SharpFutures – social enterprise nurturing young creatives
From an article on Pioneers Post
Ten years ago, Lee Stanley co-founded the social enterprise SharpFutures with his wife, Rose Marley. A music producer from a “relatively poor background” in north Manchester, Stanley is driven by creating similar opportunities in the creative industries for today’s young working-class people.
In 2008, Stanley and Marley met the people setting up a project with Manchester City Council, called the Sharp Project. Located in a former electronics warehouse, this hub for creative production businesses was the perfect home for Stanley and Marley’s new venture, which they started in 2012.
“The idea of SharpFutures is dead simple,” says Lee, “it’s a social enterprise that helps young people from diverse working-class backgrounds into the creative, digital, tech and film industries.”
They seek to achieve this in a few ways. One involves offering students from all over Greater Manchester tours of the Sharp Project, now home to around 60 creative businesses working on everything from photography to artificial intelligence. “We can demonstrate that actually a career in these industries is a) absolutely achievable for you, and b) you don’t need to work in traditional working-class ways. So the choice is there.”
SharpFutures also partners with other Sharp Project companies to deliver workshops in schools, and with big media companies like the BBC, Channel 4, Sky and ITV to train young people from underrepresented backgrounds. This includes training in technical skills as well as confidence-building and social skills.
"SharpFutures really isn’t an end destination for our young people… we nurture your skills, develop where we think you should go and listen to what your passions are,” Lee says. Apprentices go on to do “amazing things”. “I’m really sometimes overwhelmed by what these young people achieve when we do make an intervention. I’m dead proud of them."
Finally, SharpFutures runs People on Demand, or POD, a zero-hours contract employment service that connects young people who need flexible work and entry-level experience, with fast-growing creative businesses that need support staff. This contributes to Manchester’s thriving creative and digital scene, while generating income for the social enterprise through client fees.
Lee also compliments Manchester City Council, because of their partnership and willingness to provide seed investment ten years ago.
Cash flow though is a challenge – made worse by the fact that social enterprises have to “compete against each other for the same small pots of funding”. Their turnover in 2021-2022 was £777,000 and their key social impact metrics In their first five years were £377,744 in cost savings to the public purse, £2,437,407 in social value and £693,438 in economic value in Greater Manchester (most recent figures unavailable). SharpFutures has worked with an estimated 1,000+ young people over the past year.
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From an article on Pioneers Post, 24/01/2023