Sarah Cronie is a young manager who today works in the café facility at Inspired Community Enterprise Trust Ltd, a charity based in Dumfries, Scotland which trades as The Usual Place. The organisation is a training provider which offers young people with additional support needs employability skills and opportunities in the Hospitality, Front of House, Retail and Facilities Services sectors.
Sarah’s journey into her leadership role was anything but ‘usual’, owing to her learning disability. Progressing through Inspiring Scotland’s Future Leadership Training Programme, she was able to learn a trade with The Usual Place before progressing up the ladder into permanent employment and a leadership role. Speaking to The Leaders Council, Sarah shared the story behind how she successfully moved into permanent employment and developed her leadership skills.
Inspiring Scotland’s Future Leadership programmes are aimed at people with learning or intellectual disabilities and helps them grow toward greater independence while developing the skills needed or the world of work. The programme is uniquely tailored and is designed to be practical, giving participants the opportunity to apply what they learn into their own everyday life and to live as equal and valued citizens.
The programme is aimed at those who may already be in some form of volunteering or paid employment role. At the time she opted to undergo the course, Sarah had already started out volunteering in the shop and café at The Usual Place, which enabled her to initially grow in confidence in a hospitality role. When the chance to further hone her leadership skills came along, it was an opportunity that she simply could not turn down.
Sarah told The Leaders Council: “Starting as a volunteer at The Usual Place was a good experience because I got to try different areas of the café. I started in the shop because it was quieter than in the café. It allowed me to gain confidence and enabled me to reduce my anxiety when speaking to customers.
“Starting in the shop area allowed me from a distance to observe what was going on in the café, but still feel part of it. As I became more confident, I was happier to explore the café and interact with other members of staff and customers. Once I had grown gain confidence working in the shop, I was encouraged to have a go at volunteering behind the counter in the café. Here I was supported by a member of staff who mentored me in learning how to make hot and cold drinks, as well as prepare cakes and scones for our customers. From there, I was encouraged to try other café tasks and eventually progressed to having a shot in the kitchen, learning how to bake and prepare food.
“When I was offered an opportunity to take part in the Inspiring Scotland and SCLD Future Leadership Programme, I grabbed at it! I felt it would help me to develop skills in team-working and leadership. As the programme was all done through video conferencing, it gave me the opportunity to try something new and gain skills and confidence in speaking on a different platform. It helped me to build my resilience when things were not going the way I wanted them to.”
Reflecting on some of the key lessons she’d taken away from her time in the programmes, Sarah revealed how it helped improve her communication skills, her ability to pass her own knowledge on to other young learners, and her ability to remain calm when in charge and use her personal judgement to resolve problems that she may encounter day-to-day in her role.
“I have 100 per cent developed my communication skills. I am aware of how I talk to people and listen carefully to what they are asking me. These skills have been valuable when training new young people, staff, and volunteers. I can now share my knowledge of how to undertake a task and complete it fully.
“It has also made me aware of how a lack of clear communication can increase a person’s anxiety. Unclear communication can make a person feel confused and upset and this could lead them to withdrawing or stop them from volunteering in the café which we do not want.
“These programmes have also helped me when left in charge. They have shown me that I am good at staying calm and can use logical thinking to sort out problems. I use good team-working skills to enable everyone to complete tasks. And, when speaking to people I start with addressing them positively to keep their morale high.”
Having successfully undertaken the Inspiring Scotland Future Leadership Programme, the launch of the government’s Kickstart scheme in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic opened the opportunity for Sarah to stay on with The Usual Place in a permanent managerial role in the café area. For her, it is fitting to be working permanently and leading people within the organisation where her leadership journey started.
Sarah said: “It makes me proud to be working here permanently and to have succeeded in getting employment despite my background. I can now speak to people, lead trainee meetings, take part in research projects and help present findings, such as the Resilience Research project that I took part in with The Usual Place, the University of Glasgow and the Scottish National Centre of Resilience.
“Programmes like Inspire Scotland and the Kickstart scheme have proven that with the correct support and encouragement, everyone could possibly have an opportunity to succeed. We need to be looking at more of this, getting more young people involved in initiatives such as these and better distributing opportunity.”