Opening Doors is described on its website as ‘a new type of enterprise programme designed as an incubator for ideas and a connection hub’. It is still very much in its early stages having launched in January 2014 initially as a two-year pilot project funded by a £200k (€250,769) grant from Trust for London and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The target audience for the programme is young adults and its purpose is ‘to create the next entrepreneurial generation irrespective of the chances people have had in life’.
Following an initial suitability assessment the programme is delivered over six month’s with expert workshops over either a full day or two shorter sessions at local centres and task-based learning. Ongoing information and support is available to participants for another six months who are also invited to future network events. The approach is structured around seven ‘learning zones’: the ‘Ideas Zone’ where participants are urged to brainstorm potential business ideas; the ‘Planning Zone’ where they are encouraged to develop a workable business model and plan for operationalising the idea; the ‘Test Zone’ where the idea is tested out in some form of ‘marketplace’ and participants are introduced to effective approaches to selling, marketing and promotion; the ‘Digital Zone’ where participants learn about how to maximise the potential benefits to their business from the internet and social media; the ‘Launch Zone’ where participants develop leadership and self-management skills, find out about funding sources and learn to pitch their idea; the ‘Network Zone’ where participants discover the value of social connections and meet potential funders, buyers and connectors; and the ‘Momentum Zone’ where participants are given ongoing one-to-one personal support coinciding with self-driven action over the remaining course of the programme. Questionnaires are completed by participants before and after their participation in the programme in order to evaluate its effectiveness with the hope that business plans from successful and functioning businesses can also be used as evidence of the impact of the programme.
Opening Doors is currently operated in three areas of London (Brent, Haringey and Croydon), with four separate cohorts of approximately 15-17 participants in each area starting the programme in January 2014, April 2014, November 2014 and February 2015 respectively. Each area is led by a different local organisation and the project is coordinated by BTEG (Black Training and Enterprise Group) which is a national organisation that ‘champions fairness and economic justice and pioneers innovative solutions through enterprise, employment and education’.
In Haringey Opening Doors is led by Tottenham Hotspur Foundation which is the charitable arm of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and a recognised training and development organisation based in Haringey. Some of the examples of businesses being launched in Haringey as a result of the programme include: a low sugar home-made Jamaican drink made from sorrel and ginger; naturally made beauty products, consultations and treatments; Photography services; and a business specialising in importing women’s hair from Brazil for wigs and hair extensions. One member of Foundation staff is directly responsible for coordinating the project with support from colleagues (such as in-house PR specialists) where necessary. In addition to a wide range of recreational and elite sport related programmes Tottenham Hotspur Foundation is also involved in delivering a wide range of other programmes such as those aimed at mentoring 16-19 year olds either in or leaving care; apprenticeships for those not in education, employment or training (NEET); support for young disabled people to transition from school to further education, work or volunteering; and various health and well-being related projects among many other things.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Opening Doors is explicitly focused on addressing diversity, describing itself as being led by a ‘partnership of highly experienced organisations and individuals passionate about enterprise, social mobility and the economic transformation of diverse communities’. The three boroughs involved in the pilot phase were chosen as they were considered to be the most in need of this sort of programme following the riots of August 2011 which underscored high levels of deprivation and inequality in these areas. The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation representative interviewed was conscious that Haringey in general, and Tottenham in particular, is “incredibly diverse” so in promoting the programme to everyone in the local area they expected that there would be “lots of BME groups and participants”. In fact all of the participants in the programme in Haringey so far are of Black African or Black Caribbean ethnic origins. There was a sense from the interview that Tottenham Hotspur Foundation were proud of what they described as their “very inclusive approach” at the foundation and suspected that their “track record of working with a wide range of diversities and demographics” had factored into the decision by BTEG to involve them in the programme.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The greatest challenges facing the Opening Doors Network were described by one of our interviewees as the amount of time and effort it took before the project could be implemented, describing how it took a series of all-day meetings in central London over a period of several years. The fact that a project funded by central government with such a relatively small number of participants (approximately 70 in each of the 3 areas) was able to come to fruition was seen as particularly unique by one of our interviewees. The main practical challenges affecting the implementation of the project related to the nature of the project in seeking to work with the long-term unemployed who our interviewee found faced significant social problems such as eviction from their homes and phones being disconnected and often struggled with punctuality and attendance, which our interviewee described as “the sorts of things that make it completely impossible to become an entrepreneur or trader” which meant that many participants had to be chased to fulfil their obligations.
The main strength of the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation involvement in the Opening Doors Network was the way in which it utilised its brand recognition and existing networks to offer participants the most effective programme by involving its external partners in either recruitment or delivery of the programme including Barclays Bank, Sainsbury’s, Haringey Council, local mentoring services and other external specialist companies.
The Opening Doors Network represents an interesting example of an initiative which both focuses on increasing economic performance among diverse communities and which is funded in part by central government, both of which are somewhat uncommon in the contemporary UK context. Funded initially as a pilot scheme it remains to be seen if the project will continue after its initial two-year funding cycle, although our interviewee noted that it may possibly be extended in a different form or in other boroughs in the future.