The Circle Academy: gaining confidence, and much needed focus during lockdown

Audrey Kerr, a participant of the recently completed 2nd cohort of The Circle Academy, and Enterprise Development Worker at Wellbeing Works Dundee, shares her experience of the programme as it adapted to digital delivery.

A bit about Audrey and her organisation

“My name is Audrey, and I’m the Enterprise Development Worker for Wellbeing Works right here in Dundee. While my job title might sound like something from Star Trek, it isn’t (only slightly disappointed there!). As part of The Rank Foundation’s Time 2 Shine initiative, I am responsible for the development of a social enterprise hub. Working for an organisation which has a commitment to promote wellbeing for those with mental health challenges in Dundee I am excited to create new income streams from social enterprise opportunities for the organisation.

I have a BSc in Psychology and MSc in Food and Drink Innovation and am passionate about the link between mood and food – I am excited to bring these together in a way that helps the community. Using a co-productive approach, I will work with staff and participants to realise the vision for multiple social enterprise projects, starting with ideas for a small training café for our participants.

While I have hospitality experience and expertise in food safety and hygiene to aid in the training of volunteers for the café, I don’t have the business know-how. The opportunity to create a business plan and marketing strategy and to learn about social enterprises from The Circle Academy was why I joined this cohort.”

A little fish in a big ocean…

“I’m very much a face-to-face learner – in university most of our lecture slides were uploaded online prior to or after the lecture, but I still went to class as I got more out of it. There are numerous videos and books about how to be a social entrepreneur and how to build your own businesses but trying to find the time and motivation to get round to these was hard! Enter The Circle Academy: two full days of face-to-face learning for 12 weeks to help you learn how to build and run your own more than profit organisation.

The first four weeks were long and hard going, as I got accustomed to sitting down in a more casual than usual learning environment. I remember feeling overwhelmed that first Thursday, every other woman in the room seemed so sure of what their plan was, so confident of themselves and I felt like a little fish in the big ocean….by the end of the Friday I had already gained more confidence and learnt that no-one really knows what they are doing or how to do it – that’s why they were here! So don’t be scared if you feel at level 0 – and try not to compare yourselves to others (there will be someone comparing themselves to you, even if you don’t think so!).”

Adapting to lockdown

“Fast-forward to what was supposed to be week 5 at The Academy – cancelled due to *gestures wildly* everything. The plan for going forward was to create an online virtual academy, which started the following week on Zoom for the remaining 8 weeks. I can’t say I was overly excited for these sessions to be honest – I’ve tried a few different online courses before, and they didn’t quite ‘click’ for me. The Circle Academy was not quite the same, probably due to the timetable aspect of it. Still set to Thursday and Friday afternoons, but instead of a full day, it was just as intense – if not more so. Staring at a screen of a dozen faces (including your own) all staring back at you for any more than a couple of minutes is a lot more tiring than you think! We managed though; splitting off into rooms for some sessions, and receiving lectures via screen-sharing were some of the solutions to an otherwise overwhelming problem.

When looking over the sessions we would have had over the 8 weeks we switched to a virtual environment I can’t pinpoint anything major that wasn’t covered in some form, with the exception of pitching to an audience and completing an income generation task. Yes, some sessions went from being two sessions long to a two-hour long session but it was condensed information, I did miss the informal chit chat and tangents that are always in place in a face-to-face learning environment but the essence of what was to be learnt was delivered. I am happy that we switched to the online format in the end rather than postponing the remaining weeks to later in the year.”

Feeling accomplished

“The online sessions gave me some much-needed focus in the early weeks of lockdown, and always left me feeling accomplished at the end of a work week. When I look back on lockdown, I know that myself, and The Circle Academy did the best we could given the circumstances. I can’t imagine the benefits one would receive if the circumstances were even better!”

More about wellbeing works

You can find Wellbeing Works and keep up to date with the creation of their social enterprise hub on Facebook and Twitter.

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