Cambridge wildlife photographer and Big Issue seller Mark Siequien is bursting with ideas for the small business he wants to set up. Stored on a computer hard drive he has 10,000 images of wild animals in South Africa, taken when he worked as a volunteer at a primate sanctuary two years ago. Mark envisages his images enlivening children’s clothing sold from a stall in Cambridge market, greetings cards in gallery and museum shops, and a website to promote his work. With the help of NEC and Big Issue Invest, Mark is starting to make his ambition become a reality. The future hasn’t always looked as positive for Mark as it does now. After periods of homelessness and struggles with drugs and mental health, he has a place to live. Earlier this year, he married Anita, whom he met in South Africa. Last week, Mark and former Big Issue vendor Harry Bowyer were each presented with bursary to fund courses with NEC. Mark will be studying Business Start-up and Harry is enrolling on Art Techniques.
Social investment in learning
Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, helped finance the work of the NEC via Impact Loans England, a £5 million lending scheme aimed at enabling social enterprises to access loan funding of between £20,000 and £150,000, launched in 2016. The programme is funded through the Growth Fund, which is managed by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, with funding from Big Lottery Fund and Big Society Capital. Big Issue founder Lord Bird spent several spells in prison as a young man and received his basic education while behind bars. As he explained to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire recently, the status quo isn’t working for people in terms of housing, health, education, and mental well-being.
NEC argues that when it comes to education, an individual learning entitlement is what would make a difference to homeless people who want to get back on track with their education.
A lifelong learning entitlement
The idea of an individual learning entitlement has been part of education policy thinking since the 1960s, when it was championed by NEC founder Michael Young. The entitlement would be put into a learning account and accessed when the learner was ready to use it. Such an approach would open up lifelong learning and break down the age-related framework which front-loads funding for 19-24 years olds.
NEC is looking forward to watching Mark and Harry see their confidence grow through learning and new possibilities open up for them. The support hundreds people throughout the UK are receiving from organisations in the not-for-profit sector, including NEC’s work with Big Issue Invest, is challenging the status quo that so troubles Lord Bird. There are thousands more people in the UK like Mark and Harry, just as keen as they are to study for qualifications and take charge of their own futures. A greater emphasis on broadening access to education would be an important step forward for them all.