“I’m fed up working for a few pennies here and there, trying to make a tenner to help us through the week. I want to be making enough to take out a mortgage on a house. I could go out and get a job tomorrow, but I don’t want a job, I want a career.”
Chris is 25 next week and has been making money from cutting other people’s grass for the last ten years, on and off.
“At 15 I’d wander round with my strimmer, trying to make a few quid.”
Now, for the first time, he’s got some support and is about to make a step change in his business.
Born in Scotland and living in Bolton since he was nine, things haven’t always gone well for Chris.
He moved houses and schools a fair bit when he was younger. “I was a naughty child,” he admits, “a bit rude. I got kicked out of one school and then another.” He ended up at a pupil referral unit from where he got an English and maths GCSE and some IT qualification.
“When I was 15 I got kicked out of my mum’s and moved in with my auntie, which didn’t go well. I started sofa-surfing and for six months lived down there” – he waves his arm in the direction of town – “in a tent. When I was 17 I got my own place, found a job but blew all my money and ended up with massive debts.”
Things seem to settle down for Chris when he met his girlfriend. They now have a six- and four-year-old. “So things are on the up?” I ask
“Yeah, they are.”
Chris, Mick and I are sitting in the middle of Vanessa’s upstairs office. The UCAN is so busy today there just isn’t another available space. “I love it when we’re running at capacity,” says Vanessa before she leaves us to it and heads next door for some high-level meeting.
Retired policeman Mick works for Bright Direction Training, set up a few years ago by Jamie MacGregor, an entrepreneur who started out studying criminology.
“I retired from the cops after 32 years, decorated my house five times, got bored, decided to go back to work so went back to school and got a teaching degree.
“I’m 63 now,” says Mick “and Jamie is 31. When people see us together they think he works for me, but it’s the other way round. We do a lot of employability training and run courses on leadership management, that sort of thing.”
“And how long have you been helping Chris for now?” I ask.
“Only for the last couple of months although the funding means we’re able to help for up to 12 months,” he say, “We’ve bought him a lawnmower. How can you be a landscape gardener if you haven’t got a lawnmower? One of the major difficulties of self-employment with someone like Chris is that you might be willing and able, you might have a lot of drive and energy but he has no working capital, none whatsoever. And if you’re on benefits, then how can you access any sort of tools or equipment?”
“They’re not available to you,” concurs Chris. “They’re really not available to you.”
“And there doesn’t seem to be any route into that,” continues Mick. “Some people can access some pots of funding but Chris doesn’t fit the profile for any of those and this is where this Warburtons funding can be very useful.”
Although arranged through Bolton at Home I know that the support Chris gets from Bright Direction is actually funded by Warburtons, the family-owned bakers based in Bolton, so I ask Mick how that works...
… continued in… Building blocks of legitimacy