Business ideas that occur over a bottle of wine on a long winter’s evening, or that are magically created on a delayed train journey sitting next to your friend, don’t always tend to be turned into a reality. Some business ideas stay just that, ideas. But Jhelisa Taylor-Brown’s idea which she set up with her friend Rhiannon Powell didn’t. It’s become a reality for them, and here’s how she did it…
Jhelisa had always been passionate about reading and literacy and began to talk to Rhiannon about an idea that she had for a Social Enterprise working with comics and the potential of reading for pleasure to promote literacy. Rhiannon, who has experience in the third sector, encouraged Jhelisa to make the necessary steps and turn the idea into a business. Now with Rhiannon, Jhelisa and two other Directors, Mark and Joel, Comics Youth is being launched in the Merseyside area.
Comics Youth provides comic based literacy programmes for disadvantaged young people aged from 13-25, targeting areas that are high in deprivation, unemployment and young people that are NEET. Jhelisa is passionate about the possibilities that reading, literacy and in particular comics, open up for young people and believes firmly that reading for pleasure and opportunities for creativity should always be on the agenda.
After studying English Literature and French at University, Jhelisa taught in a French Primary School as part of her year abroad, and it was here that she grew to really enjoy the process of teaching and facilitating with groups of young people. ‘When I taught in France I thought I was just going to be supporting the kids, as a Teaching Assistant. But in reality I was plonked in a classroom and they told me that I needed to teach all these classes. It was really intense, but it was great at the same time to be able to plan the curriculum, the topics and deliver all the lessons.’
Once Jhelisa graduated, she decided to carry on living in Liverpool and began looking for work as a Teaching Assistant, but soon the wheels were put in motion for Comics Youth to become a business and Social Enterprise.
Comics Youth for Jhelisa is; ‘A way of fostering a love of reading and encouraging self-expression, rather than just trying to hit targets. I wanted to promote literacy because I’ve always loved reading, but a lot of people don’t have the opportunity, especially with Comics, as they aren’t studied in mainstream schools and aren’t on any curriculums.’
Jhelisa got in touch with The Women’s Organisation when she was beginning the process and has been supported by Senior Business Adviser, Huda Mamoun as well as attending some of our training courses with Bernie Cox, like our Planning for Success one-day course to help her put together a solid plan for Comics Youth. Something that Jhelisa has found difficult as she starts up her business has been the legal side of things that are sometimes more complex when beginning a Social Enterprise and working with young people;
‘The legal side of things was difficult, deciding what type of structure to set up as, and then how to set it up. On top of that was the amount of policies that we needed to be in place, especially working with young people and vulnerable adults. I had to delve head first into that, and try to get to grips with it all. That was tough to begin with, but just because it was really new.’
But luckily Jhelisa isn’t the type of person to let that faze her; ‘I enjoyed the challenge of it, and I enjoy knowing that what we do is going to have an impact. I think I’m one of those terrible people who thrive on stress, so I relished the challenge, and just went 100% into it.’
At the moment Comics Youth is starting to deliver comic and zine creation workshops and comics reading groups in youth centres in Liverpool and Knowsley, and is preparing to deliver workshops and programmes in conjunction with other third sector organisations in Merseyside. They have also recently started to recruit volunteers to contribute comic book reviews and community articles to their website.
Lots of big plans are under wraps with Comics Youth and Jhelisa, now a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, is looking forward to growing the business. ‘This year will really be a developmental process, seeing what we need to change and improve - we want to end up with a model that is efficient, effective and functions well. In the future we want to expand and develop Comics Youth as much as possible, running a range of sessions, workshops and drop -ins for lots of young people across Merseyside’
If you’d like to find out more about Comics Youth, you can do by getting in touch with them via email, social media or their website. Get in touch with them at www.comicsyouth.co.uk or firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram