Wednesday, April 27, 2016

DIGA Partners Meet in Maribor

Last week some of The Women's Organisation team headed to Maribor in Slovenia as part of the DIGA Project. DIGA brings together expertise from organisations in UK, Ireland, Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Spain to develop an innovative ICT and digital training programme for staff delivering vocational education and training in the fields of entrepreneurship and business development.

The purpose of the meeting in Maribor was to deliver a knowledge transfer workshop to ensure programme delivery staff from each partner organisation have a shared understanding of the draft programmes and resources available so far. The DIGA collective also shared trainer case study examples for final evaluation report and the essential messages and stakeholders to be targeted for dissemination in the next six months including a Brussels multiplier event. Following the progress of the meeting a pilot of the training will now go ahead early summer 2016 to test the learning and development so far achieved on the project. 

Operations Manager for The Women's Organisation Laura Anderson felt the visit to Maribor was great for the learning of the team particularly for "personal learning, expanding our knowledge of new online tools such as Google Garage".

Laura went on to say the highlight of the trip for her was "Sharing knowledge and expertise" and said of the transnational meetings as a whole "I always come away with some interesting facts or programmes I had never heard of and come away thinking I will look into that further once home. As well as knowledge its also really nice to build relationships with external partners."

From the photos taken it also looks like sampling the local cuisine was a big plus of the visit! (The way to our hearts is definitely through our stomachs).

We'd like to thank our partners from Economic Institute of Maribor, Human Resource Development Centre for their hospitality and we look forward to catching up following the delivery of the pilots. 

For more information on the DIGA project including latest news and findings please visit 

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Teacher, Then Bookkeeper, Now A Coffee Shop Owner – Samantha Carney’s Journey Into Self-Employment

What exactly do a Barber Shop and a Coffee Shop have in common? You’d be forgiven for thinking not very much! But, on County Road, Liverpool – they share the same space! At Sweeps Coffee House the building is shared with Sweeps Barbers and it seems it’s a match made in heaven! Owner of Sweeps, Samantha Carney spoke to The Women’s Organisation about her journey into self-employment and what Sweeps is all about!

Samantha told us; ‘I’m a Mum of two, and I’ve lived in North Liverpool all of my life. After leaving school with bad exam results, I got a job in Lewis’s Coffee Shop where I worked for a few years.’ Later in life Samantha decided to take the big step and return to school to get the A Level results that she had always wanted and continue on with education by enrolling in University as a mature student. ‘I went onto University and completed my degree whilst also working part-time’ It was all worth it at the end as Samantha graduated with a First Class honours degree and embarked on what would make up a large part of her working life…A ten year teaching career.

‘I spent over ten years working as an early years teacher in schools across Liverpool and it was great! Then in 2013 I left teaching and with the help of The Women’s Organisation I set up my first business as a bookkeeper in 2014.’

Samantha still works on a part time basis as a bookkeeper supporting Sole Traders with their accounting and self-assessment, but a lot of her time is now based around Sweeps which opened in February of this year. Samantha says; ‘In 2015 I was approached by a friend and local business owner, John May who owns Sweeps Barber Shop and he suggested that we go into partnership to open a Coffee Shop in the unit that adjoins the barbers.’ And so they did, and what a success it has been.

Sweeps Coffee House
The one and only Independent Liverpool in their interview with John May described it as ‘An elegant 1920’s styled coffee house that will hit you right in your sweet tooth. Freshly roasted coffee, loose leaf teas and treats – a place to grab a coffee before getting our ears lowered.’ In February 2016 when Sweeps had their grand opening, they knew it was going to be a great success with so many people joining them and launching their business with Leanne Campbell Power of Radio City and Boxing Champions, The Smith Brothers cutting their red ribbon. Now employing five staff and having built good links with local independent suppliers like Joe Black Coffee, it seems like Sweeps Coffee House is right at home on County Road.

Sweep Coffee House Opening
With the seemingly relentless influx on coffee shops and restaurants in the city centre of Liverpool, we think it’s great that new places are opening outside of the square mile of L1 
and Samantha thinks the same! ‘I love owning a business in North Liverpool, this is the area I grew up in and I am proud to have a business in the area. The area has had its problems over the last few years but there is a strong group of local business owners trying their best to regenerate the area, to support each other and to bring new business to the area.’

Sweeps Coffee House Opening
In terms of support, Samantha of course received support from The Women’s Organisation, both when setting up her bookkeeping business and when starting Sweeps. She told us; ‘The support I received from The Women’s Organisation has been invaluable. When I initially set up my bookkeeping practice I was given 12 hours of support including one to one sessions, courses and help with business planning. And when I was starting Sweeps, the advisors at The Women’s Organisation were again always on hand with advice, signposting me in the right direction of funding, helping with business planning and answering my questions.’

So what has been Samantha’s key to success? ‘I would say definitely team work. John and I work really well together. We both have our strengths and weaknesses, but our different skills complement each other. I’ve learnt so many new skills from Sweeps from food hygiene qualifications to payroll. Every day brings something new and it’s been a huge learning curve.’

If you want to find out more about Sweeps Coffee House and barbers, there is a great interview with them on the Independent Liverpool blog, or you can visit their Facebook page here! Sweeps is located on County Road in Liverpool, so pop over and say hello!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Social Enterprise Comics Youth Delivers Inspiring Work Across Merseyside

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 or, or you can find them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram