Hackney hero Oleander Agbetu tells us about the inspiration behind Creative lifestyle CIC
What inspired you to start Creative Lifestyle?
Creative Lifestyle began as a group of four businesswomen who got together to support each other as a sort of network and at some point someone came up with the idea of doing something that would give back to the community. Charities are often used as a business model but we wanted to do something a bit different and someone said to us, ‘Have you heard about social enterprises?’ ‘No, what’s is it?’ ‘Oh, well it’s a business with a conscience’. I really liked the way that sounded because the more we learned about that business model the more it suited us. It gives us the flexibility of working in the community, enables us to apply for grants, work with contracts and be able to sell things, which gives us the ability to generate income. And as a CIC, all the profit goes back into the company.
I then went on a course called School for Social Entrepreneurs, which is a term-time course about how to start and run a social enterprise or charity, where I met lots of people from likeminded organisations – fair trade companies and charities working abroad and so on. It was fantastic and I’m still in touch with some of those people today.
Eventually two of the women went on to pursue other projects and my business partner and Creative Lifestyle director, Veronica Flemming and I remain today, 10 years on. In fact we’ve just become incorporated on September 9th.
Ten years is quite an accomplishment in this economic climate. What’s the secret to your success?
I think it’s because we are a local community group, very grassroots. We know the community well and we both live here, so I think it means a lot that we’re actually local. We don’t have office space so that saves on overheads, and we have a lot of passion – we love what we do in terms of imparting the knowledge we’ve gained over the years and also our love for the community. We are also fortunate in that we’ve done pretty well in terms of working with Hackney Council, Hackney Learning Trust and various community groups. Hackney CVS has helped us immensely, and we’ve been able to get a lot of local grant funders as well, like East End Community Foundation, Hackney Giving, The Big Lottery and Awards for All.
So the combination of passion, the funding we get and the contracts that we’ve managed to pull together all contribute. And between the two funding streams (contracts and grants) it makes a massive difference as to how we can actually do our projects. We’ve learned also to try and work on a contract basis whenever possible because with grants your project may not be flavour of the month. It’s really important to be able to do what we’re good at and what we know is needed rather than using the shoehorn ‘follow the funding’ model.
Tell us a bit about your workshops; what sort of training do you offer?
We offer a variety of creative workshops that enable students to learn practical life skills that they can apply in their everyday lives, as well as build confidence. We do workshops on cake baking and decorating, sewing, hair care, soap making, knitting, making jewellery… the list is endless.
We also run “Bring and Fix It” workshops which are hugely popular and came about quite organically. So many students wanted to fix their broken zips, sew buttons, patch their jeans, extend their curtains, fix their blinds etc. So this was a way for them to learn skills and also benefit directly from that knowledge. We run these workshops in the community as well as in Children’s Centres in Hackney and students have created some really great looking, practical items. And, due to it being a family event, parents and children get to have fun together as well.
Your holistic approach aims to empower the individual in a variety of ways – it’s more than just teaching a skill. What are some of your strategies in that regard?
With all of our programmes, our aim is for students to learn how to improve their homes, gain confidence, choose the creative future that is right for them through employment or self-employment, meet new friends and gain the confidence to start their own enterprise or employment.
We often work in partnership with other community self-help groups who provide wellbeing sessions giving extra support. We also work with deaf students, students with learning difficulties and families through Children’s Centres. This gives them the opportunity to learn a creative skill in a safe environment.
Some of our projects target particular learners such as African/Caribbean women living with the challenges of mental illness and/or emotional distress due to a history of abuse, poor health or other occurrence in their lives. The aim is always to empower the individual to become confident and self-sufficient.
We also have protocols in place which mean that we are able to spend more time with those who need the support due to their lack of confidence or natural skill. At the end of our workshops, we take people through creative business workshops giving them the opportunity of taking the first steps to starting their own businesses. We repeat part of our lessons if needed and provide extra ‘surgery’ type sessions to support them as and when it is necessary to do so.
Best piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t rely on grants – go for contracts whenever you can to ensure a stable funding stream.
Check out Creative Lifestyle’s Pop Up Shop at The Hackney Shop, 99 Morning Lane, E9 6ND, Sat 1st and Sun 2nd December.