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A social enterprise in East Ayshire that provides work experience and training opportunities to disadvantaged groups, will be expanding following the support of enterprise mentoring from Bank of Scotland.

Kilmarnock based Ucan, Learn, Work, Live was founded by directors Matt Buckman, David Campbell and Joe Fairbairn in 2012, after they identified the opportunity to provide real life education and training to disadvantaged groups in their local community.

With previous experience working in further education, the directors decided to launch a programme that promotes employability whilst supporting the individual’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual wellbeing. The centre has a range of facilities designed to help individuals gain core life skills, including a building workshop, IT hub and training kitchen.

Learners are offered the opportunity to put into practice the skills they have acquired by conducting a work placement within a local firm or within Ucan’s own enterprise initiatives, allowing them to gain the vital experience needed for further employment.

Due to the success of the enterprise the directors decided to expand their current 2,600 sq ft premises to just under 9,000 sq ft. In addition to the current facilities on offer, the new centre now includes an art and craft room, a music room, gym and horticultural area.

Plans are also in place to develop a small indoor market and café, which will provide further work experience and job opportunities to trainees.

Matt Buckman, director, said: “During our time working in the education and training sector we noticed that traditional forms of education did not meet everyone’s specific learning requirements. As a result we decided to start an enterprise which addressed these skills gaps, helping people to find employment and become more independent in all areas of their lives.”

Matt was introduced to his mentor Ian Collins, senior manager for SME Banking at Bank of Scotland, through the bank’s School for Social Entrepreneurs Programme where he received one-to-one mentoring support.

When the programme finished Matt was keen to continue his relationship with Ian, who then agreed to provide him and his fellow directors with ongoing mentoring support as part of the bank’s national mentoring scheme.

The mentoring scheme was launched by five major high street banks in conjunction with the Business Finance Taskforce and the British Bankers’ Association, with the overall aim of helping the economy to return to sustainable growth by training industry professionals to share their own skills and experiences with new business leaders and entrepreneurs.

In 2013 Ian began to mentor Matt at quarterly meetings, helping him to refine his growth plans and build an understanding of the key areas on which needed focus in order to expand and develop the business successfully. 

Matt added: “The mentoring support provided by Ian was integral to the business’ growth and development. Ian regularly acted as a sounding board for our ideas and provided objective guidance and support so we could prioritise our aims for the business.”

Ian Collins, senior manager for SME Banking at the Bank of Scotland, added: “Helping entrepreneurs like Matt, David and Joe, who are passionate about making a real difference to the lives of the people in their community, is a truly rewarding experience. During our mentoring sessions I was able to challenge Matt and the other directors’ thinking, to help them to reflect on their actions and encourage them not to get caught-up in the little details.

I have first-hand experience of how mentoring people with varying skills can make a huge difference to all kinds of SME’s including social enterprises, so when I heard about the Bank’s involvement in the mentoring scheme I was keen to get involved.”