Our story so far...

Liz and I worked at a local college with young people who have learning difficulties for 20 and 14 years respectively. We knew that there was more to life than college and other agencies were offering these young people and we grew more and more discontented with our lot. Eventually we "threw the teddy out of the cot" and took voluntary redundancy and decided to put our money where our mouth was! It was scary as we had nowhere to work from, no business plan, no equipment, limited business knowledge, and only our redundancy money to keep us solvent. What we had in bucketfuls was an excellent knowledge of the subject (Learning difficulties) and a driving ambition to succeed where many thought we would fail. We set out to prove them wrong!

Over the next 18 months we put our life on hold, put two marriages in jeopardy, the grandchildren on the back burner, our sanity and our reputation on the line all for the sake of ...A DREAM! ... to create more opportunities for young people with learning difficulties.

Mantra number 1 - "It's a chicken and egg situation"

If you don’t have the premises, you can’t get the funding, if you don’t have the funding you can’t get the premises. What a nightmare! We made contact with several people in Kirklees, most of the contacts were fruitless but there were some who were really helpful and we built on that. Our phone bills went through the roof. We managed to find our premises in late October of 2007 and started to sink money into altering some of the layout to make it more suitable and DDA compliant. We filled it with other people’s cast-off desks, computers, tables and anything else we could get our hands on (we’re not called skip woman and bag lady for nothing!). Looking back we were ‘dithering’ about a start date and were not brave enough until sometime in mid April when we decided that if we did not open by the end of June we would miss our opportunity – this was the time of year when colleges finished and youngsters were looking for places to go.

30th June 2008 - D Day!!

Palpitations, nervous tummies, lots of coffee and a good helping of trepidation! We didn’t ask ‘have we done the right thing’, we never doubted that but we did wonder how long we could last without wages and if we could manage to get enough together at the end of July to pay the rent. The good news was that we could pay the rent and we eventually paid ourselves something at the end of August which made us all feel a little better. Since that time we have never looked back. We should have done it ten years ago when we were younger and had more stamina!

Mantra number 2 - "We know we know what we know, but we don't know what we don’t know"

Help!! Banks, cash flow, bill payment, invoicing, health and safety, risk assessments, PAYE, employers liability, public liability, computer programs, accountants, employees, partnerships ........ all these things came up to bite us on the bum!!! Thank heavens we had a wealth of knowledge in the shape of husbands and family as well as a good accountant.

Suddenly there was a barrage of questions coming in our direction from parents and agencies wanting their sons / daughters / clients to come to us. We took a dive into the deep black water which was ‘Direct Payments’ (which generates our income) and managed to float to the top – not necessarily unaided. We have since managed to help several parents with claims and queries regarding direct payments and many other subjects.

When our young people achieve, we achieve

We started small, by doing what we knew – jewellery making, crafts and horticulture. We spoke to parents and our young people to find out what they want in life (see our file) and we help them chase their ambitions (hence our company name!) Sometimes, what we would consider a small step is a huge step for our young people – such as making our own lunch.

We work in partnership with Northorpe Hall who let us have half of their field in exchange for us maintaining some of their grounds. We employ a horticultural expert who has worked wonders, both on the field and with our young people. We bought and planted seeds, watched them grow, harvested them and then cooked and ate them. The surplus vegetables and fruit were sold to local people and the money was used to buy more seeds for next year. The excitement when some people realised that carrots come out of the ground and not the supermarket was intense! We have gained planning permission for a poly tunnel (which has been donated by Westfields Nurseries) and this will be erected over the next few weeks along with a fruit cage and some fencing.

In March 2009 we were awarded a development grant of £30k which was a shock! We had not had any financial support other than our own finances and the support of a third partner, Jon who helped us with set up funding. This has allowed us to develop a photography project, join a fishing club, purchase a vehicle, purchase equipment and buy in expertise to work with our youngsters. In the early summer we bought a short course for some of our youngsters which involved building a bike using techniques such as shot blasting and spray painting. We are in negotiations with some of the trainers to develop Saturday bike riding sessions and then develop our own build a bike courses and maybe even build a pump track which is an up and coming sport in the biking world.

On 30th June 2009 we celebrated our first birthday at Northorpe Hall with over two hundred guests, champagne, a chocolate fountain, a fantastic photographic display, the local press, very proud parents, even prouder young people who were celebrating their success and achievements AND words cannot describe how Liz and I were feeling – ecstatic does not come close!

Ambitions has gone from strength to strength. We now have 31 people on the books and have more waiting for direct payment authorisations; we employ four full time and several part time staff as well as ourselves. In recent months, we have:

  • opened up other ‘satellite’ projects in the North Kirklees area (the first being in Heckmondwike) which will offer more choice to more young people and their families
  • developed links with local schools for a sow it, grow it , eat it project
  • developed our links with local businesses and other projects to provide more work based learning opportunities

Our new Mantra number 3

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful".

This says it all, nothing more to add!