Aspire Oxfordshire is a charity that works to empower a wide range of people with complex needs to secure employment and housing. In 2020-2021 they engaged over 2,000 people across their wide variety of projects.
Aspire Oxfordshire was established in 2001 and has since won many awards for its highly impactful work. They are partnered with 31 organisations that offer support for a wide range of challenging circumstances including addiction, mental health problems, asylum seeking, prison leaving and homelessness.
The first step in the Aspire Oxfordshire employment support funnel is Educate to Employ. This service aims to make clients work-ready through a variety of development opportunities such as training activities, volunteering, courses and educational programmes.
It all starts with a referral. Some clients may self-refer, while others may have come from one of Aspire’s partner organisations. E2E workers will then help find the opportunities that suit the individual needs of the client. This might include enrolling them on an adult GCSE course, or giving them part-time work experience with one of the many businesses that Aspire works with. This process and structure is Aspire Oxfordshire’s unique “enterprise model”, and it opens up a lot of doors for their clients.
Then, there is a fork in the road. For many, the next step is to find employment using the Hire2Inspire recruitment initiative. Launched in 2019, this programme creates meaningful employment opportunities that support local businesses, meeting their recruitment needs through coaching, workshops and in-work support. There is not a “one-size-fits all” solution. While some may need help from the programme due to long-term unemployment, others may be highly skilled, fully qualified workers who need help developing language skills to reprise their professions in the UK.
However, not all of Aspire Oxfordshire’s clients want to work for someone else – some have big ideas and aspirations of being their own boss. And that’s where the Enterprise Development Programme comes in.
Aspire Oxfordshire’s Enterprise Development Programme
Aspire Oxfordshire launched the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP) in May 2019. Its goal is to offer specialist advice, training and support to people who are interested in self-employment but who may be experiencing certain barriers.
I had the opportunity to chat to Luke Coppuck, an enterprise advisor for Aspire. Luke is a seasoned entrepreneur who now shares his wealth of knowledge and experience through the EDP.
The programme begins with the “Getting into Business” course. This foundational course is a bare-bones introduction to what it takes to be self employed. As Luke told me, it provides “in very small amounts [… ] everything that you would need to know to start you on that journey to being self employed”.
From there clients are invited to the coffee mornings, which consist of a series of smaller courses developed by Luke, Sophie Kilmister (head of Aspire enterprise services) and Paul Roberts (Aspire CEO).
The courses tackle common key issues that people have when trying to start a business. These include establishing a social media presence, running effective social media campaigns, book-keeping and website development.
Budding entrepreneurs will also receive one-to-one support. While I’m sure that Luke imparts plenty of invaluable information, he also told me that “[often] clients know the answers themselves,[…] it’s just having someone to bounce that idea off and [they] can work it out for [themselves].” And, as Luke would tell me, some clients journeys can make for some truly inspiring stories.
Aspire to Inspire: An EDP Success Story
Luke told me the truly inspiring story of one of his first clients. They had come to Aspire Oxfordshire through a sequence of referrals, which started with Turning Point who were giving them support for opioid addiction problems.
This individual was living under terrible conditions, including addiction and a completely broken state of mental health. But two years ago they began turning things around, and the journey has been a fast climb up from there.
This person had an idea that they were very passionate about – providing valeting services for luxury cars. And in the months of working with Aspire this concept has grown from just an idea to a business which is days away from trading.
Luke told me “seeing their confidence grow and their ideas and just their personality, [becoming] themselves more, […] it’s very humbling and very inspiring”.
Long-Term Goals for Aspire’s EDP
The ambitions of the programme are to expand, so that the EDP is run out of several enterprise hubs across Oxfordshire by a larger team of enterprise advisors – not just Luke! But for now, they are practising what they preach to their clients: “start small and grow”.
I asked Luke what his hopes for a broader social impact of the Aspire Oxfordshire EDP programme could be:
“At least in my eyes […] it’s to make being an entrepreneur accessible. There is so much misinformation, there’s so much rubbish out there about what it means to be an entrepreneur, what it means to set up a business, that it, that just creates a barrier… and if you’ve had a challenging life, if you have complex needs, the thought of being your own boss will forever seem like a dream if you just read books and go on YouTube videos and all the business gurus and all that. It will put you off, it will put that barrier in your way […]I feel like my role is to remove that barrier.”
Aspire as many other success stories, beyond what is printed in this article. Equalising access to entrepreneurship could be a game-changer in bringing more equality to our socioeconomic landscape.
It’s a difficult mission, but Aspire Oxfordshire is making a great start. As they take on this problem, one step at a time, They are changing lives. For such amazing work, they deserve this community’s support.