Sam Everard is the CEO of SAMEE, a Disability Confident Leader charity based in Dorset, which achieved its IOEE Academy status last year. SAMEE believes in a world where people of all abilities can proudly and independently provide an income for themselves and their families.
Sam has always had an entrepreneurial streak and her first business was a wedding coordination company called Roses & Garters, but her mentoring work and being a mother of a disabled child ultimately changed Sam’s career direction, leading her to create her exceptional charity, SAMEE. This month we chatted to Sam to find out more about her journey.
Sam, your work is incredibly inspiring and moving, but what inspires and motivates you?
I have always had a natural desire to help people with disabilities overcome barriers and fulfil their potential. What we do at the SAMEE charity is the most rewarding work I have ever done in my life, and in just 18 months we have grown to a team of three Outreach Advisers and 15 volunteer Business Mentors.
My team also inspire me every day with their passion and energy for helping our young people and our disabled entrepreneurs, and the people we work with inspire me too. For example, one young man had such low self-esteem that he could not even send emails out. After months of working with him, he sent me a message on Christmas Day wishing me a ‘Merry Christmas’. My whole team were made aware of that email, and it reminded us that what we do makes such a difference!
Tell us about the delivery of the SFEDI Awards qualification you currently offer…
We run a project for the schools called WISE - Workshops in Self-Employment. It runs over a few days and allows young people to start working towards the SFEDI Awards Level 1 Award in Passport to Enterprise and Employment. We also run the qualifications as part of our Disabled Entrepreneurs Business Start-Up Service (DEBSS). The qualification is offered on a voluntary basis, and people take up the offer because the work replicates the natural exploration of their business ideas.
We deliver sections of the SFEDI Awards workbooks via our group sessions, and work on various sections directly with the person to tailor it to their needs and learning style. In many ways the qualification writes itself, because the guided learning aspect of the workbooks is easy to follow and simple to complete for candidates of all learning levels and abilities.
What are the biggest challenges you see with learners?
I think the biggest challenge for our DEBSS clients is finding the time to actually complete the qualification. The majority of our budding disabled entrepreneurs are so highly motivated to get on with planning their business that they often find it difficult to make time and study. That is why we’ve developed our delivery of the qualification and made studying small sections at a time part of each mentoring session.
We sometimes find that they shy away from working with us as they don’t feel they have the knowledge or expertise to actually fulfil the criteria. However, once we’ve broken it down for them and shown them how they can demonstrate the knowledge, they actually come back with other things they have done, and they are very proud to show us what they have achieved.
What are the greatest rewards of the programme?
The greatest reward for our learners is the pride that they feel once they have completed a nationally accredited qualification. For some, this is the first real qualification they have studied towards. For the SAMEE team, the reward is the satisfaction and pride when handing over a certificate to a client who may be profoundly disabled.
How does your relationship with the IOEE work for you and for SAMEE?
Being a Fellow of the IOEE is a source of great pride to me, as not only can I offer our disabled clients and young people unique and achievable SFEDI Awards qualifications, but I can also tap into the hive mind of thousands of members and share vital knowledge, experience and resources.
What does the future hold for SAMEE?
We are currently writing several application bids for financial support, which, if successful, would mean sustainability for our charity over at least the next 12 months.
We are also seeking financial support to develop our DEBSS project with the introduction of the Disabled Entrepreneurs Network (DEN). This initiative is the next natural evolution of our support and will bring together the Dorset disabled community and offer entrepreneurs the chance to work with each other collaboratively.
This ground-breaking opportunity will create a supportive network to help decrease social isolation in deprived and/or rural areas of the county. On the schools side, we are looking at developing our resources to help assist more young people with their career aspirations and entrepreneurial ideas.
Are there any particular highlights or learner stories that stand out for you?
We recently worked with a young male client challenged with multiple learning difficulties and health issues. He wanted to go out on work experience, but, due to the nature of his needs, he was unable to gain a placement.
We took him on for his work experience and he worked through various units of the SFEDI Awards qualification. He was delighted when we finally submitted his work and he gained a certificate, as he then had two things to be proud of - his achievements in a work placement and a certificate for his qualification.
Our DEBSS project was also recognised by ITV Meridian and the People’s Projects this year. A video was created which explains how the project operates and features three client stories.
Dan is one of the case studies on the film, a young man challenged with early on-set dementia due to epilepsy as a child. He was long-term unemployed due to his medical condition and wanted to start his own personal trainer business, enabling him to do what he loved, but in a way that met his health needs.
In our one-to-one support meetings we worked out an alternative way of memorising his routines through music tones and flash cards. Dan is now successfully trading with 14 clients and, as his self-esteem is high, has just asked his long-term girlfriend to be his wife. These stories serve to remind us that everything we do at SAMEE is so worthwhile.