Year 10 students from Plymstock School were challenged with raising the profile and desirability of studying languages in the school and generating investment whilst engaging with the local community.
From its conception, the group were very clear what exactly it was that they wanted to create- a professional business, not just a school project.
Joe, the Business Development and Account Manager explains Our Way as he sees it. “Our Trade Experiment Company, Our Way, is designed to provide local businesses in the South West with opportunities that will directly impact their sales and business performance in the UK, but also introduce their businesses, goods or services to the French market. We have a very strong identity and have worked really hard to develop a ‘style guide’ so that the businesses that we work with know and understand our image and we can work with companies in the South West that fit our style. These four style guides are that each company must be based in the South West and be completely traceable, have products or services that are unique, quirky and fresh, with products or services that are of high quality and are ethical with a vintage renewal flavour.”
First Steps of Development
The group found their interests, aptitudes and passions and developed their own roles and responsibilities within the group. Clear on their vision, they set about with action planning, mapping and charting their steps in phases.
They did market research which included visiting the Royal Cornwall Show; here they met the BBC and Spotlight. Gaining momentum with every conversation and growing in confidence, the group soon found that it wasn’t just their eyes that saw success in their concept.
Interest from both Plymouth City Council and Cornwall County Council came at these early stages. They were invited to talk to local councillors and MPs about their idea and were supported by Pauline Perdriaux, European Cooperation Officer based in Cornwall, who was instantly blown away by their passion and commitment.
The government’s Business Innovation and Skills group also visited the team to hear about their concept. This led to an amazing array of support and the most outstanding opportunities that the group truly value and appreciate.
In July 2013, Pauline and RIO supported the group, who took themselves on a business trip to France! The trip saw the team attending several inspirational meetings with associates in Brest. The meetings were not simply to share the Our Way vision, but to establish strong business partnerships which would enable the agency to promote the products and services of its partners.
Over the three busy days they met with Bureau Information Jeunesse – Mrs Michèle Casu, B-New project – Mrs Gaëlle Vigouroux (Entreprendre au Féminin) and Ms Aline Chever, High School Lycée Le Kreisker – Ms Claudine Guillerm, Head of Department International Division of Exchange and Cooperation – Julie Nuyts and Deputy Lord Mayor of Brest – Reza Salami. No easy task even for seasoned business men and women but these then year 10 students blew me away with their ability to communicate (mostly in French!) and articulate their passion for the products they took with them.
Lauren, Project Manager for Our Way said, “To have the opportunity to make a real difference, to use the language that we learned in our classroom in a real situation and to be able to help real businesses in the South West was amazing! I didn’t think it possible that we could schedule meetings with so many important people; it is something I will never forget. To be able to communicate in their language made me really proud.”
All the meetings left me, as an onlooker, overwhelmed by the passion, professionalism and commitment that the Our Way team harnessed. The speed and high energy in which they thought and delivered was so impressive, and the confidence to deliver it in another language was truly inspiring. I can honestly say they did the South West and UK proud.
Robin, French Connections and Interpreter said, “We are very proud of our region, and of the products and services that its small businesses produce. International trading doesn’t only showcase a single business and its products or services, but it also showcases the region in which they stand and what that region has to offer. I speak French fluently, and am really excited to think that by using a very real and purposeful business concept, we will encourage and develop languages for our peers. By understanding other languages and cultures, we understand our own and appreciate the differences.”
Back to the UK
Then upon their return to the UK, they had many more interviews, had coverage in the International Trade Digest, in the Insider Magazine, Chambers Links, local newspapers and they were on the local radio twice! This then led to an invitation to London where the group sold products to Gary Streeter, sold their products and presented their businesses to Business Innovation and Skills Gov department and were asked to visit (and go on a VIP tour) to the Houses of Parliament!
Lesley Batchelor, Institute of Export Director General said “The creativity and business savvy of the students has set me wondering how powerful it would be if small companies across the UK sought out opportunities in towns across the world which are twinned with the places they live.”
Maggy from Our Way said, “This was one of the best times of my life. Working with Plymstock School, RIO and our South West business partners has made me realise my potential and it’s made me seriously think about my career options too!”
What made the day even more exciting is that on the train journey home from Paddington, the group found out that the award they were nominated for as ‘International Market Builders’ became theirs!
Ed Whitelaw, the Coordinator for Plymouth’s Social Enterprise City Festival said: “Our Way’s award was a real highlight of the eight day festival for me. For projects to be truly successful they need to be both lofty, ambitious and inspirational as well as being practical and impactful. Few projects really ever achieve this in the way that Our Way has.”
Then recently the group were asked to be represented at a local International Trade Event, where leaders in the South West looked at how they could support businesses to look at export. Fern Horine, CEO of Canada Trade Network was even interested in how Our Way’s business partners could be linked with Canada!
French delegates that the group met in July returned to the UK, and asked to meet with the group to discuss how Our Way could be a model used in the education system in France, and how Our Way might be able to support enterprise initiatives. This was hugely exciting and the group are planning their trip back to France for December 2014.
Our Way International has received very little financial support, but the non-financial support they have gained has been truly priceless.
The Head Teacher, David Farmer and his wife were even invited to the Queen’s Garden Party due to Our Ways success!
The success of Our Way International has now led to a family of Our Ways at Plymstock School! The idea of taking social enterprise business approaches and embedding them into the ethos and practices of the school, finding solutions to school and community challenges, really does work.
It has proven to be extremely successful so far, just a few months in, with students making the right impressions with local members of parliament and senior government officials, as well as international businesses.
Born from Our Way International, the group are thrilled with the legacy that they have left behind, yet still plan to move the language mountain whilst in Post 16! From its origins back in early 2013, they were adamant that they would support their school and tackle the issue of learning languages, breaking down barriers and working with local suppliers to build partnerships with businesses in France and therefore increase trade as well as uptake! The leaps and bound of progress is astonishing, and the fire is still very much alight!