We were chosen to be the lead partner in a multi-million pound programme to help residents set up their own small businesses.
The 'Interreg France (Channel) England' programme funded a number of high quality cooperation projects between France and the UK. The aim was to help residents kick-start 1,200 new businesses.
Training started in July 2018 and supported 1,500 residents in Kent and Sussex.
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The £10.8 million cross-Channel programme is called Increase Valorisation Sociale. It trained residents how to launch their own businesses, including how to trial and market test business ideas and how to manage their finances.
The programme operated along the South and East Coasts of England from Cornwall to Norfolk, and the North Coast of France from Brittany to Pas-de-Calais.
The aim was to find a solution to rising unemployment among 38 English and French coastal and rural neighbourhoods where tourism and jobs had declined.
Residents faced many barriers – including a lack of typical ‘9 to 5’ jobs, no access to training and low self-confidence.
The answer was to offer self-employment as a viable option. Increase VS was launched to train residents to set up their own businesses.
Residents signed up to workshops, in person and online, to learn everything from how to trial and market test their ideas to manage their finances.
As well as learning, participants had the opportunity to network and become and ambassador to support others in the long term.
The project was made possible with funding from Interreg FCE or France Channel England and the European Regional Development Fund.
5,300 unemployed people passed through the training over a five and a half year period, creating up to 1,200 new businesses and helping a further 2000 into work.
All of the 38 UK and French neighbourhoods targeted in the project were characterised by above average unemployment.
The project aimed to tackle this issue by supporting a sustainable pipeline of small businesses in each area that will benefit local economies and households.
The project created a number of community ambassador roles and a strong stakeholders network in each neighbourhood.
These ambassadors provided on-going support to micro-entrepreneurs and continued to engage future participants, ensuring the long lasting legacy of the project.
See some of the success stories below.
Housing associations can be key agents of change due to not only their embeddedness in the local community but also their long-term presence and robust funding, especially in comparison to local authorities.
In 2021, our work was recognised with the Innovator of the Year (Customer Services) award at the UK Housing Awards. In 2022, the project won the Community Impact award at the French Chamber in Great Britain.
This is a simple idea that has the potential for far-reaching benefits. It’s a good model of partnership-working and a good example for other similarly challenged areas.
The training available through the Programme has had a positive impact on social housing residents.
We've produced a report and video that highlights the self-employment support developed by Increase VS partners and demonstrates the approaches used to engage and reach residents to ensure outcomes are sustainable.
Watch our video below to gain an understanding on the impact the Programme has had or read our report here.
The project was co-funded by the Interreg France (Channel) England programme with a European Regional Development Fund contribution of £7.5 million.
The programme, led by Southern Housing, is a partnership between nine French and English housing associations and training providers.
“The Increase Project is a brilliant opportunity to take micro-enterprise training to the next level in a super partnership with French and UK housing and training specialist agencies.” - William Miller, Community Development Director
Thanos launched his own business, The Greek Kitchen, after losing his job in the fashion industry.
I got really depressed and felt rejected from the world and the people around me. This opportunity came and I did a course with Increase VS and that course was the motivation to get out there and do something. It was so important for me. I met great people and I’m a very lucky person. The course helped me to believe in myself. Being self employed is an interesting thing. Every day is a learning curve. Being your own boss is not easy but it’s liberating at the same time.
Caroline was given a wake-up call after suffering a serious car accident. She set up her own virtual assistant business after attending a five-day Increase VS course, followed by online post-course support from fellow participants via Zoom.
“The idea of being self employed was scary but, when I had the accident, It made me finally decide it was time to actually do it. Now I work on my own terms. I’ve the freedom to work around my family, the hours that suit us. I don’t spend long days commuting to and from work.
Gurol started his successful business, the Sourdough Sandwich Bar, after struggling to find work in the hospitality businesses during the pandemic.
There were no jobs because everything was shut down. So I had to go on benefits. I started getting online lessons with the business course. They taught us you don’t need a lot of capital to make something work out. I had no money for marketing so I learnt how to use social media to make ourselves heard.
As a mum Layla signed up for the Increase VS course as she was looking for a way to earn money in a way that offered the freedom and flexibility she desired. She now runs her own successful beauty business.
I learnt a lot – especially about things like social media and how to get started with my business. Without that help, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. The course helped me to gain confidence and it was also good for follow-up support. Now I run my own business, I can be flexible around school times. More importantly, I get time to do the other things I want to do. I love to read, go to the gym, keep healthy, and go on dog walks. I can fit everything in around the things I enjoy doing and that keeps me happy and healthy. It’s really flexible. It works around me and our schedule.