Last week I met up with the lovely Katie, design director of The Amazings – an organisation I stumbled across when browsing my Facebook news feed one day and I literally said to myself “this is amazing!”. The Amazings are men and women who have a lifetime of skills and passion and are now running fun and affordable courses in Hackney, thanks to the help and encouragement of Katie and The Amazings team. Courses include Retro Up-Dos with Michael, Foraging with Terry and Knitting Masterclass with Bernadette and cost from just £10.
We caught up with Katie to find out who The Amazings are, and what’s their story?
Here’s what Katie had to say about this amazing social enterprise:How did you get started?
The Amazings started last summer when I was working for my previous company as a researcher and designer. We got some money to work on start-up projects. The concept which actually got us the money was for a community swap. So, say my mum lived in Birmingham and I couldn’t give her the care I needed like picking up milk, I would find someone in Birmingham to do that and I would find someone in London to do the same for, so a kind of swap of care.
I was one of the three entrepreneurs on the project, along with an intern Nikki, and then Kate another intern. My background is in design and research and we did a little bit of research and basically as much as these people do need care, like meals on wheels, they actually make up a small percentage of the population of over 65s. What we were finding though was really talented, passionate, amazing older people that even at the age of my nan for example, 86, were still doing good things, with a network of friends, like running galleries, WIs or the University of the Third Age…
So are The Amazings all retired?
We initially were just going to work with the retired but when we started doing the on street research what we found was a variety of amazing people who wanted to share their skills, but there wasn’t an easy way for them to do it, a platform. We then found people that had just gone into retirement and basically found themselves at a loose end. They didn’t know what to do. What’s really interesting about it is people often see retirement as an amazing end goal, it’s great that they can do what they want but actually sometimes it’s not planned and they find it really difficult to handle, they don’t have that group or circle, they don’t get that feeling of achievement or purpose and being needed.
Were there any issues along the way?
We realised very quickly the actual barriers of putting on events. We were helping someone, giving them the confidence to do it, giving them somewhere to do it, working out how much to charge – the whole package. The venue was a real barrier though, some people didn’t want to do it in their home. You know I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel going to someone’s house really randomly. So what we spend a lot of time doing is negotiating with the venues and convincing them to put on amazing events for free.
We also found that everyone is different and needs different levels of support. Some of them, like the forager Terry, he was pretty much already set up. He’d been running his own food walk thing, not necessarily foraging, so we approached him and said, “do you know you can make some money out of this? It’s a great way for you to fund raise for your charity.” So he’d already got the park but what we did was say “you’re amazing…” Whereas some people really do need the full support to get going.
It will be interesting when we scale up because we see it as more of a kind of movement, and hopefully people will see others are doing it already and slowly it will get easier to find people and venues too.
How do you finding Amazings?
It’s really quite incredible, I think going from the initial project room we found our first amazing in three days! My concern was that we would just find knitters and jam makers but everyone is actually completely random and varied!
So you’ve got the up dos, the foraging, sewing, dancing…. The up dos guy Michael is actually my hairdresser and he was washing my hair and asked me what I was doing these things and I said, “oh I’m running this thing called the amazings”, he was like “oh my god I’ve got this flyer on the fridge…” (we’d been handing out flyers) “oh I was going to give you a ring!” He’s a bit different, he’s a bit younger and he’s still working but he’s great.
We’ve contacted a lot of organisations, clubs, libraries, and we go and talk to them and tell them what we do. We’ve had a lot of people from that. We’ve also had a lot of people get in contact from the articles like Timeout and The Times. Also we’re getting people recommending amazings! We had a father-in-the law the other day recommending someone. I think that’s a difficult one to kind of deal with, we haven’t nailed that one yet. Someone could come in and say “oh this guys amazing and so talented” but then it’s about us trying to ring and say you’re amazing, let us help you.
The other thing is Amazings are telling other Amazings about it! And they the want to get involved, it’s actually quite a nice thing for us to see. The thing is with this kind of project, you need to get yourself involved in the community, gradually embed yourself, be the go-to place for older people who want to do something and that’s what we’re aiming for.
I think what’s great is that the courses are really affordable…
I think that’s what we’re really passionate about, just doing a one off course not a series. Initially the courses will cost from £10 to £30, and it’s like a tapas and you can work on your all round amazingness – one day be doing street photography and the next walking around and learning about the local area. I’m really excited for the street walks. They’re all quite light things you can do with friends and also we sell a lot of the courses as gifts with our vouchers. We had a mum buy one for her daughter as she’d just moved into the area and she wanted her to get to know the place, I thought that was quite cute.
Have you done any of the courses yourself?
Which one is your favourite?
I don’t have a favourite, I’m not allowed to! Terry the forager is the first one I went on – it was really good, really different. I did Michael’s up do course and I did Thai Chi actually. I suddenly realised that if I did all these things, all the things we offer, I really would be quite an incredible person. I’d never normally do Thai Chi but I just thought why not!
Do you know where you want The Amazings to go?
Oh it’s quite difficult, I get at least one email a day asking me when are we going to come here and it’s crazy, these requests are coming from all over the world, Australia, the US… all over the shop, but I think it’s about not over doing it. The thing is we want it to be a real social thing, and we’re going to try running a social evening for the current Amazings, where we meet in a different pub each time – the Amazings can come together, people that might want to go on the course can come and chat to the Amazings, new Amazings can come and learn about the experience of other Amazings. It’s just giving it another dimension of support and not just the website.
We’re getting a lot of press and interest and people contacting us all the time which is really exciting but at the moment we’re just trying to figure out where The Amazings is going to go whilst keeping its focus on being for local people sharing local knowledge. We’ve got ideas and are talking through our plans at the moment so it’s a really exciting time for us!
Thanks so much to Katie for taking the time out of her super-busy day to talk to me and to tell us all about The Amazings. If you want to become an Amazing, or know someone who would, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07946 542 989 . If you want to check out all the amazing courses running at the moment and sign up – please go and visit their website!
We really wish The Amazings the best of luck with the project and can’t wait to see how it grows and expands. We know it’ll be a huge success (it already is!) and it is going to give a lot of people an opportunity to share skills or learn skills that they might not have had the confidence or tools to do.