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Sadie Sharp

A Year Since Lockdown - Sadie Sharp

Today we speak to Sadie Sharp who is managing director of The Platform Project in Swindon which helps young people improve their employability prospects by providing work readiness internships in a range of youth led businesses.

March 23 marks a year since lockdown began and the reality of the pandemic hit the UK. What are your memories of that day? 

When we went into lockdown I remember being in a bit of a state of shock. I felt almost fuzzy and out of control like I never had before. All my paid work commitments were cancelled overnight, and I had just moved my home office out of my house and into our new project premises, so I remember having to cart it all back again to work from home again.

Thinking back, how did you anticipate the way forward for your business over those first few days? 

My main concern for the project in those early days was that we only had a small amount of funding to support a Saturday morning youth magazine session with a group of 15 young people with varied needs, and taking that away overnight was going to cause a lot of anxieties for them. 

We didn’t have enough funds to support all of our participants individually online, so thankfully we were able to quickly access additional funds from Wiltshire Community Foundation to provide outreach support through video calls etc. 

We knew we would have to do more online, but it was clear that there were still needs which couldn’t be met online, and their social connection, isolation and confidence development was taking a backseat in the short term. We knew our model needed to change for the short term and longer term, however it took us a while to find our feet and really identify how we could do that. 

What actions did you take to save/change/pivot/support your business? 

We ran online sessions and provided 1:1 support during the initial lockdown, but as the world found its feet and it became clear that services like ours could continue to provide (socially distanced) face to face services to meet the additional needs of these we were supporting, we started resuming an altered version of our original services after the end of the first lockdown. 

We continued to provide the facility for our participants to dial into our sessions where they were self-isolating, and non-group activities like sign up meetings etc were done online where possible, but many of our young people didn’t have the IT at home to enable them to participate properly. 

We loaned out a few laptops, and helped a few people apply for funding to buy themselves home computers. Then, as the year progressed it became clear that our youth employability services would be more and more needed as the economic effects of COVID were being felt, so we re-constituted how we ran our services. 

Now our youth enterprises are run as a structured internship to help build the skills, experiences and confidence to help young people compete and enter the job market or work for themselves where work options might be limited.  

Name positive outcomes of the last year for your business? 

 Although painful and unpredictable, the lockdown period provided us with a bit of reflection space to take a look at what we had grown and make some choices about how we wanted to scale it. Before that, we were so busy doing what we did, we never stopped to question whether we could do it differently.

We have tripled in size since this time last year where there has been a much higher demand for youth unemployment support and funding to support additional services. Although it would ideal if our services weren’t needed as much as they are, the additional funding has enabled us to really bolster our development programme. 

Now we are offering work experience, mentoring, commercial placements and self-employment training – all resulting in 80% - 90% of our interns are able to leave us for work, training, education, or even running their own company!

Name positive outcomes for you personally over the last year?

Before the lockdown, I was only working in the Platform Project very part time because we were so small and still volunteer led so I still had to earn my salary through my consulting company. I was running training and speaking events up and down the country, but when we went into lockdown ALL of my training, speaking and consulting work was cancelled overnight. 

Although this was obviously a bit of a shock, living out of a suitcase wasn’t exactly a desirable lifestyle for me, so the opportunity to switch 100% to running the Project at a time when its services were going to be needed more than ever came a lot earlier than it might otherwise have done for me. 

So although it was a painful and unexpected transition, I’m grateful for the redirection COVID19 prompted in my life.

What do you most look forward to doing IN BUSINESS as we slowly move out of lockdown? 

Increasing the size of our intern groups again will be amazing – seeing them all work in teams is great to watch.
Hopefully workplaces will start to resume normal face to face business, which will mean the work experience and shadowing opportunities for our interns will resume and they can get back to building their CV’s.
And hopefully as leisure venues start to re-open we can hold a staff teambuilding / social event – our team has more than doubled since this time last year and some people have never actually met!

What do you most look forward to doing IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE as we slowly move out of lockdown?

The main thing I am looking forward to is catching up with my friends and family properly – work has been so intense since we have grown so quickly this past year, and I feel like I could do with a bit more social time to re-balance my life (like everyone else!). 

And I haven’t been able to give my dad a hug in a year as he is vulnerable and shielding, so that’ll be high on the list when the vaccinations are sorted!

What are your predictions for business generally in late 2021 into 2022? 

For us, I fear that we will be even busier where lots of employers are downsizing and there are fewer entry level roles for young people to get into. But on an optimistic note, I hope that the travel, leisure and hospitality businesses will be inundated where people are catching up on a years worth of social time!

Name one person who has been a lockdown hero for you over the last year? 

Trying to scale a business is hard at any time, let alone during the pandemic, and I genuinely couldn’t have done it without being able to turn to James Phipps on our Board. 

The pressure to grow our services to meet the rapidly increasing rate of youth unemployment was huge, so being able to bounce ideas around and receive a straight talking to when I doubted my ability to pull it all off was invaluable, so James has most definitely been my lockdown hero this past year.

Name one business which has been heroic for you or your community over the last year? 

We have close working links with Ipsum for our young people who need therapeutic mental health support alongside our development programmes, and their caseload has skyrocketed where people of all ages have struggled during lockdown. But despite that, they have always gone above and beyond to make sure people get the support they need, so I think they are massive community champions.

And finally: 

If anyone else had the same kind of experience as I did when we first went into lockdown and it felt like your world had ended as you knew it, I think it's just worth taking a moment to reflect on how resilient we all are and how we will survive regardless of what is thrown at us. 

Life rarely works out to plan however how we handle the ups and downs is definitely what defines us.

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