In May 2019, the StartUp project held its first formal meeting in Croydon England. The StartUp project is a collaboration between 5 organisations from 4 countries: The ACADEMY OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP (AKEP) of Greece. Mutually Inclusive of the UK, Rehabilitemos Foundation (Red Incluye) of Chile, Status Employment of UK, and NGO International Love for all of Japan.
We all came together to start an important project around self-employment for disabled people. Young people with disabilities have significantly less opportunities compared with other people of their age to follow a professional career. Employer discrimination is a strong influence on the supply of jobs for disabled people. Frequently, employers address people with disabilities as a source of “enhanced responsibilities” and as a result they avoid hiring them, no matter how impressive their CV and skills might be. For these reasons, for these people, entrepreneurship and self-employment might offer the only opportunity for active labour market participation and with it, an improved income and standard of living. The project organised three transnational seminars for youth workers to facilitate the exchange of best practices, the sharing of expertise, and foster the development of skills in the specific field, this was to be done in combination with as many local activities as possible that aimed to support aspiring young entrepreneurs with disabilities to prepare. Furthermore, a portal would be developed for the support of young entrepreneurs with disabilities. Additionally, the project would develop an e-learning platform.
A lot of thought had to go into the planning of the first transnational meeting, least of all the different time zone everyone was in, the Japanese being 8 hours ahead of the UK and Chile, Santiago being 4 hours behind the UK. We were starting our meeting on the Sunday but those not suffering from jet lag enjoyed a welcome meal for everyone in Wagamama in Croydon on the Saturday evening.
The next morning, we were hard at work and met at the Lansdowne Hotel Croydon.
This was the Start of five days of learning from each other, disabled entrepreneurs in Croydon, social firms in South London and Commissioners of Services from local Municipalities.
There were presentations from Sophia Pappas of Athens showcasing the work that MYRTILLO (a restaurant run by people with disabilities in Athens does) How it has developed into having an excellent restaurant for food in Athens
We also had presentations from all the other organisations, Alejandra from Rehabilitemos Foundation; Keith Bates, of Mutually Inclusive; Robert Elston of Status Employment; Alexandros and Andreas of The ACADEMY OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP. After these presentations we had a clearer understanding of disability employment and entrepreneurship issues in each other countries.
The next day we were fortunate to be joined by two young entrepreneurs from the Croydon Supported Employment Academy. Miriam Simpsom of Sweet Homes London and Dana Xavier of Blossoms of Grace. Both women with help from the Academy had successfully set up their own enterprises. A property agency and a florist respectively. We found it a real insight into some of the genuine issues disabled people face in being an entrepreneur. They were very generous with their help and advice to the participants.
Dana Xavier of Blossoms of Grace
Miriam Simpsom Sweet Homes London.
The Commissioner of the Supported Employment Academy, Michael Hughes and Croydon Council Disability Employment Manager also joined us and explained the reasons why they had set up the Academy and how they were pleasantly surprised at the achievements of the participants.
During the next few days, as well as looking at our future work commitment to develop the online E Learning course and to make sure the project remained on time. We also visited various social firms, and enterprises in South London. First Step Trusts SMaRT garage in West Norwood that trains disabled people in the garage industry whilst offering a full garage service to customers.
SMarT Garage West Norwood.
We also visited First Step Trusts Abbeville’s Restaurant in Clapham, a restaurant run by disabled people offering training opportunities for those wanting to work in the Catering trade.
Abbeville’s Restaurant Clapham
We also visited South London and Maudsley Health Trust Carpet Cleaning Care, where mark Bertram Manager of Vocational Services Lambeth explained how they operated; cleaning carpets locally for Municipalities and health services and that this is now a successful social firm paying disabled people a London Living Wage.
Like all projects that are going to be successful, team building and getting to know each other is vital. So, we made sure that everyone experienced the hospitality of London, and we organised a walking trip in the evening from London Bridge to Waterloo. Where we stopped for something to eat and allowed all those coming from different countries to enjoy the sights and generosity of London
It was from this beginning that we started on our journey, developed an understanding, and learnt from each other, forged friendships and despite the intervention of Covid we are looking forward to completing an excellent project in Santiago Chile in April.