How one social entrepreneur transformed her job loss into an opportunity for her community

helen mccabe

After being made redundant, marketing manager Helen McCabe was faced with a big decision. Jobs matching her skill set were rare in Eastbourne, where she lives. If she wanted to find something similar she would’ve had to move or face a lengthy commute – something she didn’t want to do. Instead she decided to set up her own business.

She’d always had a hobby of building websites and decided she could create a business designing them for local charities and enterprises. Around the same time she’d become involved in the Devonshire West Big Local – one of 150 community led partnerships across England devoted to making their area even better.

She helped them to build their first website, became a member on the partnership board and got involved in their community events. Her experiences with the Big Local inspired her to turn her business into a social venture, Helen Owen Marketing Enterprises (HOME).

‘A parent at one of the Big Local networking events came to me and said my child is leaving school early, they’re being bullied. They like computers and making websites, can you help them?’ Helen explains.

This helped spark the realisation that she could use her business to help young people. She could use on the job training to give them skills and confidence to find employment.

To make this happen she realised she’d need some help – she’d need office space, extra equipment and time to develop training. She received this help through a Star People Award from UnLtd. Star People funds and supports people in Big Local areas become social entrepreneurs.

‘I got the first Award in the area,’ she says, ‘I met with an Award manager who helped me to formulate all my ideas about what we were doing. From that money we were able to set up what we’re doing today.’

Helping young people to find jobs

Helen is one of those people who seems to be involved in everything going on in her community, and her social venture is the same. It helps charities create cheap websites so they can promote their work, provides training and access to IT for people who need it, and brings different generations and groups of people together thanks to the office turned community centre they’re based in.

The main focus of Helen’s work is helping young people to find employment. She trains them in web design and marketing, while also involving them in the community focused work. This helps build their technical skills and professional experience – while also their confidence interacting with others in their community. It’s intensive work, Helen invests a lot of time and patience to help them shine.

‘We started helping young people who couldn’t get interviews or work experience,’ says Helen, ‘In Eastbourne one in four young people are out of work; we help them to get into work. We find that we need to spend about 6 months with them, after that they’ve gained enough self-confidence to go out and look for a job.’

Helen talks to visitor

Since starting in 2013 she’s helped get 30 young people get into work or education. She can tell you half-a-dozen of their stories off the top of her head. Here’s one of them:

‘We had one person, she did all the right things in life. Went to university and worked hard for a really good degree. And when she came back she couldn’t get a job. She got depressed and didn’t leave her room. Her mum met me one day at the Big Local partnership and asked me to help her, she didn’t know what to do.

She encouraged her to come and meet me. We set her up doing some training in marketing, and she stayed for six months. We put a little bit of structure in place for her – we tell people you have to get up in the morning, you need to be in the office by this time.

After six months she said to me I want to look for a job now and we helped her. She applied for a post-graduate job in marketing, 200 other people also applied but she got an interview. We took some time out to coach her for the interview – we did some workshops for her, got her talking about herself.

She got the job. The employer said that the reason she got it was that she knew the job already thanks to the training, and had shown commitment through her volunteering. She’s now been in that job for two-and-a-half years.’

Wearing her heart on her sleeve

Helen is a true community entrepreneur, drawing motivation from the people around her. Her venture is all about helping people in Eastbourne have the best chances in life.

‘I love Eastbourne,’ says Helen, ‘We have a diverse society – there are a lot of families, as well as students. In the summer it very much becomes a seaside town. People sometimes complain about the little stuff, but I always say you don’t know how lucky you are to live in such a nice town.’

Helen puts her passion for local people and communities down to her family. Her dad was a local councillor where she grew up in the North, and she was brought up to be aware of other people and their needs.

‘I was on the picket lines before I could walk,’ she explains, ‘My mum would always say to me “you can’t change the world but you can change the perceptions of people around you”. And that’s what I do, I make a difference to the person next to me who can then make a difference to the person next to them. That is where we’re coming from.’

Volunteer helps local person with IT

Working with the Big Local

It’s this drive that has led her to being greatly involved with the local community, especially the Big Local partnership. While she’s no longer involved on the board – ‘I knew too many people, there were too many conflicts of interest!’ – she’s very active in supporting the partnership’s work.

‘One of the big changes has been that we’ve learnt that we can achieve more together,’ Helen says, ‘The networks like Big Local help us to have conversations so we’re not in competition. We can build partnerships with each other, which funders love to see. We can survive together.’

Devonshire West Big Local is one of Star People’s intensive areas – an area that where UnLtd’s Award Managers are dedicating extra time and energy to foster a culture of social entrepreneurship. Working with the partnership we’ve been supporting social entrepreneurs through three strands – helping young people to test social ideas, creating a hub of craft based businesses, and building a forum for social entrepreneurs to come together. It’s inspiring more people to step up to help make Eastbourne even better place to live.

‘Social entrepreneurs really complement the work that we’re doing,’ explains Sue Morris, the Big Local Chair, ‘There’s a real sense of community growing. Social entrepreneurs have been a big part of that. Things like the [social entrepreneurship] forum have let us have a conversation about the skills we’ve learnt as well as inspire others – to convince them to just go and do it.’

Not just any old social entrepreneur, an award winning social entrepreneur

Helen’s work hasn’t just been causing a stir in Eastbourne, it has been recognised on a national scale. Last year Helen won the TalkTalk Digital Hero Award, nominated by people in her town. She got to travel to the House of Lords for the award ceremony and was chosen as the winner from the final ten.

‘It was the best day of my life,’ says Helen, ‘Everyone came over to me and said I’m glad it was you. I haven’t had much impact across the whole country – just a little impact, in a little town – so to win it, it was just amazing.’

A couple of years ago being made redundant Helen had a choice between finding work in a different town or starting of her own that helped local people. Recognition like this, and the impact that she’s having on young people’s lives, shows that she made a the right decision.

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