Paying it Forward: How volunteering makes a difference

Watch This Space is a social venture born out of Lucy Cooke and Roxanna Locke's frustration of struggling to find affordable spaces for not-for-profit events.

'We both work in the charity sector, are very creative and like to think outside the box but we kept facing the same problem again and again - of never being able to find spaces for community events,' explained Lucy, 'It is so difficult to find a location that is affordable and functional within a charity-sized budget. You are either faced with a bar, where you are forced to spend a fortune on food and drink, or a really statutory community space which isn't inspiring or fit for purpose.'

Not afraid of a challenge - and having always wanted to start their own business - the girls teamed up to tackle the issue, setting up their social venture last year. Their initial goal was to create 'a community event space which is accessible to every level of the community, hosting everything from yoga classes and local reading groups, to private companies wanting to host a corporate event.' The model was simple. Income from private events will allow the girls to provide a low cost and accessible space for those wanting to host community-focused events in the area.

They were awarded one of our Try It Awards which allowed them to host a successful community photo exhibition. 'It was an awesome experience and we got great feedback, even ending up on local TV', she said. Unfortunately, this kick started a challenging year of setbacks, which included losing their events space in November.

This had a big impact on their confidence in what they were doing. Ironically, they found their attempts at uniting their community were leaving them feeling isolated and daunted. 'Starting out can seem quite a lonely task. We both still have day jobs and this means we have to fit our workload around our schedules', said Lucy, Resultantly, you get to the end of the day and you haven’t seen a single living-breathing human for the past 8 hours! It takes its toll Do It For Real Logo

Recently both of them took part in our Do It For Real volunteer programme. It connects previous Award Winners with young social entrepreneurs to work with and guide them, as well as to give out their own awards.

When we first approached the girls late last year to become volunteer mentors, they initially rejected it. 'Our first reaction was "No way!" she said, 'We are definitely not experienced enough and we are struggling with our own social enterprise, so how could we help anyone else!' After some consideration they both decided to give mentoring a try, finding the opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. 'It sound a bit cheesy,' Lucy said, 'But we had hit a bit of a rut and had a lot of rejection - losing our event space just before the residential weekend. This programme was a breath of fresh air; it just reignited our passion and reminded us why we were doing it all.'

Residential that Lucy and Roxanna attended

Lucy finds it hard to put into words the positive effect the volunteering residential weekend had on her, but thinks it boils back down to network and community.

'We find it hard to explain what we do to outsiders - my parents don't get it at all, so it was brilliant to just be in a room with other people that just got it' , they explained, 'We learnt so much from sharing ideas with everyone and sharing our passions. It was really nice to meet people who had similar experiences of rejection and come through it.'

For both the girls, the most rewarding part of the process has been sharing their knowledge with other budding social entrepreneurs. Lucy is hoping to award her £500 Award to Liam, a graphic designer, who volunteered his graphic design skills to them last year, and it transpires he is a social entrepreneur himself. '

Liam is an awesome guy, who runs his own initiative in his local village. He has built his own printing presses and then teaches people to use them and runs skills swap workshops. He has been doing this work with community groups for the last year, but had no idea the social impact that he was having,' she explained. 'It is a really nice way for us to say thank you for his help and give something back and it's awesome to see the confidence boost it's given him. It's just such a rewarding feeling, being able to help other people who are in the position we were.'

What Next?

The best news? It looks like paying it forward is paying off with the girls securing a contract with Manchester City Council. The council has a dedicated space for their youth market programme and would like them to host one week of community events there each month.

On top of this, plans are afoot with Salford Council to create a brand new community bus. Watch This Space! If you are interested in becoming a DIFR Volunteer like Lucy, then check out our dedicated page, where you can learn more about it, apply to be a volunteer, or register for one of our webinars to discover more. 

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