• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on - Bianca Andrew

At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Bianca Andrew Director of Place of Progress – Semi-independent accommodation for Care Leavers. Chatting about her advice to anyone starting out and handling business during a pandemic.

Business background

I am Bianca Andrew and the founder/ owner of Place of Progress (POP). We provide accommodation and support to Looked After Children and Care Leavers, aged 16+. We have homes in Lewisham, Greenwich and have just opened a new home in Hillingdon.

Over the past 14 years, I have worked with voluntary and statutory sector organisations and assisted hundreds of vulnerable men, women and young people with their mental and physical health, substance use and offending behaviour.

Too many care experienced young people go through the system without the appropriate level of support, no sense of belonging, being moved from one placement (home) to another and therefore not given the opportunity to thrive.

When a young person comes through our doors it is so important to us that they feel a sense of security and belonging and not that we are going to ask them to leave because they have been ‘disruptive.’

Essentially our aim at Place of Progress is to counter some of these experiences, help our young people address their trauma, break the revolving door cycle and achieve both positive and sustainable outcomes. These changes do not happen overnight.

What made you choose this career/industry?

I am naturally quite a compassionate person and like to help people. I find it easy to relate to others who ‘have a story.’ It would be amiss of me not to mention that I was born to teenage parents, my mum was a 16year old single parent and my dad who was 18 never accepted responsibility. I would often see him when visiting my grandparents and he barely ever spoke to me. Needless to say, this led to feelings of neglect, abandonment and insecurities that I did not fully understand as a young person growing up.

I studied Psychology at University because I was always curious about human behaviour and why people behave in the way they do. I became really fascinated with Forensic Psychology in particular, which looks at the factors that contribute to offending behaviour and the methods used to work with offenders.

After Uni, I got a job in the Psychology department with HM Prison Service in 2006 and was given a caseload of life-sentenced prisoners to engage with as well as offenders whose crimes were drug-related. I very quickly realised that a high proportion of those in prison was care experienced, had been abused in childhood and suffered from trauma. It was at this point that I just wanted to be involved in delivering interventions to help people and over the years have worked in a range of settings with the same client groups.

In my most recent employed positions, I was managing accommodation based services (supported housing, hostels and temporary accommodation) and felt disappointed by the lack of aspirations of the organisations for the young people and adults we were supporting. I was being told by my managers that my standards and expectations were too high and it did not make any sense to me. Why would I not have high expectations of people that I am supporting to make changes in their lives? The rest, as they say, is history. I knew at this point that I had to set up my own services and organisation in order to have the freedom to deliver the standard and quality of support that is needed.

Overcoming setbacks

Working in a predominately all-white institution and constantly being worn down by discrimination and unconscious biases. I applied for funding to support my Master’s degree (in Forensic Psychology) and was turned down, but my white colleague was awarded the funding a few months prior as were all the other psychologists in my department for the exact same course. The Head of Training and Development gave my Head of Department a very lame excuse as to why, but there actually was no justification for it. I was quite young, this was my first job after graduating and I did not have the confidence at the time to challenge this. Thankfully it did not set me back as I funded the course myself and they gave me a study day, but I should have received the same opportunity as my colleague.

I think what they intended to be a barrier actually made me work harder and achieve a good result. Sometimes, if things come too easy, you do not always appreciate it, but as I was paying for my own course to the tune of a few thousand pounds, there was no way I was going to fail or not give it my all.

Life lessons

To be confident and believe in me. At the start of my business journey, I had a business partner which did not work out. When the business partnership broke down I was not sure that I would be able to achieve the end goal, yet I persevered in hope that it would. With every small goal that I achieved along the way, my confidence grew and here I am today. Even though things didn't work out with my business partner, I do not have any regrets. It has taught me a lot about myself and was a reminder that I need to believe in me.

3 top tips

  1. Gain as much experience as possible both on the front line and in managerial roles. I would not have the skills and knowledge that I have now to successfully support young people in my own business, had I not done the jobs that I have.

  2. Strive for positions and job roles that you may feel under-qualified for. The challenges that come from that will serve you well, even if you only get as far as the interview stage. You will learn something from the process.

  3. Talk to as many people as you can, grow your network. You never know who is connected to someone that you may be able to help or who may help you.

To anyone starting a business I would suggest getting a mentor and support network outside of your immediate family and friends circle – it is very important to have people around you who can be objective and honest, but also ambitious and who can inspire you to keep pushing on when things get tough. Do not let not knowing everything slow you down or stop you from getting started on your business. It can be easy to get bogged down in detail and wanting everything to be perfect. You will learn as you go so it is important to just get started.

Business strategy during COVID-19

I launched my business 23 days before the country went into lockdown. Like many other business owners, I could not believe what was happening and was quite anxious initially at the prospect of having huge overheads, no income and not being able to provide the services that I had worked so hard to set up.

I called my mentor, Bianca Miller-Cole in a state of panic and she gave me lots of ideas that I could try to mitigate against this. In the end, it was a case of holding my nerve and preparing the business as much as possible for coming out the other side of Corona.

Unfortunately in the Social Care sector, even a global pandemic is not going to stop children and young people from going into care or needing a safe place to live. As we have seen in the media, incidents of domestic abuse and violence have increased, calls made to childline and domestic abuse support lines have increased and more children, women & men have been killed by violent spouses/ parents.

Although the demand for services such as Place of Progress was significantly reduced during lockdown, they have now started to increase and as soon as restrictions were eased, we admitted our first few young people into Place of Progress.

In terms of running the service on a day to day basis, we cannot avoid contact with our young people, but we have put measures in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. For example, more frequent cleaning, encouraging our young people and staff to observe Government guidelines, a temporary ban on visitors to the home and less interaction between staff as we have ensured our work can be accessed electronically where possible.

Struggling to remote work?

It is really important to be part of a supportive network. Business can be lonely at the best of times so having people around who understand what it means to be in business as well as the related challenges, can make a positive difference.

I am part of a group of fellow business owners who meet daily online every morning at 5:30 am and we use that time to work on our individual businesses. We also have a What’s App group which we use to support each other, share our business-related struggles and seek out solutions.

If you enjoyed this blog check out more just like it here. Check out the Place of Progress website here and Instagram and LinkedIn.

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