From running a home to planning a business

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The Independent Online
Marva Haynes, European co-ordinator at the College of North East London in Tottenham, has just completed a pioneering two-year project teaching unemployed women how to set up their own businesses.

"The first thing we had to do on our courses was convince the women they could deal with the financial side of running a business. That's the area when many of them had least confidence, but we started by showing them that, by organising a home and family, they are already used to handling finances and staying within a budget. That's a business plan in itself.

Our courses were funded by the European Social Fund under an international programme for women called Boudicca. They were aimed at unemployed women living locally in Tottenham, who, all the figures show, are at a disadvantage entering the job market. By running National Vocational Qualifications in owner-manager business planning, we wanted to offer them the chance to release their potential as entrepreneurs.

Since July 1995, there have been four full-time courses, each lasting 18 weeks. Of the 38 women who enrolled, some dropped out due to family circumstances, but 18 have now got the full qualification and eight are still working towards it.

I think all the women got a tremendous amount out of the course, although for most of them it was their first time back in education since school and they needed their confidence boosting.

They each had an idea of the business they wanted to run, but we helped them learn about the finance and human resources side, and about drawing up a business plan to take with them when they go looking for financial backing. Then there was marketing and research to test out demand for their product.

Some have already got their businesses up and running, and we held a fair this week to display their products and explain the success of the course. We had visitors from as far afield as Spain and Italy. One student has just got premises for her soft-furnishing business, another makes silk flowers and another has set up a fresh flower stall at Finsbury Park bus station.

It's wonderful to see how they all responded and gained enthusiasm as they realised they really could put their skills to use. As they gained confidence, their creativity came out even more, and they found a real unity as a group. They may have families, and all the pressure that entails, but they are all very determined to succeed.

Now some of them are in business, I feel very keen that they should have continuing support. After all, they are just micro-businesses at the moment, so I hope we can arrange business counselling and twin them with mentors from other businesses to stop them falling by the wayside after six months.

These are things you need to do because even though we have given them the practical knowledge, they have still got to go out there and face reality in the market place. That is the next challenge for them."