Tuesday, 12 April 2011

"Life is pregnant with the potential for change"...

Ok I have to get something off my chest because at the moment it sits like a lead weight in my belly. This is my confused thoughts exorcised...

In 2008 I set up Learn To Sea. Learn To Sea was born out of my desire to encourage marine education and because I felt frustrated working on environmental projects within county council. I was unsure of what contribution they had on our environment and what contribution my daily 2 hour drive to Exeter and back made to climatic change. There was something, probably quite alot, that didn't sit right with me as I alluded to in an earlier blog.

When I set up Learn To Sea my biggest area of confusion was not on content, direction or aim or even the dreaded policies, guidelines and insurance jargon - that was fairly evident that I just had to work through it. I knew I wanted to educate about our seas and had an approximate formula to do so and the drive. I was willing to adapt and evolve the business into whatever worked the best with greatest result. My confusion was over funding issues. The majority, if not all, marine educators are funded projects - they rely on short term funds for specific projects or long term funds from statutory responsible organisations which were always under review every year and always with the potential to diminish or even disappear every / most year/s. This culmination of potentials would mean that you would have to spend a considerable amount of time or staffing on project funding - whether that be searching for funds, filling out quarterly submissions or other arduous forms. They also meant that you had specific milestones to ahieve certain outcomes of your 3 year projects. But it would also mean a salary. As an individual person making my own way I just didn't have the time and I didn't feel it fitted my situation. I wanted to evolve. So I am a business not a charity and on a rare occasion I am disappointed about the assumptions that brings.

As a business I have to make sure I offer a service that provides and others will support through word of mouth. I am representative of my business and what I put into my business - it will benefit our seas and coast. Even if not now then hopefully in the future. It gives me drive that I am solely responsible for the outcomes and successes of my project. It, quite simply has to work well or I won't be able to carry on working doing what I love best and inspiring others to do the same. So I am happy at the scale and function of my little business.

I am sure many funded projects are highly specific and have wonderful quantifiable results and success stories. But for me this is kind of counter my belief system. I like to think life evolves, my journey from childhood has evolved. As I learn from one mistake I learn from another success, as I meet one person who puts up a barrier I meet another who opens a door. I love the lack of definitive projections for my future. I love the fact that next year my life may take a wildly different turn from the previous as I make conclusions from my 33 years of experience in this life in this modern day world in the UK and which step I take next. I love the term synchronicity and that "life is pregnant with the potential for change"...that excites me and means there are some amazing opportunities around the corner for me, my environment and our world.

So when I set out to realise my dream for Learn To Sea, it was a culmination of time in academia and also my life and professional experience which meant I was, in some ways, ready to go. But the thought of not allowing my baby to grow at it's own pace and with formulated guidelines on what it should achieve by what date seemed foolish to me. I was also juggling being a full time Mum to a then 3 year old. I needed flexibility - Learn To Sea needed flexibility and I was working alone. (...this is the making of a lengthy blog)

So I got some initial funding through the good people of Unltd for capital costs for Social Entrepreneurs to help set up the project, something in my financial situation I could have never done. I then let my little baby start it's journey and it's been so varied - few bumps on the head but generally the progression has been foreward. It doesn't make me rich but it reportedly enriches others and therefore enriches my life. And I have a very patient husband who supports my marine madness. We have a subsitance life with little additional costs. It has resulted in small projects, school trips, a personal life changing trip to Midway and the opportunity to talk about & share what I love most on national TV. I feel like it has been a great success - not in conventional business financial terms but in some of it's outcome.

So, the reason I am divulging all this personal experience is that I am often left confused. Despite saying what I said at times I feel like the fool. A short while ago I applied for some funds - £5 000 to do some project work which, in my opinion, would have achieved alot. I was told that the funds were too small - I should have applied for more. My initial work experience in Argentina was of a country whose marine biology institutes were running off one PC, a lot of passion and dedication and very little money. I wanted to achieve and evolve at a pace which was beneficial for me and my business that didn't require masses of money.

I don't want to ask for excessive costs I want to get stuff done. I apply for small funding streams to achieve small worthy projects and hopefully encourage conservation. I then talk to colleagues in the industry who are getting into 10,000s of pounds worth of funding or even millions to run projects. I congratulate them, I am glad that they are able to help reach deprived areas to talk to people about our watery world or achieve brilliant research. But I am concerned about wastage. Why does each project need a new laptop - where did the last one go to for the previous post that sits in the same desk. How many staff members are being supported through those funds and what proportion of those funds are allocated to actual work - actual outreach.

This has been instigated by an appeal for a new project which I was called up about. The project is HLF money and will potentially/possibly train teachers, provide resource boxes to schools and facilitate outdoors education (and maintain job posts where funding has been lost). But my simple questions are - how can schools afford to take their kit and go on a field trip? How can teachers take time off to go to any training days? It's a battle for schools to keep teachers in schools with funding limitations. They are so limited with time and funding. They are so stretched as to what they have to achieve when all they ever wanted to do was teach children...me too!

So why can't all of these funds be given to schools to give them the opportunity to pay for transport, to get outside and learn from experience, to let nature teach them the ways of life and let their learning evolve into something beautiful? Let them make their choices of their own experiences...

But then I hit this point where I think I am diving into Maya's world - where people remind me - "Yes, in an ideal world. But this is second best.." Why do we have to put up with second best? Why can't we do the "ideal" thing - have unrealistic objectives and work towards them. It is not impossible to expect to live in an ideal world - we just have to work on it. The very first step is to recognise our shortcomings and move forward. But maybe I am naive and life still has alot to teach me...I'll keep you posted on that one!

I don't feel I have personally, fully evolved in my understanding of this situation to know if I am correct or not but this is my view at this point of time. Maybe, I am a fool but a happy one. I would love to hear your opinions on the whole funding issue - is it time and money wasted or is there a new alternative?

Now I have exorcised my mind I am off to exercise my body - coastal path run...

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