Monday, 02 October 2017
It is a brave decision to strike out alone and set up your own charity, but when you have only just graduated from university, and all your friends are securing jobs with large organisations, it takes courage to follow your own path.
And yet that is exactly what one University of Worcester graduate has done, and the results are staggering. Now, on the outskirts of Worcester, there is one small charity doing very big things.
Abbie Kemp, 24, from Droitwich, studied Physical Education and Sports Studies at Worcester, graduating in 2015. Barely twelve months later, her new charity, New Hope Lodge, opened its doors for the first time. And yet the story of New Hope Lodge is more than a story of social entrepreneurialism, it’s also a story about finding your place in the world.
Abbie first came up with the idea for New Hope Lodge whilst on a degree placement with sister-charity New Hope Worcester, where she first met Jean Wilson. Jean founded New Hope Worcester in response to a lack of support she encountered with her own daughter, Emily, who has autism.
Abbie perceived a similar lack of provision for young adults with learning disabilities, and so she began to put together a plan:
“It all started gathering pace in my third year at uni’,” Abbie said. “My modules came in handy because I was learning about sports business management and fundraising, and that helped me with writing the business plan and securing finance.
It was a busy time because I had four jobs and my studies, but I really wanted to make it work.”
Abbie worked tirelessly to secure the funds she needed to transform New Hope Lodge from a dream in to a reality, capturing major donations from Morrison’s, Screwfix, and the National Lottery amongst others. Abbie and Jean secured a site at Top Barn Business Centre, and Abbie set about transforming the space:
“The building used to be a car workshop,” she said, “so we had to gut the space and start again. I had to design it all from scratch: where the walls would go, how the rooms would fit together, all the colour-schemes to make it welcoming, the whole thing.”
In June 2016, New Hope Lodge opened its doors for the first time, providing a warm welcome and a host of opportunities for young adults with learning disabilities:
“We do a bit of everything,” Abbie explains. “Cooking in the kitchen, Independent Living Skills, animal care with Harry and William - the rabbits - and McCauley our tortoise, sports and fitness, even supported work experience placements with businesses in the community.”
“The best thing for me is seeing how much our young adults enjoy their time here,” she adds. “One young man lives in residential accommodation and his carers really struggle to get him to engage with life, but with us he goes shopping, bowling, even swimming.
Another young adult says we’re his ‘new home’, not just New Hope.”
New Hope Lodge is certainly a fantastic facility, and an impressive achievement for a recent university student barely a year past graduation, but the scale of Abbie’s success is magnified by the fact that she herself has not always found it easy:
“My teachers at school told me I was never going to do anything with my life, and for a while, I believed them,” she says. “Because I was in the bottom set for everything, no one around me wanted to learn, and so my behaviour deteriorated.”
“But then, in year 10, I told myself I had to get my act together,” she adds. “I wanted to prove people wrong, so I knuckled down. I managed to get to Sixth Form, and from there to the University of Worcester, and now here. It’s been quite a journey.”
Shannon Northcott, 19, from Worcester, a Support Worker at the Lodge, has also found that New Hope Lodge really does bring new hope, for staff as well as the young adults:
“I struggled in school because I have dyslexia, and this really affected my reading, writing, and therefore my confidence,” Shannon explains. “I felt embarrassed because I couldn’t understand the work set by the teachers, so I used to retaliate by behaving badly.”
“Eventually I got moved out of mainstream and sent to Riverside School,” she adds. “Things started to improve. I got a placement here at New Hope Lodge and met Abbie.”
“I was really nervous on my first day here, but I spoke to Abbie about my troubles at school and she said that everybody deserved a chance, and that anyone could make a change in their life. She said that I could do anything I put my mind to, and this really helped me to begin to believe in myself.”
For Abbie, it is the personal development opportunities that New Hope Lodge provides, not just for its young adults but for its staff and friends too, that make the difference:
“Shannon has really done well here,” Abbie says. “She has completed a lot of training and gained several important qualifications. Plus which, she is an excellent support worker.”
“I also employ one of our young adults – who has learning disabilities and Severe Oral Dyspraxia - in a paid position in the office,” Abi adds. “She helps to manage our social media and assists with planning for fundraising events.”
“It’s just nice to see that we can make a difference, and to know that people – whatever their circumstances – can achieve big things with a bit of support and understanding.”