Rtns. Jill & Martyn Harwood talk about a wonderful project led by Rotary
Many of the eClub members may not be aware of the District 1100 Vocational Training Team (VTT) project and the involvement of the eClub. This month, Jill Harwood is interviewing her husband Martyn to tell us about it.

Jill: Could you give me some background about yourself and how the VTT came about.

Martyn: I have been a member of Stroud Rotary Club for 26 years and was District Governor of your District 1100 in 2014/15. During my year as DG I wanted to start a VTT project, which is a first for D1100 and which is funded by a Rotary International Global Grant. I asked Tim Mason to investigate options for this and with Mark Ward, an eClub member and employee of the Trussell Trust, he suggested a Social Enterprise project in Bulgaria. In 2013 Tim and I visited Sofia and met with the Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion (FSCI), a branch of the Trussell Trust, to discuss how our VTT could help them set up a Catering Social Enterprise.

Jill: Who is the Social Enterprise being set up for?

Martyn: It is targeted at young people, mainly from the Roma community, leaving the care system at 18. Lacking basic skills and with no family or community support, they can drift into crime, drugs and prostitution. The purpose of the Social Enterprise Programme is to help them to become more employable by giving them opportunities to develop social and employment skills, work discipline and structure in a commercial working environment. The FSCI already runs a successful Social Enterprise Project, HoPe Soaps which makes and sells decorative soap.

Jill: How was the Global Grant achieved?

Martyn: David Pratt, previously an eClub member used his expertise to write a bid for a Global Grant from Rotary International. The main objectives of the project are to start a profitable and sustainable Social Enterprise Unit where the young people can develop their skills and learn how to run a business. It will also be a model for future use in the Balkans and also here in the UK.  The bid was finally approved by Rotary International in October 2015.

Partners in the project are the Rotary Club of Sofia International, West of England eClub, District 1100 and the FSCI. The grant of £65,100 includes funding from Sofia Rotary, Brue Valley Rotary Club in D1200 and 9 clubs in D1100. £50,510 of the grant will be spent on the setting up and running of the Social Enterprise, £7,000 on VTT costs and £8,000 on a conference, which I will talk about later.

Jill: Who is in the VTT?

Martyn: Clubs were asked if they knew of anyone who met the criteria and would be interested in applying to be a member of the team. This could be a Rotarian or non-Rotarian. Tim Mason was originally the Team Leader, but had to stand down for personal reasons. Following a short spell with another leader, I have taken over the role. The team is made up of Brendan Conboy, who has experience working with disadvantaged young people, Steve Taylor, experienced in many aspects of business, and Harry Gardner who works for the charity Meningitis Now as a fundraiser. We work closely with Teddi, Executive Director of FSCI in Sofia and George, their Social Enterprise Manager who has been sorting out the practical side of the project and has been working very hard to find premises for the restaurant.

We have monthly Skype meetings with Teddi and George from FSCI, Hristina and Michael from Sofia Rotary Club, David Pratt and Chris Mold, CE of the Trussell Trust and FSCI. This works remarkable well and it’s amazing to see the technology work! The team also had a 4 day visit to Sofia in June this year to meet our contacts from FSCI and Sofia Rotary in person.

Jill: How is the project progressing?

Martyn: After extensive exploration of the market in Sofia, a former Greek Restaurant has been leased. The large basement kitchen needed some structural changes and all areas decorated and this has been carried out by Roma builders and secondhand kitchen equipment has been purchased. It was an exciting day when the Hope Restaurant finally opened on 3rd October.

Jill:  How is the restaurant doing?

Martyn: It has got off to a flying start. Krisi has been employed as a manager/chef and is providing drinks and snacks during the day and traditional soups, salads and main dishes served at lunchtime and evening. Zdravko has been taken on as the first trainee and is learning about food preparation. He is finding some aspects quite challenging, for example, arriving on time!  But it is early days and I’m sure he will progress with support. They are really pleased with constant stream of customers as well. A takeaway and delivery service is provided and there are plans for the hire of the premises for functions, for example children’s parties. The idea is that the young people initially will act as general support staff. If they are serious they can pursue more specific career options and could be trained in cooking and cashier skills, with a program to teach how to prepare food, sales skills, working with suppliers, preparation, orders and delivery, etc. FSCI will be developing validation schemes for the training.

Jill: So what next?
Martyn: I mentioned a conference. This is planned for February 2017 which the VTT will attend. It will be an opportunity to showcase the Social enterprise, especially to other Rotary clubs and FSCI partners, NGOs, the Bulgarian government, charitable organisations in the Balkan States and the Media will be invited.

If this restaurant continues to be a success, then it is hoped that a second restaurant will open in due course. Further trainees will also be taken on at the Hope Restaurant.

If any eClub members are in Sofia, please go and visit the Hope Restaurant in 43 Vladaiska Street. They will be sure of a warm welcome. Please have a look at the restaurant website http://www.hoperestaurants.org/ to find out more and even view their menu which changes daily.

Jill: How can eClub members be involved:

Martyn: The club was one of the clubs who contributed £300 to the project. As this project is up and running, members may like to follow its progress on the D1100 website.  For the future, once the VTT involvement ends during 2017, the club may be interested in continuing their support of FSCI. Perhaps you could consider Teddi from FSCI as a speaker at a Zoom meeting?

Jill: Thank you Martyn. I am so pleased that the VTT project finally got off the ground and is working so well. I look forward to going to Sofia with you next February for the conference – at my own expense!! Maybe you’ll treat me to lunch at the Hope Restaurant.

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