Business support programme gives hope to homeless entrepreneur

A young entrepreneur from East Hull has vowed to make the most of a new enterprise programme to build his own business and break the debilitating cycle of joblessness and homelessness.

As part of the programme, Aaron Conroy has successfully completed the IAB Level 1 Certificate in Computerised Accounting for Business, achieving 100% in most of the modules.

Aaron had spent nearly seven years stumbling from one mundane job to another in between bouts of no work at all, sometimes sleeping rough and ‘sofa-surfing’.

With the help of Making Changes for Careers (MC4C), Aaron is now pursuing his dream of owning his own business, Fenburg, selling watches, jewellery and other fashion accessories online. Experience has given him a determination to avoid the disasters which he is aware could be just around the corner.

Aaron, now 23, said: “You realise housing isn’t something to be taken for granted and your life can change from comfortable to uncomfortable in days. That thought means you are always uncomfortable.”

His life changed when he was directed to MC4C, which is part of the Humber Learning Consortium’s Youth Employment Initiative under Hull City Council’s regeneration services. The programme is supported by the European Social Fund (ESF). It will operate until June next year and can take new entrants until the end of this year.

Aaron’s career path took him through school in Hull to Wilberforce College, where he studied IT. He had to drop out of a fine art course at Hull College when he became homeless. He then worked a succession of low-paid jobs.

He said: “I did some freelance website work and some freelance design work and I’ve been on and off the dole for a long time. When I was at school I had a job collecting golf balls at a driving range and putting them back in the basket. That was bad, especially when it was cold. Just looking for white balls, or bright yellow ones, in the pitch black, for £5.

“I didn’t do it for long but I’ll never forget it. I don’t ever want to do it again. When I’m having a bad day and I can’t be bothered I remember those days collecting golf balls.”

His housing situation led to him seeking help from Hull City Council’s children and young people’s services team, where someone introduced him to MC4C. The programme helps people aged between 16 and 29 develop their business ideas. It takes them through the ‘Big 13’ enterprise skills, and Aaron has excelled in one of the most demanding areas – financial literacy.

He said: “I didn’t want to work for someone else. I wanted to build my own mini empire in commerce, selling digital products and services, web design and graphic design.

“But I was inspired by people I look up to who have nice fancy things. I quite like watches myself but I can’t afford them and I want to get to the point where I can.”

He added: “I found MC4C and it’s so good. If I didn’t get in touch for a while they would contact me to see if I was OK. Nobody had ever done that before. It’s a great scheme and the accounts is a great course. I emailed Goldings a question on a Saturday night and I got a response on the Sunday. Not even customer services for the big websites do that. It shows they are really there for you.”

Di Garbera, General Manager at Golding Computer Services (an IAB accredited training provider) in Hull and a Business Mentor for MC4C, said: “Aaron is exceptionally bright, very focused and knew exactly what he wanted to do. He is very appreciative of all the help that he’s been given as part of the MC4C project.

“He was a bit apprehensive about coming in at first. He wasn’t sure what it could do for him, but once he started he came in for three or four hours a week and achieved excellent results. I’ve worked with about 10 people on the MC4C project and it’s given them important insight into the financial side of business.”

Charles Cracknell, City Youth Enterprise Manager at Hull City Council, added: “The programme gives young people a lot more confidence. In Aaron’s case, it’s enabled him to trust people and understand that they were there to help him. You forge a bond because they know there is always someone to go back to, whether it’s to find out more about Sage or something else. We can only congratulate Aaron and thank Goldings.”

Aaron’s plans include opening a shop and continuing to put his problems in the past. He said: “Homelessness was down to family problems and to benefits – you don’t get enough money. I left home when I was 16 or 17. I was on the streets some of the time, I stayed with my nana for a while. I also stayed with people I didn’t really like but it was better than sleeping on a park bench.

“You try and build something from nothing but it takes everything out of you. There’s fear as well, fear of living on the streets and about your long-term prospects and dreams. You have society looking down on you as a piece of scum who deserves it.

“MC4C have inspired me. They are behind me and they are telling me I can do. They have put themselves out to help me achieve it so I have got to do it to thank them. I am sure it will succeed and when it does I have plans A, B, C all the way to Z about what I am going to do.”

Aaron’s website is at www.fenburg.com.

For details about the services offered by Making Changes for Careers visit www.mc4c.co.uk.

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