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Peel Primary Food Co-op

They may be only nine and 10 years old, but eight West Lothian schoolchildren are ticking all the boxes as Scotland strives to raise levels in education, social awareness, enterprise, ethical practice and good diet.

Above all the primary six pupils are demonstrating through their own social enterprise – a food co-operative and healthy eating café – that children can have their confidence, self-esteem and academic performance boosted by giving them a challenge which develops their basic life skills.

The project at Peel Primary School in Livingston is based on the Curriculum for Excellence approach and is the brainchild of Principal Teacher Janice Nisbet. She came up with the idea after taking a course in Understanding Social Enterprise at the Social Enterprise Academy and visiting the remarkably successful Kibble Education and Care Centre in Paisley, which works with young people with a complex mix of problems.

“I was absolutely blown away by what I saw there”, says Janice. “I thought they have found a great way of building people’s confidence through skills, life skills in particular, and it made me think we could do something here. It was similar. We had common ground.”

That was a little more than a year ago and since then Peel Primary has seen its food co-operative and then café flourish, attracting customers among parents, staff and the surrounding community of Eliburn.

Janice launched the project by inviting job applications specifically from pupils who were shy and reluctant to volunteer or were unlikely to be picked for anything because “they usually kept their heads down.” Five boys and three girls were selected and from the start were given the responsibility of drawing up a business plan, a marketing plan, producing marketing material and canvassing potential customers.

“When we made the selection, the self esteem of these children immediately rose. One wee girl told me she never thought she would be picked, that it would have been another girl who is very bright and breezy, but I saw an immediate change. Her body language changed completely.”

The group was supported through the start-up period by Jay Lamb, a social entrepreneur and a tutor with the Social Enterprise Academy. He says: “The educational potential of this sort of project is massive. We can engage with children in a way that they might not engage with more formal educational practice. They get excited about being part of a social enterprise, which they wouldn’t be if you sat them down and gave them a maths lesson.
“I think that children are natural social entrepreneurs because if you ask them what they want to do with the profits, they don’t have the pre-conceived idea that they should do anything other than help someone else.”

The Peel Primary food co-op and café operate every Friday in the adjoining Eliburn Community Centre, so overcoming the security risks of allowing public access to the school itself.

The children take deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables from CFine – Community Foods in the North East, an Aberdeen-based social enterprise – check the produce and then display it and sort out orders for parents and staff. They even run a personal shopping service for teachers, taking their orders in the classroom and packing them for later collection. They work in teams of four, alternating from week to week, with each pupil taking on a specific task, from working behind the till to helping customers choose their purchases.

Janice Nisbet says: “Having it in the Community Centre, which is used by all sorts of organisations, provides a real opportunity to create a link between the school and the community.

“The group also goes out to make presentations to the wider community and that has increased their confidence immensely. We’ve seen big changes in their academic performance as well. Numeracy has improved considerably but overall the way they view themselves has changed to such an extent that they are now the children who are shining.”

The present group will have a say in selecting their successors in running the business and once they have, they will “buddy” the new social entrepreneurs as they learn the ropes. One girl told Jay Lamb: “I applied because I used to be afraid to talk to people.  Next year, if there's a shy girl I'll help her to do it too". One of the boys said: “I like talking to customers because I can socialise with them and before I was really scared and I wouldn’t talk in class”. They will also be invited to join other schools at the Social Enterprise in Schools Awards Day in Glasgow on June 9. John Swinney, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for finance and sustainable growth will present the awards.

Peel Primary’s next venture, again led by Janice Nisbet, will be to start a Credit Union, working in conjunction with the established branch in Livingston. This project will involve senior pupils at the school, who will design a logo and stationary and will be taught how to keep ledgers. The pupils will also be encouraged to save, particularly for residential trips. The credit union and the training will also be open to adults from the surrounding area, so further forging links with the community.

For further info contact:
Claire Fraser
Project Co-ordinator
Social Enterprise in Schools
Social Enterprise Academy
Thorn House
5 Rose St
Edinburgh EH2 2PR
t: 0131 243 2670



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Company Registration No. 278156. Scottish Charity No. SC 029210