A thriving business at their finger tips

7th January 2011 at 00:00
A social enterprise scheme in Renfrewshire is taking a nail bar run by pupils into schools and the local community

Fishnet, polka dot, flags of the world and blue lightning with silver snowflakes are just a few of the designs that adorn female fingernails nowadays. Males too are getting in on the act.

Aidan and James, both P1, finally reach the front of a long line of youngsters at Bushes Primary in Paisley, and are admitted to the nail bar run by senior girls. They are greeted with a smile by Morgan Campbell (P7), who invites them to choose from an array of small bottles on the table just inside the door.

"I want pink," Aidan tells her decidedly. James shoves him and giggles: "You can't have pink. That's for a girl." Aidan shoves back and says: "I don't care. I like pink."

"That's what we'll give you then," Morgan tells him kindly. "Are you sure you don't want pink, James? It's lovely." "Nah, I'm not a girl," James says with scorn. "I'll have blue. With sparkles."

It's a good choice. This is Sparkles Nail Bar after all, set up and run entirely by pupils and now in its second year of operation as a thriving social enterprise - one of a small network of schools and a college that has grown up in Paisley around the unlikely, but highly viable, idea of nail salons in school.

"School enterprises usually get off the ground because of some enthusiastic teacher," says Bushes head Moira Monaghan. "Not this one. Last year four P7 girls asked if they could set up a nail bar in school. I could imagine the mess and complaints from parents when their children came home with damaged uniforms, but I didn't want to dampen their enthusiasm. So I told them they could use the maths bay on Friday lunchtime, as long as they didn't create any problems."

The girls didn't. Quite the reverse. The social enterprise they created a year-and-a-half ago has survived and prospered, generating hundreds of pounds to send to a link school in Kenya, as well as to Unicef, Haiti, Erskine Hospital and Children in Need. "The girls had no wish to spend their profit on themselves," says Mrs Monaghan.

They were keen, however, to find funding to replace materials that don't last long in a busy nail bar - as well as to enhance their technical and business skills. So they gladly accepted the invitation from Wilma Leburn, Renfrewshire's enterprise co-ordinator, to compete in the Dragons' Den she was launching for school social enterprises.

"Like the other primary schools that made the finals, the Bushes girls blew me away," says Mrs Leburn. "I went out and worked with them, so they were comfortable facing the Dragons. They were so business-like, so well prepared."

A visit by the Bushes girls to Reid Kerr College helped them to hone and develop techniques first gained from mums and friends. Senior girls at Paisley Grammar went to Bushes to work with the younger ones and share the advanced skills they were learning in school from Reid Kerr beauty lecturer Tracey McLaughlin.

The grammar school girls were themselves successful in gaining support and pound;1,531 funding at the Dragons' Den for their own nail salon social enterprise, Glamour at the Grammar.

"Fifth and sixth-years had been getting two periods a week of beauty - City and Guilds Salon Services - as part of a six-period enterprise and employability course," Mrs Leburn says. "Some were keen to start businesses when they left school, so I suggested they form a social enterprise and enter the Dragons' Den."

The girls were keen, says Paisley Grammar's acting depute head, Jean Brierley. "They had already raised almost pound;100 doing teachers' nails during our health day, which let them see the possibilities. They never intended to keep the money for themselves, so they welcomed the Dragons' Den idea."

Having learnt about sustainability from Mrs Leburn and the Dragons, the grammar school girls began visiting other schools to spread their skills. "They made several visits to Bushes and Ralston primary schools, as well as Kersland School for pupils with severe learning difficulties," says Mrs Brierley. "They were going there again to help pupils look good for their school dance.

"Bushes already had their enterprise, but our girls were able to teach them about layout and hygiene, as well as hand massage, which is a lovely part of a manicure."

There is great satisfaction in working with people's hands and nails, say the grammar school girls, many of whom intend to pursue it as a career. There has to be, because their enterprise - called GS Stars this year - takes around four hours a week of their own time, they say.

"When you have finished their nails and people tell you they like what you have done, it makes you feel good," says Kerry Green (S5).

"Pupils in Kersland don't often get their nails done, so they were all excited," says Ashley Heywood (S5). "I like going to different places like that and making people feel good just by doing their nails."

Several girls mention the technical aspects of nail treatment. "There are a lot of steps to remember," Kerry says. "And when you are doing it for somebody else, you don't want to mess up."

Stray hairs can be stressful, says Chloe Craig. "You think you have done the job and a wee hair floats down and sticks to the varnish."

Conversing with clients is important, she points out. "Tracey told us to start with Coronation Street or East- Enders for older people. With the young ones, it's Westlife or Justin Bieber."

Chatting with the children at Kersland or the older people in the local care home isn't always easy, says Ashley. "You just be yourself and see if they want to talk to you. Some don't and that's fine."

The nails enterprise has been widened this year, explains teacher Ian Ellis, who runs the S5-6 enterprise and employability course that the beauty lessons are part of. "We got them to set up an events management enterprise, with a focus on nail and beauty treatments at the events. "So they learn skills from the college lecturer and last year's girls, then they go out and organise events for charity. They raise money to replenish their product by doing school staff's nails. That means they don't have to charge the care home. It makes it sustainable. They want the experiences they are enjoying to continue."

Continuity comes from students returning to the course in sixth-year to learn other specialist skills, such as sound engineering, and to share enterprise and employability sessions with the nail girls.

"I was part of the team that did the presentation to the Dragons last year," says Beejay Craig (S6). "I'm ordering all the materials online this year. Another two S6s are doing the finance and accounts. There is a lot to learn. Going to Bushes and Kersland and the presentation to the Dragons was great experience. It made us feel older."

Events such as the Hallowe'en rave and a forthcoming St Valentine's Day disco broaden their skills, says Ashley. "You discuss and decide what to do. Then you see what is involved in organising them."

Marketing is a vital part of any enterprise, adds Chloe. "We are making loads of posters. We have set up a Facebook and a Bebo and are building a website. We are also starting a club for the first-years, so they will want to do this when they get to fifth-year."

What makes the enterprise so enjoyable is that it doesn't feel like school, says Kerry. "We are not sitting writing. We are learning to do nails and beauty and teaching other people how to do it. We are doing stuff that makes people feel good."

Back at Bushes Primary, P1s Aidan and James have left the nail bar, feeling good and looking good, having chatted to Morgan, while she was doing their nails, about school, snow and Christmas. "I love working with the wee ones," she says. "They are so funny.

"You can get lots of detail on nails now, especially if you use Minx," she explains. "That's like foils you heat up and it sticks to the nails. It is quite artistic."

Lunchtime over, customers satisfied and a well-earned pound;21.50 added to the funds, the Sparkles girls return the nail bar to a maths bay, with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

"We were interviewed for our jobs in the company by last year's girls," says Isla Greenshields (P7). "So I'm chairperson this year. We've had lots of training from last year's girls, the girls at the grammar school and Reid Kerr College.

"Mostly we do simple stuff on the young ones. But we have been learning about Minx for our own. It's complicated, but it looks great."

Sparkles is more than just a nail bar, says head Moira Monaghan. "It has empowered our children and demonstrated that they are capable of directing their own learning.

"It has brought smiles to the faces of the children who run the business, their customers, staff and parents - and hopefully some comfort to the children in Kenya, who benefit from our girls' enterprising spirit."




Carrying their equipment in a medium-sized metal box, the Paisley Grammar girls take just a few minutes to walk to Nightingale House Nursing Home, where the residents, seated in high armchairs, greet them with smiles.

The weekly visits that result in nails painted to match cardigans and complexions give the residents a boost, says Christine Caldwell, Nightingale's entertainments co-ordinator. "You see them admiring their nails when the girls have gone, and the contact with the outside world is important.

"The first time the girls come they can be a bit shy, and some of our residents need help to communicate. But the girls chat away to them now. I couldn't have done what they do at their age. We do have a pampering service that comes in once a month, but a lot of our residents don't use it because they have to pay."

Leaving brightly-painted nails and satisfied customers, the girls pass by on their way back to school. "Will you do my nails next time?" Mrs Caldwell asks.

"Of course we will," say the girls, closing the front door behind them.

"They are so compassionate and gentle," says Mrs Caldwell. "Our residents love it when they come here. Their faces just light up."

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