Award-winning college wears its success well

Forth Valley wins plaudits for encouraging small businesses

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On the face of it, Denim Daisy may sound like an aptly feminine name for a business selling handbags made from old jeans. But the entrepreneur behind the name is distinctly masculine: David Crossley, a 46-year-old who looks every bit the tattoo artist he used to be.

After suffering a nervous breakdown, he set up the business as part of the Campus Crafts initiative, a social enterprise project aimed at changing public perceptions of people with disabilities and mental health problems.

Mr Crossley is one of about 10 people taking part in the scheme at Forth Valley College, which last week became one of the first further education institutions to win an accolade in the Social Enterprise in Education Awards.

The annual competition was launched in 2008 by the Scottish government in partnership with the Social Enterprise Academy. It has now provided training for more than 1,200 teachers at some 500 schools to support student-led social enterprises with turnovers of up to pound;50,000.

Mr Crossley, who is about to start an HNC in community work, is the first college student to turn his idea into a business. "I had a breakdown about four years ago and it took me a while to get back on my feet," he said. "Being in a classroom with others who have their own issues, it became more of a social network which has really helped me.

"I brought in a pair of jeans one day and they taught me to sew so I made a bag out of them. I started selling online about six months ago and pretty much as soon as I make something someone buys it. It's a slow burn, though, and I'm competing against [big names like] Etsy and eBay."

As for the name of his enterprise, Mr Crossley revealed that a personal story lay behind it. "I was trying to think of a name for the business that was about denim and me, and because my brother couldn't say my name when he was young, he called me Daisy - so I used that," he said.

May Mallett, lecturer in access and progression at Forth Valley College in Stirling, set up Campus Crafts five years ago.

"I think the award will create a better understanding in colleges of the benefits of this kind of project," she said. "It's only four hours a week, but they learn how to create a product, about marketing and presentation and gaining the confidence to sell, even if it is only to friends and family."

Ms Mallett added that with small community firms also selling through Forth Valley, that helped to build relationships between the college and business.

At the other end of the scale, the Paisley Pre-5 Centre in Renfrewshire became the first nursery to win one of the Social Enterprise in Education Awards. Children as young as 3 have been working together on a "kindergarden" project, selling seeds and making birdboxes to improve the natural environment for the community.

The centre's acting headteacher Julie Munro said: "They are only 3 or 4 but the children have already won a Dragons' Den-style schools contest [held by Renfrewshire Council] and they understand things like the fact that you need money to buy materials."

Sandra Ewan, a spokeswoman for the awards, agreed. "We are very strict about these projects being pupil-led and there are amazing things happening in the nursery sector now," she said. "Children of 3 talk about seeing people sleeping on the street and wanting to help them."

Read more on enterprise schemes in next week's issue

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