IOEE Academy status for ambitious social enterprise!

Sam Everard is the woman behind the Samee Project, a unique, Bournemouth-based social enterprise that secured its IOEE Academy status in February. The Samee Projects helps individuals from disenfranchised backgrounds on the road to self-employment or employment. We chatted to Sam about her own journey, which has taken her from wedding industry entrepreneur to successful social enterprise founder.

Sam Everard left school aged 16 and began her career with De Vere Hotel Group where she worked as Senior Receptionist, a role that spanned both reception duties and events coordination. When she moved to Bournemouth and became a Front Office Manager, Sam particularly enjoyed working on the lavish weddings held in the hotel but this wasn’t her first brush with the wedding industry as her mum is a wedding caterer and her grandfather was a head chef. These elements combined led Sam and husband Mark to decide to make their own name in the wedding industry, initially offering a consultation service to couples. Still in her early 20s but with a growing body of entrepreneurial experience, Sam accessed advice and a grant of £2000 from the Prince’s Trust.  She says:

“Our business, Roses & Garters, started off as a wedding coordination service and from there we started selling tiaras and veils. Then we developed into bridal, and from that into distribution. I’m very much someone who looks at how things are being done and comes up with a better way! I always want to change things to make them right.”

Having witnessed Sam’s success with her wedding business, a few years on the Prince’s Trust invited her to work with them voluntarily, supporting other young people to set up their businesses, as someone who had recently done the same herself. Although only a few short years had elapsed, Sam found the organisation had developed its approach. She recalls:

“The Prince’s Trust asked me to become a Young Ambassador for them, which involved mentoring young people with entrepreneurial ambitions. When I went to the Prince’s Trust myself you rocked up with a business plan, discussed your ideas over a few meetings and they offered you a loan. Nowadays they run a four-day business course and a Dragon’s Den-style event so it’s really a very different and positive experience.”

At the same time, Sam was invited to undertake paid work for WSX Enterprise, an organisation that supports people from all walks of life and of all ages who have barriers to working:

“My work as an Enterprise Advisor with WSX was about making sure people had a business plan and cash flow projection in place. So, anything to do with business start-up, from sourcing funding to getting the word out.”

All this experience working directly with young people and those hoping to improve their chances of employment, along with her hands-on experience of running a start-up business and the voluntary mentoring work she’d done for the Prince’s Trust triggered a completely new direction in Sam’s career path. While Roses & Garters continued to run under the watchful eye of husband Mark, Sam focussed on establishing the Samee Project. She describes finding the inspiration for her social enterprise:

“When I was mentoring for the Prince’s Trust and working on an EU-funded project for WSX, I was inspired to set up the Samee Project. I decided that there had to be a route-to-employment / self-employment project out there that didn’t have barriers so it wouldn’t matter if you were a certain age or what postcode you lived in; there should be no barriers to support. I set up the Samee Project to ensure that everyone had an opportunity.”

Sam started her social enterprise to bridge the gap between less advantaged members of society and enterprise support organisations like those she’d worked for previously.

“It concerned me that some of the guys I had been trying to do business plans with didn’t have control of their own lives. I’d say ‘oh, we need to do a cash flow forecast’ but in fact what they really needed to do was a personal survival budget, to work out how much money they needed each day to live.”

Many of the people Sam works with through the Samee Project receive benefits and their capacity to work varies from day-to-day, meaning flexibility and understanding must be built into the way she and her colleagues support them:

“Because of the way they work and how they’re feeling about themselves, it’s important to consider time commitments carefully, thinking about how we can work a new business plan around each person, rather than the other way around. Some have mental health disabilities, some have physical disabilities and some have long term illnesses like fibromyalgia or arthritis. We work with a wide range of people too, our youngest at the moment is 15 and the oldest person we’ve helped was 62.”

To get things off the ground, Sam applied for funding for the Samee Project via Unltd, a National Lottery organisation. She says:

“I explained to them that this wasn’t about creating a Business Link or Prince’s Trust style project. It’s about helping people before they get to that stage to think about whether self-employment is right for them, how many hours they can work and how it will affect their lives.”

UnLtd were very enthusiastic about Sam’s idea and in February 2016 awarded her a start-up grant of £2,950. With this initial funding secured, in December 2016 the social enterprise became a registered charity and has also secured various grant funding from organisations including the Postcode Lottery, the National Lottery Award for All and OneStop. Additionally, the Samee Project has a trading arm meaning that some agencies and local schools pay for the support Sam and her team provide to their clients and students. Sam strongly believes that self-employment and entrepreneurial endeavour should be taught in all schools. She says:

“I think we should be taking pupils right back to basics and getting them to think ‘right, I’m going to leave school and I want to be a beautician or a bricklayer, I’m going to do an apprenticeship and on the other side of that I’ll be self-employed.’ While they’re in school is the time to give them those self-employment skills and get them thinking about what a tax return is, how to do receipts and invoices, mentally preparing them for self-employment.”

As well as delivering group sessions to young people in educational settings, the Samee Project works with older clients one-to-one. Now that the enterprise has secured its IOEE Academy status, it will also be able to offer learners a formal qualification. Sam says:

“The IOEE Academy status lets our learners come out with something at the end that proves to everyone that they’re really committed to building themselves a better future. The organisations we’ve spoken to about this element of our offer have been jumping up and down with excitement – it’s exactly what they want.”

A natural entrepreneur and creative thinker, Sam truly enjoys self-employment but it’s clear that there’s another source of motivation behind the long hours and hard work she’s put into the Samee Project:

“The whole reason for the Samee Project is that I don’t like people failing and being knocked back. The focus of what I do and the passion behind it is to find out what makes those people tick and encourage them to start growing and looking at themselves more positively.”