Tag Archives: disability employment

Developing Transferable Skills

Podcast Episode 80 The average person has between 12-15 jobs in their work life. This makes developing transferable skills an essential part of any employability training. A great example of how to make this happen comes from Sunflower Bakery. This week’s guest Sara Portman Milner, co-founder of Sunflower Bakery, shares their story as well as offering advice to anyone thinking of starting a similar enterprise.

Sara details what Sunflower Bakery does to help young people with additional needs develop transferable skills which they can use to help them gain employment once they finish their training. She explains exactly how the different aspects of the training program works. Sara also talks about the ways in which the training programs build confidence in young people while focusing on helping them in a way that works best for their individual needs.

Sara shares her top tips from her experience with Sunflower Bakery for anyone considering starting a similar enterprise, including finding the right people to help within building the enterprise and also reaching out to the local community. Sara’s main advice, though, comes back to just starting. The story of Sunflower Bakery serves as a reminder of how true the saying is: every journey begins with a single step.

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Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to Episode 80 of the Journey Skills podcast. As you might have noticed the podcast temporarily disappeared for a couple of weeks because like all of you listening when we went into lock down, it took a while to get used to this new normal. But we’re back now and sharing another great story and actually a solution as well.

Before I get on with this episode, I want to share a couple of my own thoughts on this new world that we’re living and how that will impact on Journey Skills, at least how I think it will impact on Journey Skills in the long run. I don’t know your individual circumstances but as a parent of a young person with additional needs there are some unique challenges that we all face but we are finally getting into a new weekly routine. And if you haven’t found one for you which are Wix on YouTube, I can thoroughly recommend that as one way to start your day. So we are in routine and actually from my point of view, this is giving a me a lot of time to think about the bigger picture in terms of what Journey Skills was started for. And as you probably already know, three things that Journey Skills is all about which is relationships, work, and daily living and we want to look at how we can join all those things together and help people create a way that we can all move forward and help our young people become independent. So closely it’s been good for me in a sense that I’ve been able to spend some time thinking about how that might be achieved.

One of the things I’ve known just here in the UK at least is being this growing sense of community. So I’m kind of hopeful that that’s going to make a difference in the way that people maybe see the world. Of course the economic impact of this pandemic is going to be pretty major and I suspect would affect many of the charities that work with young people with additional needs. And I think this is all very relevant in this episode where I’m talking to Sara from Sunflower Bakery in Maryland. She talks about funding and a need for self-funding and not to be over relying on charity donations. She also talks about the importance of community and people in local community supporting enterprises. And there’s actually some really high value stuff at the end of this, I think, because she gives her top tips or what they have learned at Sunflower. And I think it’s worth listening just for those top tips because if you are a bit like me and thinking “Well actually the time is right to start something” then these tips are really, really useful.

DEBRA: Today I’m talking to Sara Portman Milner who’s a co-founder of Sunflower Bakery which is based in Rockville in the USA. Welcome, Sara.

SARA: It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

DEBRA: Can you, first of all, tell me a little bit about yourself and then also about Sunflower Bakery and how it all got started?

SARA: I am a professional social worker by training and also I’m the sibling of a 57-year-old man with Down syndrome. I historically have worked in the inclusion of the individuals with disabilities my whole life and Sunflower Bakery was an outgrowth of my passion to give as many opportunities as possible for individuals with disabilities to find meaningful employment. Our nonprofit Sunflower Bakery and Cafe Sunflower dedicated to providing skilled job training employment for adults 18+ in pastry arts, production baking, barista service and front of house operations.

In 2008, six women, some were professionals in the disability field, moms, interested community members got together to discuss the lack of opportunities for meaningful skilled employment. When we first began to organise, we were keenly aware that federal law in the US required inclusion in public schools but after graduation, then what became of the individuals who are on the autism spectrum, had severe learning differences, communication difficulties or significant attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. What happened then? And we felt that baking would be a great match for skilled employment for a lot of folks with cognitive disabilities who require structure, repetition and learning by showing and doing rather than by reading and researching.

We met with individuals from around the local government county government in the state of Maryland. We also met with private and public disability professionals, work service agencies, and embassy groups to see if they would buy-in for referral and collaboration. We’ve had phenomenal community support I must say and I think part of that was because we laid our groundwork. We’ve even had some market research done. We knew we wanted to operate as a not for profit entity and we were also very aware that we needed to have an income stream as a base in order to attract donors, foundations and government funding sources to remain viable.

In 2009, we boldly started Sunflower Bakery by four of us contributing $500 each to hire a very part-time professional baker and buy us some basic supplies. A generous individual donated money for a sturdy electric mixer. We convinced an area congregation to allow us for use of their kitchen space for 3 hours, 2 afternoons a week and we began a small pilot program offering free training to a few adults with a variety of learning disability needs to see if the concept would even work. The concept did work and within 6 months we outgrew the space and time allotted. We received our first grant from a private foundation and moved to at least 1,200 square foot space with a full production kitchen.

In 2010 Sunflower Bakery’s Pastry Art formally accepted its first students providing a curriculum that covered baking basics, employee development training and serve safe safety and sanitation thing. Early on, we realised that field training in a bakery was not a good match for everyone with cognitive disabilities because the job requirements of employers included concentrated focus on tasks, speed, consistency in quality, multi-tasking and physical strength and stamina. If a student couldn’t independently follow many step instructions independently or not able to lift heavy bags of flour and sugar or very large mixing bowls filled with batter, opportunities were more limited. Yet many individuals were having motivated to work with baked goods. As a result, Cafe Sunflower was created in 2014.

Some of the students who struggle with staying focused on task because they were very chatty in the bakery’s kitchen were perfect candidates for welcoming customers and providing customer service in Cafe Sunflower which was located in a busy office building. The Cafe Sunflower developed a new cafe employment training program that also addresses the cognitive learning of each of the individual students while at the same time providing the opportunity to work with the community, serving baked goods, learning a set of transferable skills for future employment. Training at the cafe includes customer service in front of house operations as well as employee development and serves safe safety and sanitation training.

Since 2010, we’ve grown many folds. As of this spring, we will have graduated more than a hundred trained skilled students. 80% of who have found employment within the first six months after graduation. Just a few months ago, we moved the Pastry Arts Training Program from the original 1,200 foot location to another side and that is 5,700 square feet both a fully equipped training kitchen and has a very large full productions kitchen. There are offices, a break room, a classroom, a computer equipped employee development center and the Sunflower Bakeshop retail area. This is huge for us. What a change!

The current budget which started with $2000 from four checks of $500, the bakery budget now is $1.3M. Critical to both of Sunflower’s training programs from inception has been the concept of inclusion. Whilst students have been trained in smaller environments, they’ve always been inclusive. The goal is to provide the students with the transferable skills they need to move on to competitive employment elsewhere using some or all of the skills learned at Sunflower. Each student takes from their training what they can, developing their own skills and being employed in a variety of jobs in the food industry. They pick what works for them best.

Students in the Pastry Arts Training Program participated in 3 phases of a six-month training. During phase 1 usually 9-10 weeks, they focus on basics from identifying ingredients to preparing a wide range pastry. The 2nd phase for training is for 8 weeks and it builds on each student’s individual strength. We expanded so that they can do multiple batches of recipes and they learn to work more efficiently and independently all the while internalising a sense of urgency. That is not easily done. Most folks come to us and don’t have any concept of a sense of urgency but through time and practice that is gradually developed. During phase 2, the students begin the employee development classes. During phase 3, students are hired as paid interns. Now they’re part of the production. This phase which is also 8 weeks is considered a really important transitional phase before employment. Students are responsible for their production assignments from beginning to end, finishing their work on time or staying late to do so using the time clocking, working alongside other chefs independently. That’s a key.

They also continue preparation for employment by developing resumes, having practice interviews and working together with staff on job searches. We help them make matches and understand their strengths. We have many relationships with employers, if a person has a skill set that matches what we know a certain employer requires, we will recommend that. When it comes to the actual job placement, other service providers in the community have that as their job. Within the first six months, 80% of our students are employed. Do they always stay on their first job? No. If people who graduated from fine universities stick with their jobs after six months? Not necessarily. So just like anybody else, they’ve got transferable skills and they can take them elsewhere to another place that they might feel is a better fit. But everybody has to start somewhere so we make sure they get started in the right direction.

The cafe employment training program provides 3 months of training. At the end of their 3 months, if a student is able to work with minimal supervision, he/she is employed at the cafe for six months and they learn a lot about what it’s like to be employed. A first job, they get all of that out of the way with us before they move on to the next job. They again also have time for 3 months is nothing, they have time to get a feel for what areas they prefer, where are their strengths, where are their weaknesses. So after those six months they move on to other employment that they have the transferable skills, the knowledge in school they need.

DEBRA: Can I just ask a question there? Do you think that’s an issue that often these sorts of enterprises startup and all the great intentions in the world but they’re actually not helping in the long-term because they’re not providing those skills and then put you into workplace? It seems to me listening to you talk about your program that what’s key is that people move on, that you’re training them for going forward and as you said they may not stay in the same job forever but they have got skills to get them a job and move forward with their life.

SARA: What’s hard for me is understand why any of those places wouldn’t take their very first person that they train and be thinking “What is this person doing five years from now?” And that’s what we ask every applicant: “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” We have people who can’t even see themselves tomorrow and we’re asking them so we build it up for them, We provide clues and beginning as in “what if ” to help them understand that they may or may not stay in any job. Again we are really realistic about understanding the people do not have necessarily the concept of time but we think it’s important to just have that introduced.

So any business that trains people and hires them to work for them should have in their own employee development training “What’s next for you?” One of the very first things we have them set their own goals, we help them understand how to set a goal right or even have a clue, how you do that or what that is, we talk to them about things that they might even want to and kind of get them what do you see yourself doing and a first job or a training program gives you an opportunity to dine at the smorgasbord but then you only eat those things you really like you don’t go back and Brussels sprouts if you don’t like them. So it’s important for, I think, any business or social enterprise that’s starting that needs to think what next.

DEBRA: What are some of the challenges that the organization’s faced?

SARA: As a non-profit generated income from sales and program fees as well as fund-raising have always challenging. Income from sales of bakery and programs fees represent 50% of our budget of revenue. So each year we have to raise $600,000 from donors, foundations and other sources. We received no ongoing support from the government. We get 10% in private and agency purchased program fees and 40% are our sales and the 40% percent really helps when you go to a foundation that is more often used to dealing with people who provide services where the income if there is no revenue strains there is no other option and so they really like the fact that we understand that they’re not going to give us something on the silver platter. We have to earn it, not to mention, it’s part of making ourselves known in educating the community that we have sales, that we love the people come the first time for the concept and for the values and for our mission.

We really need it to be so great that they come back for the wonderful products and they don’t see us as a charity program. That they see as chefs and our students as capable competent professionals who are giving them something they really want and need and they’re going to come back. A lot of time has put into fundraising. We wish that we could use more of that time to focus energies on and our resources on training. That’s an issue for us, balancing who we are. The training has to be balanced with production and training always comes first but we have to produce enough in sales to meet our 40% mark yet we have to do fundraising to be able to supplement because you don’t find other bakeries or even in culinary schools wherein an individual student or two students are worked with by a professional that’s how students learn- by 1:2:3 ratio with a professional chef. It makes all the difference in the world.

We have found that challenges that fit right along with that finding staff who either have experience are motivated to have a steep learning curve. We’ve learned that staff members need to have not just in the area of expertise but they also need to internalise our mission into their everyday work and a key to that is having heart which is really hard to articulate as an essential job function on the job description. You have to not just get references on people but you really have to get a feel for them certainly for the chefs and the instructors and the administrators that is key.

Employment for training with a wide variety of learning differences is challenging enough itself. We’ve always wanted to be able to turn the widest range of folks for employment so that they can have more opportunities, as a result we started the cafe for folks who were not a match for pastry arts and we’re currently developing a packing shipping track for other individuals who may find success with skills developed in that area. People order everything online these days and we’ve had requests for products to be shipped around the country and around the world and the new program will meet many of needs. Our experience with COVID-19 has really reinforced our understanding of the needs to fill jobs since so many businesses that are now shipping and delivering products beyond what was ever done in the past. We had already started working on it before who knew we would be dealing with the kind of life we’re dealing with now under COVID-19 but it has reinforced our motivation and our feeling that this is a beginning area there’s going to be really so needed
DEBRA: What are some of the plans that you have for the future for Sunflower Bakery?

SARA: Our plan is to make our program easily replicable to many individuals, organisations and institutions that have contacted and visited us over the years. We want to provide consultation, curriculum, webinars and help people set up such an entity. That way many many more opportunities can be made available for individuals with learning differences to get skill training for employment and other locations far and wide and it’s not magic, it’s not a trick. There’s no secret to it. It’s hardwork. We actually have some top tips for people if they’re thinking about doing this a job and I always say the first thing is you have to look at yourself and the people who you’re developing as a team, what is your level of masochism because you have to know it’s not easy you have to be ready to do the hard work. That said, we have learned some things to make it a little easier for you, you should start with the relationship with an established agency, organisation or funder who handle that part, the financial part, start with a partnership.

We started with none of the above and we really advise others to get that in place first because then you can focus on the people part. Start small, start small but start. Don’t start being don’t increase something huge immediately start small and do a group to get started. Recruit an active and committed board, choose carefully and try to find targeted representation. For example you need a lawyer, a banker, find somebody in the food industry, business person who always talks to you “What’s your business plan?” “What’s the bottom line?”. See if you get an accountant, educator or educators, individuals with disabilities and also you want to have professionals working with people and the disability issues in the larger community.

We found that you should not hesitate to reach out to the community for assistance or help. We have found people are so willing to help. We have more people offering volunteered services than we can use and that’s something they be very careful about. Initially for several years we have the only paid employee was the professional chef, the rest of us didn’t get paid and we had volunteers and we found that as we did start paying people, we needed to use less volunteers because they wanted to do a task that we were teaching students to do and we could not do those. We needed to make sure that always meeting the students’ needs were the priority.

So we’ve developed other kinds of volunteer programs, had other opportunities when we knew we needed extra hands with packing and shipping orders for holidays. We call on this people. We called on some of the volunteers who were in full-time jobs to provide practice interviews with our students. We had other people who are in the food industry give pointers to our students and help them with their resume so that they would be able to emphasise their strengths and their value to any employer. Must tip: Don’t hesitate, start. Do research. Contact key players in the communities. If you don’t take the first step, you will never reach your goal.

DEBRA: Sara, thank you so much for your time.

SARA: You’re most welcome.

DEBRA: Key takeaway– Well to quote a well known advertising slogan, “Just do it”. I think it’s really what I’ve taken away from this one.

Sunflower Bakery
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Flipping The Switch At Spotlight Brewing

Podcast Episode 71 Sometimes it’s the small ideas that can have the biggest impact and this is certainly the case with this week’s guest Ric Womersley from Spotlight Brewing. Ric founded Spotlight Brewing to make great beer whilst providing genuine employment opportunities for people with additional needs. Not only is Spotlight Brewing doing this very successfully but through their products they are educating their customers about the challenges people with additional needs can face.

In this episode Ric discusses some of the practical issues around setting the brewery up and running it. He also talks about the challenges they faced as a small business finding equipment, training as well as the obvious challenge of how to fund everything they needed. Spotlight Brewing is a social enterprise and Ric also outlines why he chose that structure over other options. He also talks about what’s next for Spotlight Brewing.

Spotlight Brewing is a perfect example of taking an idea and flipping the switch to get it started. The results are already amazing. Spotlight Brewing might be small now but it’s growing fast, not only in sales and the reach of its products, but, in influencing opinions and changing perceptions of what people with additional needs can contribute to business and community.

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Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to Episode 71 of the Journey Skills podcast. I hope you’ll agree that this podcast has always been pretty diverse in the terms of the people and organisations that I’ve spoken to. If you listened to the last episode which was about Yoocan which is a global initiative to encourage collaboration, it makes this episode even more poignant in my opinion.

I’m talking to Ric Womersley from Spotlight Brewing which is a small social enterprise in the North of England. So one extreme to the other, really. The reason I mention this is because I think it’s important to remember that no dream is too big or too small when it comes to our young people. These projects couldn’t be more different but they used to do something amazing; they provide opportunity, they provide hope, and they provide all of us with the knowledge that if we want to do something similar, we now have that example to learn from.

We all want the same thing for our young people — a positive future, and interestingly I was somewhere last week where I heard parents talked about how they weren’t sure about what next. And I think we all get to that when we get near that infamous cliff edge after full-time education finishes. So really what this podcast to in a way share a light in what’s happening out there. Because there is a lot. And every single time I interview someone, I’m amazed and inspired by what people are actually doing.

Talking to Ric was no different. What he has done was simply amazing. I call this episode Flipping The Switch, partly because it’s about Ric just deciding to get on and do something but it’s also about Spotlight trying to educate people as well. But perhaps switching the light on for them that people with additional needs are capable of so much more when given the right opportunities.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that I don’t actually drink beer. Yes, and if you’re wondering that’s the reason I was asked to leave Australia but it seems to me that this one of those industries with low barriers to entry and it has task that are labor intensive and to extent, there’s a sort of system– a systemised way of doing things. So I wonder if that’s one of the reasons why I fell in a lot of brewers to talk to in the podcast.

What I also like about Spotlight (another brewers I’ve spoken to), is that they all say that people are buying the product. They’re buying the beer, they’re not buying it because of who made it. And in my mind, that’s the true definition of a social enterprise. Ric and I are gonna discuss that but he also talks us through some of the practical issues around what Spotlight does and also the challenges he has faced along the way. You’ll also hear that when you listen to Ric that he’s managed to get to where many of us wanna get to– doing a job that he really loves.

DEBRA: Today I am talking to Ric Womersley from Spotlight Brewing. Welcome, Ric.

RIC: Thank you very much for having me.

DEBRA: Can you tell me first of all about yourself and then also about Spotlight Brewing?

RIC: My name is Ric. I’ve set up this social enterprise called Spotlight Brewing. I come from a background with working with people with learning disabilities. My parents set up a care home when I was about 4 or 5 years old. Ever since then I’ve been involved somehow with people with learning disabilities. Obviously, first job was working for my parents but also we’ve lived on site so I shared a home with you know these twelve people that lived with us. I’ve always been involved people with learning disabilities.

I got to the point where about I wanted to a separate project away from what my parents have done. I wanted to do something where… work is quite out in the state from where we are and there’s not that much for people with learning disabilities to do for the day in a lake farm. So, I came with a concept of trying to… a social enterprise which would pay for itself but would involve a few people with learning disabilities. I’m also quite keen on sort of meaningful activity. A lot of times, these guys and girls can end up doing activities that are bit blunt– you know sort of activities that, that said activities, I wanted to create something which are a bit more meaningful and then I thought, “Right, what can I do? I’ve got to say my life was into the beer, love home brewing. Why not set up a brewery?” And yeah, and then we ended up with Spotlight Brewing.

DEBRA: Okay, so how long has Spotlight been going?

RIC: It’s been going about a year and a half now. The idea is maybe sort of 3 years old and it took a while to get the project running. I know, I involved with the guys sort of we’d sit down and we’d create recipes, we’ve had them brew them on my home brewing equipment, sort of taste test, we’d go out and visit local bars with our bottles, see if they were interested in the beer, see if they were interested in the concept.

And that sort of process maybe took about a year, a year and a half. And then we had to build the brewery basically so we had some availability of some premises which were some old sort of farm building damages which we changed into the brewery. So, the 2 main brewers in the project, Kevin and Neil, were involved from the beginning. So they helped with brick laying, with painting, clearing out, cleaning and just turning this old farm building into a suitable premises for a brewery.

DEBRA: What would the biggest challenges then in setting it up? What would you say the biggest challenges were?

RIC: So many. The first one was finance. I was hoping to be able to get some sort of grant for doing what we’re doing but unfortunately, never managed to lay my hands on anything. I think the fact that we were working with alcohol seems to be a little bit of a hurdle for some of the organisations that can provide grants. So, finance was very hard. I ended up putting a lot of my own money into the project and also a business of my own.

It was a selection of many hurdles along the way and because I didn’t have the amount of money to finance brand new equipment which was the first plan, ended up getting hold of some secondhand equipment but that secondhand equipment had lots of problems so ended up having to get a new equipment to sort of budget together. Finally, ended up with some great brewery equipment and which is.. it is half secondhand but we’ve been able to customize it to our needs. So, in the long run, it’s turned out really well but back then, it was like “Oh no, another issue with this equipment”.

I’d say it’s challenging but it’s all part of the process was getting the two guys that are in the brewery up to a safe standard. Myself as well. I had done a few days work with different breweries, done a few coasters but didn’t have lots of experience in the brewery so the first few brews were quite intense I mean to concentrate on providing a service to the guys in the brewery making sure that they were safe, learning and enjoying their time while they were here. And also, try to create a great deal at the same time, so that was the first few brews are very tricky. But we soon sort of fell into the great. We soon fell into sort of working well together and a great routine. And as the brewery gone on with all the people learning which is what it’s all about then. The goals that we’ve got to social enterprise is to get people with learning disabilities to focus on their strengths and hopefully create somebody who’s employable in the future.

DEBRA: So, the two guys that you have working for you who had been with you from the beginning, they’re the brewers?

RIC: Yes, so we’ve got Kevin and Neil which I mentioned which they work in the brewery during the brewing. We’ve also got a chap called Matthew, he’s a very entrepreneurial guy. He’s our salesman and he sort of comes along to sort of farmers’ market and Christmas market and things like that; selling out bottled beers. Also, to look into customers and accounts that we have and sort of he work on that side of the business. We then have a chap whose got bit more severe learning disabilities but he’s a very sociable guy and he’s sort of like my assistant tradesman. He loves sitting and driving around, a perfect assistant tradesman. He’s great company but he’s also a real good laugh, so whenever we deliver, we can always have a laugh with people, have a laugh with the landlords, with customers. So, that’s everybody that we’ve got involved at the moment.

DEBRA: When you’re brewing the beer, what kind of processes do you have involved because you mentioned you’ve got your brewers so they’re obviously involved in the creation of the beer, do you automate the bottling and things like that?

RIC: Unfortunately not, no. We would absolutely love a nice bottling machine, but no, we’ve got a quite basic set up again due to costs but it does involve everyone. So we set up a nice production line with everybody with their own individual jobs on bottling day. So we’ve got one guy pre-rinsing the bottles, I run the little bottling plant that we’ve got then the full bottles go over to Neil who got say taps on the bottles, they then go to be checked for the volume of the beer in the bottle by Kevin who checks that and then put some away to dry in a box until we will spend sort of half a day bottling. I mean, it’s quite a slow process and we maybe due sort of 200-300 bottles in the morning and then we spend the afternoon after lunch labeling the bottles and dating them. It’s very hands on.
But it gets the guys involved; we’re doing tasks, learning new skills and we have a laugh as well, the music’s always on roll, we’re having a joke.

DEBRA: Your accounts, you mentioned, so you sell to pubs, go out and selling at various places, what are some of the accounts that you have and how have you got those?

RIC: Most of the customers are sort of smaller premises that focus on good quality beer. 90% of that beer goes within 30 miles of the brewery in cask and crate. So you know, the best way to go out and gain customers is go out and speak to the landlords which means taking a visit to a pub which isn’t too bad and that’s not how we’ve gained most of our core customers. Some does go out for field so during festival season, we get a lot of beer going all over the country to different festivals and then we just started a little bit of wholesale as well with beer sort of going all over the place with wholesale but yeah, most of it is in the local area.

DEBRA: I assume that when a landlord or a pub takes your beer, they’re most concerned about the actual beer rather than who made the beer.

RIC: Yeah, I mean, I try not to push too hard. I let people know what we’re about. I try and let the beer and the quality of our beer speak. I don’t want people to sort of chooses us as a charity case, if that makes sense. I’d rather a landlord buy a cask of our beer, it goes down well and then go, “Wow! Look at what they’re doing. This is amazing. The beer is good.”

So yeah, I mean, no matter what you do, you can’t tell it’s hard to sell a beer at price we’re asking but it’s good quality beer is important like a brewery our size and then I’m just hoping that social enterprise side is a little bit of a bonus for people. And also, helps educate as well. So, if you look at what we do, we’ve got a range of cold beers which are related to different learning disabilities and our goal apart from providing a meaningful activity at workplace with people with learning disabilities is to raise awareness. And so, each cold beer has that relationship that takes us session pale ale for instance it’s called One More and that’s related to people with Down Syndrome because they have one extra chromosome. On our bottles, we then got a paragraph sort of explaining some simple facts about Down Syndrome, got a little bit more information on our website. It’s just a chance for people at the end of the day to sitting down with one of our beers to be drinking it and have a little read and hope they’re learning something as well.

DEBRA: You’re a social enterprise, so when you make money, does it go back into the business? Do you pay your brewers?

RIC: The money is all gets reinvested into the business, nobody gets paid at the moment. It’s all on like a voluntary basis that’s including myself at the moment. There’s no money taken out as profit because we never got any grants or anything like that. It’s been sort of a quite organic growth that we’ve had and every penny we make then just straight back into the business to help grow it, get more equipment so we can keep up with the demands. And yeah, that’s sort of the stage our business that we’re at at the moment.

DEBRA: But I assume that long term your plan is to have more people involved and I would assume eventually pay people because it’s a social enterprise so it involves making money as well as providing you said activities but I’m assuming that you’d like to pay your brewers at some point.

RIC: Absolutely, yeah 100%! And also, our aim over the next year or two is to open up a couple of taprooms in the local area. This will help with the profit from a social enterprise but it will also provide new establishments for different people to get involved with. When we look at working with us is a certain individual, we look at their strengths and so, you know, the guys that work in the brewery and maybe not the most sociable by people but they’ve got great strengths; Kevin is fantastic at cleaning, Neil is really good at picking up practical spiels really quickly. And if we open up some taprooms, we can look at all their strengths that individuals may have to really help them play to their own strengths and involve more people. And if we can get a little more profit out of it, start paying a wage.

DEBRA: Let’s talk a little bit about what you plan for the future, so we’ve sort of covered that but can I just ask you if someone’s looking at doing something similar because you clearly taken this from sort of nothing and created something amazing, if someone else was around the country or overseas or wherever, because I know that… one of the reasons I’m talking to you is because there was an article about a number of different breweries around the world that were doing similar things to what you’re doing. But what advice would you give someone who’s in the situation when they think, “Actually I would like to do something similar for either my son or daughter or for a group of people I know” or you know, something like that. What kind of advice would you give them? Where would they start? And what are the things that you’ve learned that would help them?

RIC: Well I think, take the time to plan it out and really get it in your head how your project is going to work. If it’s for people with learning disabilities, get to know, make sure you fully know the people that you’re going to get involved in the projects because it’s very important that they’re happy in what they’re doing there and gotta figure out if everything’s gonna work together, where you look at their strengths and also prepare for their weaknesses. Maybe choose something with a little bit less health and safety issues in a brewery. That’s my take. A lot of investment has got into making the brewery as safe as possible than you know, there’s lots of processes within a brew day which really slow us down compared to another brewery because there’s sort of like there’s a dangerous section all about ethics, close off the section of the brewery whereabouts here no bringing this and that or anything like that. So yeah, think about what your project is, how appropriate is for the people that you’re wanting to help and how it can all fit together before diving straight in maybe a little bit like I did.

DEBRA: It’s interesting you’re talking about social enterprise, can I ask why you didn’t go down the charity route? Why you chose a social enterprise over a charity approach?

RIC: I did consider the charitable approach. When I was looking into it, I wanted it to be… the brewing industry at the moment is actually quite tough. There’s a lot of small breweries around, a lot of people who produce and brew brilliant products. And my concern with going to charitable route was extra red take and not be able to (with the business head on) make the charity work as a business and that was a sort of a challenge that I wanted the business to run on its own sort of two feet, if that’s making sense. I wanted to create something which isn’t asking from all over the place and I want a little business to run itself and involve the people that we work with. And that was sort of more my goals. I wanted an enterprise to solve the issue that I saw in the area.

DEBRA: Thank you very much for your time, Ric.

RIC: Pleasure. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us .

DEBRA: Key takeaway? If you have an idea that you think is worth starting, you should just go and do it. There are other people out there that will help you, there are other people out there like Ric that have done it before you. And no doubt would support you along the way.

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