Farr and away the best on offer

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Sir Alan Sugar's apprentices could learn a lot about entrepreneurial spirit from the finalists in this year's YES competition

If you're looking for garden furniture, now's the time. There's an excellent small company in the north of Scotland which has a really good range on offer.

You can find them on the internet or place orders by telephone: reclining chairs and footstools for lounging in the sun, beautifully handcrafted in local pine and cedar, and very comfortable. Deliveries to your door are not a problem as they come in flatpacks, easy to assemble.

All you need to do is key in "Farr Woodcraft" and you'll find pictures of the products, testimonials, an online brochure, and details of how to order.

You have to dig deep, though, to get any inkling that "this is no ordinary company," as they say; this has a postal address at the technology department of Farr High in Bettyhill. But don't let that put you off - it is an award-winning company, expertly run, with a revenue already in excess of Pounds 6,000. With prices of Pounds 80 to Pounds 160, these chairs are bestsellers in the region - "well designed, well built and extremely comfortable," writes DH of Inverness; "beautifully made chair, very high quality," says JC of Thurso - and now they are set to go "transnational".

It's astonishing what school pupils can achieve these days. If Alan Sugar's apprentices need a lesson in how to succeed, they could do no better than travel up to Bettyhill. These kids don't need to apply for a position as Junior Apprentice, never mind the adult version - they're already on their way. And what's more, they're running night classes for any adults who want to learn how to make their own chairs.

Last Wednesday, this year's Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) awards were announced at the Fruitmarket in Glasgow. The hall was packed with 17 companies, finalists aged 16 to 18 from regions all over the country, who told their tale through their trade stand, business report and presentation to the judges. From Zenith in Shetland (runner-up), selling children's activity books with story CD and pens out of Brae High, to Forte in Stirling, selling "quality music band products and services" out of Stirling High, the creativity and business sense were outstanding.

There were companies organising talent and fashion shows (Fa5hion), event management (JeaNious), Standard grade maths notes on USB sticks, online and in hard copies (Spotlight Enterprises), handcrafted wooden scarves and baby booties (Process) . The ideas were endless.

All the enterprises were supported by a link teacher in their school and a mentor from the business world. Sponsors of the competition came from major organisations in education and business - Skills Development Scotland, Learning and Teaching Scotland, Scottish Power, Citi, SEPA, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, William Grant and Sons, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Institute of Directors.

If the pupils in the room impressed these judges with their initiative and drive, there was still a strong message for them, delivered by the outgoing chairman of YES, Tim Allan. It indicated clearly the direction Young Enterprise Scotland wishes to develop in future.

Praising the young companies' grasp in previous years of the need for sustainability, water saving, wind farms and, this year, wood, he said they were "perhaps the best equipped generation Scotland has produced - which is very good news because you've never needed to be better prepared".

Sixteen per cent of 18 to 24 year olds in the UK were, he said, unemployed, and unemployment was expected to pass the three million point. "The national debt of the UK is unsustainable and you're going to have to sort it out."

But however important the role of business and enterprise in facing those financial challenges, he wanted to drive home the fact that YES is a charity, and works with young offenders at Polmont and Cornton Vale, young teenage girls in Edinburgh who have been working in prostitution, teaching them about business and learning to speak in public.

"They've been left behind in society - that's not acceptable. That's Victorian, Dickensian, and we have to address that," he said.

"We want to see young people create wealth and harvesting it for the better good of all people.

"Can't we do something here? That's the question we have to ask ourselves as a charity. Go tonight and celebrate success, but remember - if you wish to take this challenge, it's there.


Chairman's award for partnership working - Polmont Young Offenders Insititution

Teacher of the Year - Elizabeth Stirton, Albyn School, Aberdeen

Environmental award - Eclipse, Nairn Academy, Highland

Trade stand 2009 - Zenith, Brae High, Shetland

Business report 2009 - Zenith, Brae High, Shetland

Presentation 2009 - Farr Woodcraft, Farr High, Highland

Young director 2009 - Grant Finlay, Spotlight Enterprises, Belmont Academy, South Ayrshire

Company secretary 2009 - Kevin Lalley, Fascination, St Ambrose High, North Lanarkshire

Overall company of the year - Farr Woodcraft, Farr High, Highland: Lorna Stewart, Jamie Lewis, Harris Mackay, Calum McEwan, Murdo Beaton, Jonathan Macdonald, Craig Mackenzie and Daryl Mackenzie; teacher David Charnley, and Paul Lewis from Ben Loyal Hotel, Sutherland.

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