When Comic Relief awarded more than half a million pounds to Plymouth University last year, it marked a new beginning for both the institution and the charity.
The first instance of the biennial appeal awarding funding to higher education, it also enabled the University to forge a partnership with an established social enterprise in eastern Africa, taking its mission to transform lives and adapting it for one of the poorest corners of the planet.
Almost six months later, the University and its partners are ensuring the funding is having an impact.
The two-year project – funded with £535,484 from Comic Relief – sees the University working with an international partner, the Farm Shop Trust, and one of Plymouth’s existing partner colleges – Duchy College in Cornwall – whose rural business network has been identified as an exemplar model for supporting rural entrepreneurship.
Using their collective expertise in social enterprise and business growth, they have already analysed the current set-up as part of their mission to develop a sustainable and commercially viable supply chain for agricultural inputs across its network.
A number of new shops have opened in Kenya’s Kiambu County, and the team have also begun to train and educate farmers and students in the communities, with a view to creating jobs and opportunities in an area where youth unemployment is a major problem.
Since the funding was awarded in September 2014, the Plymouth team have twice visited Kenya to gain first-hand knowledge of the communities they are trying to help and the challenges they face.
Dr Bob Newbery, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and Development at Plymouth University, said:
“Going out to Kenya and engaging with the local people was a really amazing experience. We wanted to do a survey to show the current situation, but before we could do that we had to go in and have tea with the chiefs of each community as their backing gives you a sense of legitimacy. In some cases, the initial reception was a little frosty but we were able to convince them our work had the potential to positively impact on them and their communities.”
During visits in October and February, Dr Newbery and Duchy’s Dr Stephen Roderick selected two towns and two smaller villages for the initial research project, which aims to assess a number of factors about existing community life.
Through their surveys, they hope to gain knowledge of farming yield, wellbeing, children’s education, social demographics, entrepreneurial and leadership skills; poverty levels, nutritional levels, and farming practice and knowledge.
Two of the four selected communities are among those scheduled to receive new farm shops, and the impact they have on all of these areas will be analysed as the project continues.
Dr Newbery adds:
“Next year, we will go back and assess the impact of the new farm shops on these communities and their people. But we will also be able to continue the work we have already done in training people to staff the shops, as that is another key focus of our work. The new shops already have franchisees, but shop assistants must be qualified to a certain level. Also there is a big problem with youth unemployment, so what they are doing is talking to young farmers and training them up.”