CEO turns Dragon for a day!

Our Chief Executive, David Allen, took on the role of SuperDragon recently, at a Dragons’ Apprentice Challenge pilot event in Penrith. Judging groups of young adults with significant challenges in their lives, David saw first hand how they had developed during the programme.

Here, David tells us what happened:

“The rain was just setting in as I arrived the Eden Rural Foyer this week – the clouds had gathered to blend with the slate-grey rooftops of Penrith and the mood was ominous… it was time to meet the Dragons! I’ve never been a “Dragon” before (and probably never will again) but I was looking forward to meeting the two teams of young people who had worked on a trial project with Cumbria County Council and our colleagues at Inspira and Broxbourne and East Herts CVS.

This was a programme designed to encourage entrepreneurialism as well as to build confidence and a range of planning and communication skills amongst young people experiencing challenges in accessing education and employment opportunities.

SuperDragons assemble! David (centre, front) and fellow judges.

After meeting the team – including fellow dragons Becky Wolstenholme (CEO at Cumbria Youth Alliance, seated left) and Phil Dew (Cumbria County Council, seated right) – the tension built further as we awaited our first victims … er, sorry – contestants.

Of course, this was already a pretty challenging event for the teams to come and present at – styled as a “Dragon’s Den” event, it was the culmination in months of work behind the scenes where small teams of young people were asked to come together, develop a business idea to make a profit to donate to a charity of their choice. As part of this, they had to draw up a business plan, work out the market, the mechanics of putting their ideas into practice, the finance and the risks – and then pull it all together (under Covid restrictions) to generate income.

This would be a challenging proposition for most young people – but in this case, many of the participants had additional challenges. All were aged 16-24, had not had a good experience at school and were currently outside of education, employment and training. Many of the participants had disabilities and mental health problems affecting their confidence; several of them also had significant carer responsibilities for family members and some literally struggled to speak at all. Significant challenges indeed.

But during the presentations, we saw the progress they had all made throughout the programme. Firstly, despite debilitating anxiety in some cases, they arrived. This was by no means guaranteed – and for at least one participant, who had arrived early, led to a tortuous wait as his team members’ attendance seemed increasingly unlikely. But with minutes on the clock they arrived en masse to support each other and it became apparent that “working as a team” was an experience they could add to their portfolios.

We saw individuals with huge creativity and productivity – making artwork, jewellery, badges, cakes, greeting cards – but also with enterprise, working out the best places to sell their wares, learning from doing and developing their plans to progress further. In echoes of the TV show, they even went into a huddle to consider the dragon’s offers before deciding to accept our offers to “invest”.

The arrival of a local radio station – Eden FM – gave them all yet another learning opportunity and I am sure that the feedback they gave will build on this positive experience. Becky and our friends at Cumbria Youth Alliance will be developing the pilot further within Cumbria and will want to work in partnership with others to extend this important work. And if Cumbria CVS can help in any way, we will be sure to do so. “

(Others in picture: standing, left – Ian Richardson from Broxbourne and Herts CVS; Centre: Susan Watkins from Inspira; right – Penny Leighton, Broxbourne and Herts CVS.)