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Social enterprise for deafblind adults wins University’s top business prize

 May 12, 2017 | Simon Jenkins


Third year Theatre and Performance student, Laura Sankey, has won the University of Leeds’ most prestigious award  – The Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award, supported by Michael Collins of Goldcrest Land Plc, who is pictured with Laura at the awards event.

Laura’s social enterprise, Sound Eyedeas, will devise innovative, sensory theatre workshops for deaf-blind adults, which she will deliver at day centres initially in the Midlands and the North of England. She will also use her skills to train day centre staff in delivering more creative activities for service users.

The annual Award is organised by the University’s business start-up service, Spark.  Kairen Skelley, Spark’s Head of Business Start-up said: “The businesses put forward for this, our biggest Award, are all first-class. But creating a worthwhile business isn’t always about financial profit and every now and again, we see a venture that blows us away with the impact that it will have on others. Laura’s plans did just that. Her insight and passion for how she can improve the lives of a group of people with profound disabilities made the judging panel quite emotional! She’s a very deserving winner. ”

Laura’s inspiration came from volunteering at the midlands charity Sense, where she devised a theatre workshop for the deafblind service users. She says: “People who are deafblind find it very difficult to communicate effectively. I was determined to give them the opportunity, resources and space to express themselves creatively. I used lighting for the partially sighted, textures, heat pads for sensory stimulation and saw such an amazing improvement in the services users’ engagement during the workshop.  Their body language changed, became more extrovert and animated, and they really enjoyed themselves. It was extremely rewarding to see I could use the creative skills I’ve learned in my degree to make a difference.”

In 2016, Laura was awarded an Enterprise Scholarship, which provides a package of support, mentorship and £3k to allow her to develop her business idea whilst still studying for her degree. This new award gives her an additional £5k to help turn her plans into reality.

She says: “Financially, the awards I’ve won will help enormously in setting up. It will allow me to learn sign language, buy new resources, props and lighting to enhance the tactile and sensory nature of the theatre workshops, to promote them and travel to meet clients.

“Delivering the workshops at day centres is far more convenient for the deafblind community as it automatically removes travel and accessibility barriers they face and I can reach more people this way.  I want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, to make sure that what I do is worthwhile.”

She adds: “I was completely overwhelmed when I heard I’d won, as I didn’t think I stood a chance. It means a great deal to have such eminent business people believe in your idea.”

Michael Collins, Chairman and CEO of property development company Goldcrest Land plc is now supporting the Award after his friend Sir Peter Thompson retired last year. He said: “I am very impressed with the quality of the business proposals and the enthusiastic presentations of the entrepreneurs nurtured and mentored by the Spark team at the University. These future business leaders are striving to create solutions on complex issues and I have no doubt many of them will succeed.  It is a real privilege to be in their company.”

Social enterprise for deafblind adults wins University’s top business prize