Everyone deserves a chance
On the surface Mina and I seem like very different people. And in many ways we are. We had very different upbringings on different continents, and the cultural differences between us can sometime lead to a challenging relationship! When it comes to our business however, we are united by a shared force that drives and motivates us to work hard and make Wildcraft a success. It began as a desire to fight our way through the disadvantages we have faced in our own lives and to be viewed by the world as a success. But that motivation has evolved because for both of us it is equally important to use our success to help others who are dealing with their own issues to succeed and reach their full potential. And the government's kickstart programme has provided our latest opportunity to do just that.
If you haven't already read Mina's blog on the challenges she has faced throughout her life have a look at it here. Mina has worked hard to prove what she is capable of despite the double disadvantages of her gender and her skin colour. For myself I dropped out of uni at the age of 18 and found myself pregnant, living in a smelly bedsit with no plans, no prospects and the weight of a judgemental world upon my shoulders. Girls like me didn't succeed. Ironically I got part time work at Ainsley's bakery (which I loathed!) and the decision to go back to uni and get my degree was spurred on by the desire to avoid spending my life working in a bakery! By the time I met Mina four and a half years ago, we had both fought to achieve an academic career but somehow it left us both wanting more, feeling we had more to offer. On the face of it we had successful careers but we knew there was a bigger destiny out there for the both of us and the stars aligned the day I walked into a dingy industrial unit to see Mina's smiling face.
So let's talk about that word 'success'. We often think of it as a bit of a dirty word, well, at least British people do! Being humble is important to the British, we'd rather be the plucky underdogs. We watch 'The Apprentice' and wince at the arrogant bragging of the contestants and their claims to be brilliant at everything. But through my life I've learned that being a success isn't about what others think of you. It's about what you think of yourself. And it's definitely nothing to be ashamed of. To be honest about your achievements requires you to be equally honest about your failures. To face up to your mistakes (or learning points as we call them at Wildcraft!) and to move past them, always striving to be better, but accepting we can never be perfect. This is the philosophy we teach at the bakery.
From the moment we took on our first members of staff, Mina and I got such a thrill from watching people develop. Our first employees included young people who were long term unemployed, single parents, young parents, 'mature' unemployed people (I'm being polite Keith!) and we quickly realised this was something that made us especially proud. We felt people deserved a chance. Sometimes they had no references because they had been fired from their previous job, but we listened to their stories and we reserved judgement. It hasn't always worked out. We've made mistakes. But we try our best to support everyone who becomes a part of our Wildcraft family and we genuinely care about each and every one of them.
The government's Kickstart Programme is a work placement programme for unemployed 16 to 24 year olds. The placements are 6 months long, and in that time it is our responsibility to provide them with training and skills to equip them for the workplace. In reality, we are recruiting, and they have 6 months to show us what they are made of. A large proportion of them have grown up in care, or came to this country to find a better life. We recognise ourselves in them and we want to give them the chance to believe that they could be whatever they put their minds to. One of our experienced bakers has learning difficulties and was raised in care. When he was young, nobody ever thought he would be able to hold down a job and take care of himself. Today, he is one of the most talented and remarkable people we have ever met with a natural instinct for baking and the resilience of a rubber ball. It's a beautiful thing to see him taking a young man from a similar background under his wing. He knows someone once took a chance on him and many years later, he's doing a job he loves.
From where we stand now, Mina and I recognise we have already achieved 'success'. We've built a bakery and a cafe from scratch with no relevant qualifications or experience. We provide jobs for people from a wide range of backgrounds, and each one brings their own unique perspective, no more or less valuable than our own. We don't believe age or qualifications should be the most important things in judging someone's ability to do their job. Kickstart has given us the opportunity to welcome new diverse members to our team, all we ask is that they come with an open mind and an open heart. And in return, we will give them what they most desire. A chance.