For Emily Shenton, co-founder and director of Arrival Education, positive change is the name of her game. She sits with her team at Mindspace Whitechapel in London, delivering on diversity and inclusion programmes in the workplace, as well supporting disadvantaged young people on their path to success. We find out how the coworking way of life has helped re-energized her company, her team and – most importantly – herself (or perhaps it’s just the colourful, furry walls that line the Mindspace hallways!)
Tell us a little bit about your company?
We are Arrival Education and we do two things: we help businesses deliver objectives in the areas of diversity and inclusion and social impact and we support switched on socially and ethnically diverse talent (aged 14 to 24) from underprivileged communities, mainly in London, – but we also work in other parts of the UK and Ireland- to achieve career and life success. For businesses, we deliver Social Impact/Corporate Responsibility programmes, Early Years’ Talent experiences, Coaching Skills training and Leadership Development programmes which help them become more inclusive and diverse. For the young people, we offer access to the knowledge, insight, networks, and mentors that kids from more affluent homes receive, which can make all the difference in terms of career success. Everyone wins.
One most important tip for new startups.
I have worked in startups for 13 years now and, from my experience, it is extremely important to keep an eagle eye on your cash, whilst making sure you understand how you can bring real value to your customers. That’s how we’ve stayed in business for eleven years, through some very difficult economic times.
One mistake you made that you will never make again.
Trying to hire in a mid-management team in a rush. None of them worked out, it was really expensive and it was a bad decision!
If you weren’t the Director of Arrival Education, what would you be?
I love to travel so in my fantasy parallel life I would do something involving travel.
What are you listening to at your desk?
The music that is playing at Mindspace! I used to use headphones, but I don’t anymore. During the first part of my career, I would always have headphones in (long before it was as acceptable as it is now!) to help me focus. In our old office, everybody would have headphones on and it wasn’t great for office culture because it isolated everyone from each other. I’m fine if people want to do it and they want to switch off, but now I actually prefer to be more actively involved in what is happening around me. I would much rather work in an interactive, community-oriented environment, which is what Mindspace helps cultivate.
If you could choose to have a dinner party with three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
I’m really interested in women who have shaped the world and pushed at the boundaries – so I think Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart and Rosa Parks would be fascinating, although I’m not sure how they would all get on!
What is the one thing you look for when hiring a potential employee?
I search for people with a strong desire to add value to the organisation. They may not have all the solutions and answers but if they really want to help make AE a success and contribute then that gets my attention.
Why have you chosen the Mindspace way of life?
\We had our own space for quite a long time – three and a half years. And it tied us in with lots of overheads that kept going up in in cost and were difficult to keep track of! So I think it’s extremely beneficial that Mindspace allows us to be able to control our costs, because you know what you’re paying each month. After a tough few years in the business, when we lost 60% of our revenue in a 6-8 month period due to changes in government funding, we all felt like we needed a change of scene. Being somewhere like Mindspace, with different companies and people, and lots of opportunities to learn and connect has really helped to energise us all again.
What are your thoughts on our Whitechapel space so far?
It’s cool! I feel like I’m in a funky, cool library/Soho House membership club. It’s been really nice to meet new people, connect with them, and learn from each other. I look forward to continuing to expand my network here and get new ideas.
Do you think that coworking is changing the way we work? How do you think it is going to impact our future?
Yes, I think it is. It gives you the chance to meet new people and learn about different business models, which helps you think differently. I think coworking has a positive effect on the way that smaller businesses can handle their finances too – keeping costs fixed is really helpful as does having flexible terms. After going through the stress and cost of getting out of a five-year lease I’m not sure I ever want to go back to that model! For a business of 20-25 employees, I don’t see why you would want your own space and all the complex, costly things that come with it.
Favourite spot at Mindspace?
I like the general communal area! The decor is beautiful and it’s where most interactions happen. Actually, I do have a favorite wall! It is where there are some storage cupboards, one of which is covered with a textured, furry wallpaper, which is quite nice to the touch! It’s pretty therapeutic! I also really like the meeting rooms, particularly the one with fabulous grey Moleskine chairs. Those are great!
Three things you wish for your company this year…
Development of a really exciting three-year strategy – we had to wind down a big part of our business due to government funding cuts which was really tough, and I think we are all ready to set some new objectives which are all about growth. Celebrating success – It has been a really difficult few years. We have a great team, and I would love to be able to really celebrate them and their hard, loyal work over the last couple of years. Finally strong cash flow growth through securing new partnerships. We want to use all the insight and experience we have gathered over the last eleven years to help more companies deliver their objectives in Diversity and Inclusion and Social Impact.
Wrapping it all up
I’ve had to learn a lot. I’m a “doer” and I’m going through a transition which our team has really helped me with. My job now is about creating the conditions for our brilliant team to flourish.