Helen O’Brien runs Perth-based Creative Catalyst Scotland, a social enterprise which supports young people into creative careers.
After establishing and running a similar two-year pilot project for young creatives as part of the lead up to Perth Creative Exchange and The Famous Grouse Ideas Centre opening, Helen decided to take the model of forward and founded Creative Catalyst Scotland.
Q. How and why did you start in business
I am a freelance artist and arts educator, specialising in sculpture.
After working in arts development in Perth and Kinross for 15 years, I went back to university to do a Masters degree in Arts and Humanities.
I knew I wanted to bring together everything I had learnt over the years including working with young people in the visual arts, and had already piloted a similar creative employability programme, so I knew there was a need.
Creative Catalyst was launched at the end of 2019 to support young people who face barriers into creative industry training, jobs and careers in Perth & Kinross.
Through delivery of live projects we offer hands-on work experiences with professional artists, alongside supporting the health and well-being of individuals who are struggling to find a focus for their creative skills and ideas.
Q. How did you get to where you are today
By sheer hard work and never forgetting that you should always love what you do and do what you love.
My passion for visual arts and having spent so many years working with young people, I could see the potential of a social enterprise which could support young people who know they are creative but don’t necessarily want to go to college or university.
Q. Who has helped you along the way?
I have a fantastic board of directors who support, challenge and believe in what we do.
I’ve also had amazing support from GrowBiz, whether it’s preparing a business plan to networking to find a web designer or navigating access to financial support. #
I received start-up funding from Firstport and advice from Just Enterprise, which has been invaluable.
Q. What was your biggest mistake?
I probably underestimated the shift in mindset needed to go from working for large, public sector organisations to setting up and running a social enterprise.
Q. What is your greatest achievement to date?
Getting Creative Catalyst up and running, alongside completing my masters and home schooling in the midst of a global pandemic!
Q. How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
We haven’t been able to work face to face with young people which, for some individuals, has really impacted on their progression.
As a brand new business, it has been difficult to access funding and support which has really affected cash flow.
In the meantime, we have been focusing on back room stuff, planning ahead, and making stock of creative products for sale through our online shop.
Q. What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I want to establish Creative Catalyst at Perth Creative Exchange as a base for creative opportunities for children, young people and adults.
We have so many amazing creative practitioners in Tayside who can inspire the next generation of creatives through teaching, sharing and mentoring.
Another key goal is to develop a creative industries apprenticeship programme based at Perth Creative Exchange.
Q. Do you want to recruit in the future?
Absolutely. The business is reaching the stage that I need help, especially admin support.
The nature of the projects we deliver are based on young people’s needs and interests, so we are always looking for freelance artist and designers to deliver specific training and projects.
Q. What is the hardest thing about running your own business?
Generating your own income.
I’ve been using the time during the pandemic to do some important development work.
I’m very mindful of how important it is to build a sustainable business which will deliver an income both for myself and future employees.
Q. Any advice to wannabe entrepreneurs?
Just do it! It’s so important to love what you do and that will be your driver.
Also work with people you respect and admire, as we need to be happy and healthy in our work environment.
Q. How do you relax?
I live in highland Perthshire, so I’m surrounded by stunning scenery, and I get outside walking to soak up this scenery as my recharge of choice, which kept me grounded especially through lockdown.