Elaine Lilley is passionate about transforming the lives of young people and setting them on the road to a brighter future. As Chief Executive of The EBP (a social enterprise developing the skills of young people) she gets a real buzz from delivering the National Citizen Service programme in a major part of the East Midlands – including Lincolnshire.
It has had a massive impact in changing hundreds of young lives for the better. Teenagers who have taken part have surprised themselves and left their mark on local communities – by rejuvenating them, raising funds for local and national charities and generally supporting community projects where they can make a difference.
Elaine is bursting with pride but she prefers to share the spotlight. In her book, success has only been achieved by tapping into the twin powers of partnership working and the support of her 50-strong, highly-motivated team.
“I love working with young people and seeing them grow and, as a social enterprise which ploughs its reserve back into the business, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the amazing support of partner businesses and organisations,” said Elaine.
She is equally keen to see members of her team, based at head office in Welton House, off Greetwell Road, Lincoln (although The EBP also has offices in Northampton and Leicester), grow and develop further.
Elaine’s rapport with her colleagues is obvious – whether they are sitting around the boardroom table, passing each other in the corridor or waiting for their photo to be taken, there’s always time to chat!
“My policy to employees is open door, I am keen that we develop our staff and if they flourish so does the business. I seek employees who understand partnership working and have good business skills, both are needed in a social enterprise. It’s important to me that we have good working relationships especially as we work in a culture where good partnership is essential.”
So how did Elaine – who started working at The King’s School in Grantham, before moving on to the Department for Trade & Industry in Nottingham and then joining the Lincolnshire Training & Enterprise (Lincolnshire TEC) in Lincoln – come to be at the helm of a venture which turned over nearly £8 million at the end of the last financial year?
“I joined Lincolnshire TEC when it was formed (1991) and I was involved in getting young people into work experience and boosting enterprise skills.
“When the TEC closed down (to be followed by the Learning & Skills Councils), there was a worry about what would happen to the work we had been doing, which had received national recognition. Staff, schools, community partners and Lincolnshire County Council didn’t want it to be lost,” said Elaine.
“I was invited to set up a social enterprise and to take six members of staff with me. We were given a national grant, some small bids and a grant from Lincolnshire County Council, equipping us with a budget of £800,000. We moved into one-third of the top floor of Welton House. Now, we have grown to occupy the whole building.”
In 2010/11, Elaine had the unmissable opportunity to run one of the first National Citizen Service pilots.
“We had to bid for this work and we were up against some massive organisations but, because we had such a high-performing and enthusiastic team pitching to the Cabinet Office, we were successful.”
The National Citizenship Service programme aims to tackle social cohesion, social engagement and social mobility. It is open to young people between the ages of 15 and 17, no matter their background and circumstances.
“NCS is all about the lessons they don’t teach you in the classroom. I think that the best lessons are those we learn ourselves. That’s equally true for me,” said Elaine.
Teams of 15 young people start by spending two weeks away from home. The first week is spent at an outward bound venue – where they may go water rafting or abseiling – and the second at university halls of residence learning how to be self-sufficient and gaining employability and confidence skills before they do their 30-hour community project.
We caught-up with an NCS group working on one of Lincolnshire Sport’s social action projects at the Lindum Sports Association. The group was busy gardening and members had also been painting the gym and helping to advertise the club. The young people also raised funds for the charitable venue.
The first NCS pilot enhanced the lives and potential of 85 young people in Lincoln, Boston and Skegness and paved the way for more good news.
There was the chance to win another government-backed pilot which, if successful, would see the EBP given the chance to boost the lives of young people and breathe extra vitality into communities across a wider part of the region.
“One of my biggest achievements is successfully bidding for and managing the NCS contract or EM1, which covers Lincolnshire, Rutland, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, since 2011,” said Elaine.
“I am incredibly proud of EBP as a business. Our grant funding in 2001 reduced year-on-year until it ceased. We have been responsible fully for our own destiny since 2010 and have grown annually since then.
“People don’t always understand a social enterprise. We are not a charity and we must operate commercially within a responsible business framework. It is important that we create reserves for our business to grow and be sustainable. We also need to ensure that we can train our staff and be self-sufficient. Our Board of Directors expects us to manage this enterprise like any other good business.
“More than 5,000 teenagers from the four counties have added NCS to their CVs since 2011. Between them, they have carried out more than 100,000 hours of social action within their local communities.
“We believe that NCS offers great value for money. It costs no more than £50 to take part in the scheme and bursaries are available on a case-by-case basis. We also provide support for young people who may have additional needs,” said Elaine.
“Apart from giving something back, adding NCS to their CVs enhances their prospects and helps them with job, college and university applications. UCAS recommends mentioning NCS on personal statements too.
“Some parents say they don’t recognise their sons and daughters after they have done NCS. For instance, one parent this summer said her daughter was normally really quiet at home, but was so animated after NCS she wouldn’t stop talking.
“Over the past five years of the NCS contract, a spin-off is that we have employed and trained more than 700 university under-graduates as mentors, with a salary bill of over £1 million. Many have been doing child-related studies. This contributes to the Lincolnshire student economy and supports graduate learning.
“This year already we have employed 174 mentors in Lincoln alone, predominantly comprising of university undergraduates, investing £250,000 into their development and income. We are quite proud of that,” said Elaine.
The EBP gets involved in a wide range of initiatives from STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) programmes to Construction Week, work experience and Investors in Education.
“One of the most exciting things coming up is that we are going to open a Young People’s Centre in Lincoln. It will take a positive stance on jobs and careers and we will be working with young people aged 15 to 25, across the full social spectrum,” said Elaine.
“We are also excited about the opportunity to work with Lincoln Business Improvement Group as its official education partner for the Lincoln Knight’s Trail 2017. We are offering 60 schools the chance to get involved with a “mini trail”, have their own half-sized knight and an educational programme on an historical theme.”
Elaine added that businesses that want to have a great workforce, need to develop their people and encourage them to have pride in their jobs. Working with EBP offers businesses the chance to grow their employees through working with young people, which in turn is extremely rewarding.
“In 2015, we were thrilled to be named national Growth Champion at the RBS SE100 Awards and won £10,000. This is being used to benefit staff, and in turn that will improve our work within the community,” said Elaine.
Anyone for chocolate?
“Also, we recently recognised that we don’t reward and celebrate ourselves as much as we should, so we have started to have monthly Friday Features, with all staff invited to breakfast at Welton House to celebrate individual and team achievements.
“We have great fun showing photomontages of what everyone has been doing within the month and we give out rewards for good work, with prizes in our ‘brilliant basics’ and ‘magic moments’ categories. Naturally, chocolate plays a part!”
If there is any time left for herself, Elaine loves escaping to the golf course, sewing, and cooking for family and friends, but The EBP certainly features large in her life. As she says: “I never stop imagining where we might be!”
This feature interview was first published in issue 92 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.