I started out on my journey towards establishing Bloom around 18 months ago. At the time, all I knew was that I knew there was a gap (or really, many gaps) in the way we support people out of long-term unemployment and into work. And I knew I wanted to do something about it. In my full-time job in the charity sector I’d met person after person who had spent a period out of work, and whose route back to employment wasn’t clear. I saw skills, talents and potential going un-nurtured and unappreciated. I frequently saw mental health deteriorating as a result and work becoming more distant a possibility.
But to be honest, I had no idea what to do about it.
In the end, I decided that the first thing I needed to do was take a bit of a leap - even with no clear direction of where I was going to and to try - really try - to do something to make a difference. The leap I took was to cut down my job from full-time to part time hours, to give me time to try a few things out. To be honest, that was a scary decision to make. It was a public declaration to actually try to start a ‘thing’. What if it didn’t work? What if I told people I was ‘starting a social enterprise’, only to be back to life as usual a few months later? Wouldn’t people then see me as a failure? Wasn’t it safer to just stay in my full time job and try and make a difference that way?
Well - for those of you who read my previous blog post, you will know that a good old ‘inspirational’ (/cheesy) quote can inspire you to do the strangest things. Well it works for me anyway. On that particular day, sat in a library in East London, it was this beauty from Mark Twain that inspired me:
I was also fortunate to, at the same time, get a scholarship place at the Aspire Conference, a fantastic initiative that supports and empowers women to make a difference in their workplace and community. There I met many other women who were doing a ‘thing’. Sometimes that ‘thing’ it was something ‘big’ like running an international aid project for refugees, or starting a library in a rural location in Kenya. But often it was simply following a personal ambition to go and live abroad for a while, or seeking actively to achieve a career change. Whatever the ‘thing’ was I soon realised that what each of them had in common was the fact that the person had made an active to decision to try to achieve it. To take some risks, to set some things aside. To possibly fail or mess things up along the way. But ultimately they took the view that the ‘thing’ was worth pursuing. That - and a bit of Mark Twain - inspired me too and I decided to take my planned leap to part time work to try and start my own ‘thing’.
Since then I’ve learnt that leap one is often followed by leap two, three, four and five. That things do go wrong (frequently) and that so-called ‘failure’ happens. Often. And that every time it never gets any easier. The same paralysing fear of failure or public embarrassment creeps in. And at every juncture I wonder whether I should quietly retire back to what I was doing before.
But at each moment I have to persuade myself that the aims that we’re trying to achieve are worth striving for. They’re worth a bit of embarrassment, and yes, they’re worth facing a bit of failure for.
I’ve also been inspired by the people who have participated in Bloom’s training. We work with many people who have been unemployed for a number of years, often due to long-standing health issues. And yet they decide to take a leap and start to try something new. Like the day when a woman turned up on the first day of our course and told me that she very rarely left the house. That often it was a struggle to get up. And the bus ride over had been stressful and anxiety-inducing. But she had made it, she was at the door. And after that day she came to every single one of the 10 sessions on the Bloom training course. She’s got an amazing creative talent and we’re starting to see that flourish in her baking. If she hadn’t made the leap that day, got up and got on the bus, that talent would have continued unused and unappreciated. It was worth the leap. That inspired me even more than Mark Twain.
And so I write all this today as me and my trustees have decided to take another big leap for Bloom. We’ve decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. Over the last year we’ve done some great things. We’ve run 3 training courses and worked with 15 people facing unemployment. We’ve sold our baked products at private parties, weddings and community events. But there’s a limit to what we can do. We’ve been offered many opportunities to grow, but we just don’t have the capacity to do it. We’ve been busy raising funds to cover the initial costs of employing our first staff member. Having one staff member in post will allow us exponentially increase the impact of Bloom. But we have a gap of £9,000 to make it happen.
To be honest, when we realised we still had £9k to raise, it felt like one of those moments when I might rather quietly give up and go back to business as usual. But once again inspired by our trainees and their own perseverance in the face of life’s many challenges, their dedication to get up and go again - I felt we should do the same.
So here we are. Taking a leap. Hoping, praying, waiting to see what will be the outcome. We have until 20th December to make it happen. I’d love you to be involved if you can. Any pledge, no matter how big or small will help us towards our goal. Please do pledge today if you can.
And because it would be rude not to - I’ll leave you with one last inspirational quote, which is the one I’m holding on to in this season. Roosevelt's 'Man in the Arena' speech. It's a long one - but a good 'un... And I’ll take a break from all the cheese in the next blog, promise :)