‘Tesco Café is Our Boardroom’ – Judith McGarty
Forever Manchester Women is just around the corner. We spoke to one of our previous community speakers, Judith McGarty of Inspired Stockport ahead of July’s event. Inspired Stockport is a social enterprise that aims to remove obstacles by offering quality, no-pressure, tailored-made learning.
How do you understand the needs and then help the 11% of adults don’t use the internet and so are excluded from what has become a basic skill needed to survive and thrive in today’s world? Such people are being deprived of work skills, leisure and pleasure, opportunities to keep connected to others and the access to services most of us take for granted.
Tina Rowland (my co-director) and I had many years’ experience working for a local council as Skills for Life teachers, a field dominated by women, but when the work became increasingly about ticking boxes and redundancy loomed, we decided to take the plunge and set up our own not-for-profit business.
In 2013, and with capital of just £25, we set up and registered as a Community Interest Company. We spent our first year mainly living on credit cards and doing bits of part-time community work with disadvantaged and disabled people, helping us to crystalise our aims.
Our Fabulous Participants
Many of our learners endure mental health problems, are severely affected by poor literacy, have physical ill-health or are former carers, a surprising number have had life-changing accidents or illnesses. Most live on low incomes and digital progress has left them behind.
Barriers cause a lack of confidence and frequently the speed required to success on traditional courses. They need new skills, an increase in self-esteem and free courses on their doorstep, at a level and pace tailored to their individual needs.
We started out offering keyboard courses to erase fears of ‘breaking the computer’ and now have developed two courses: ‘@my pace’, which individualises learning, and our latest venture ‘Time for Your Tablet’, which we market as ‘For the over 50s, taught by over the 50s’.
The aim is to empower participants with sessions that allow for lots of repetition and the gain of independent skills. We want to ‘future proof’ people so they feel confident to organise appointments, complete online forms, order shopping and medication. We encourage emailing and Skype making it easier to stay connected, preventing future isolation. There’s also a strong social element to our courses.
Tiny gains can have massive impact on quality of life
- Sylvia was able to download 300 photos of her grandchildren living in Brazil
- Zeina, 24, able to improve her CV to showcase years of voluntary experience, was then offered a higher level job than the one she applied for
- Freya, 70, given a brand new tablet by a well-meaning relative, but lacked enough help to confidently use it. Suddenly whisked into hospital for several weeks, the tablet became her lifeline.
Naivety and passion in equal measure!
We are still experiencing a massive learning curve at a time in life when some might hope to be slowing down. Used to having a huge organisation behind us, nothing prepared us for the complexities of a social enterprise.
Fundraising can be tricky – digital skills are not an obviously ‘sexy’ good cause. We’re lucky to have vital support from a Stockport company who sponsor some courses via Forever Manchester. We’ve had to become experts of sorts in publicity, social media, business planning, pricing our services, maintaining equipment, etc. We’ve learnt by making every mistake in the book!
Admin is done mainly at midnight, or at Tesco café – our boardroom. Carrying equipment and moving furniture in community venues can be back-breaking at times. Our small homes and cars have tons of equipment and materials stuffed into every corner. As women we both juggle running the company with caring responsibilities.
Despite all this, there are the tremendous rewards when we see people’s triumphs and advances. As one of our valued volunteers put it recently ‘some have really had to stick at it to make progress, but when they do achieve it, it can make the hair on the top of my head stand up.’ This when we know Inspired Stockport is making a difference.
Visit Inspired Stockport’s website to find out more about the fantastic work they’re doing in our Greater Manchester community.
Judith’s speech at our Forever Manchester Women event in January was truly one to remember, and our upcoming speakers are set to make July’s no different. Read more about FM Women here, or sign up below.