.
This time next year, we hope all three of these services will be self-sufficient and profitable, and most importantly creating jobs and training for our learners.