“It’s amazing how much support is out there when you care enough about something”
Themes: Social enterprise; young people; training and skills; building confidence
Laura has quite a tale to tell. Based in Tower Hamlets, she is the head of a highly successful social enterprise business. However, a few years ago Laura couldn’t have imagined how far she would come.
Like many people, Laura has a long-standing fear of speaking in front of groups. It was her determination to overcome this fear, and to remove the same barrier for others, that led to her founding We Speak, with the support of the Centre’s Beyond Business programme.
Backed by Investec, Beyond Business provides support for successful social entrepreneurs who go through a number of selection stages including a final ‘Dragon’s Den’ style process. The winners then go on to receive a package of financial and practical support over time.
“The idea of pitching to a panel of Dragons was terrifying for me,” admits Laura; “However, the team at the Centre and Investec have been fantastic. They provided support at every step of the way, including doing extra practice and feedback sessions to help my nerves with the final pitch. I’m so glad I got this help as the presentation went really well, and I was so happy to get the phone call telling me I was one of the winners.”
We Speak run four-week programmes and workshops for young people from under-represented backgrounds who lack speaking confidence. The We Speak team work with students at schools, sixth form colleges and universities. They support people to build confidence and esteem, find their authentic voice and to speak naturally in front of others. Many people supported go on to become We Speak facilitators, helping others through the process. Most participants self-report a big leap in confidence, including one young woman who struggled to speak publicly and is now training to be a barrister, taking her speaking confidence to new heights.
As the business started to build, it was hit by the Covid pandemic. This could have stopped the work in its tracks but Laura, with the help of the Beyond Business Team, quickly repurposed the business model and launched online courses. This has enabled the business to reach and support many more people at a difficult time.
“There have definitely been moments when I’ve nearly given up on the dream. But my determination to make a difference keeps me moving forward”
Laura concludes “There have definitely been moments when I’ve nearly given up on the dream. But a fear of speaking is such a big barrier in life, education and work, and my determination to make a difference to this keeps me moving forward. It’s been a big personal journey for me but the real drive comes from the positive change we see in the students on our programmes. It’s amazing how much support is out there when you care enough about something, and I’ve had the backing of some great organisations. I’m looking forward to growing We Speak and reaching many more people.”