Karen Cruise came to the club to tell us about her enterprise ‘Flourished Minds’, a life coaching company working in primary and secondary schools, and latterly universities, to help students achieve their full potential. This is done by encouraging self-belief and giving the students techniques to set their own goals in life and modify their behaviour to enable them to achieve them.

The Flourished Minds enterprise has been extraordinarily successful. Karen started on her own some seven years ago, persuading Roundhay School to take her on for six months as an unpaid life skills coach. She delivered one-to-one sessions with children who were failing to realise their potential and drifting towards exclusion. The sessions were considered so useful that the school took her on for eighteen months.  On the back of her success at Roundhay, Karen learned how to access ‘social enterprise’ schemes that would provide funding to pay for her going into other schools. With Flourished Minds set up, she was able to apply for other bids from charities. A pivotal moment was a joint venture with a school in Bradford that won a grant of £25,500 which she used to hire other coaches and to expand the number of educational establishments in which to operate.

Over the last three years, Karen has obtained £80,000 in bids, with schools often continuing the funding as they see the value of the work in making a difference to children’s lives. Karen calculates that her expanded team has delivered some 1600 days coaching up to five young people a day.   She concentrates on schools in West Yorkshire but has ambitions to expand her horizons, and is currently working with a school in London. The schools pick out the children to refer to her service. She accepts that not all problem children will benefit from life coaching, but has most success with ‘children who are under the radar, not recognising their strengths, failing for repetitive behaviour patterns, and suffering regular exclusions’.

Karen gives her students self-belief, even when their dreams  may be impossible to realise, like the boy who told her he wanted to be an astronaut. He had expected to be derided, but instead was encouraged to think positively about what he needed to do, and thus came to the sensible conclusion that he should start working harder on maths and science – blindingly obvious to some perhaps, but valuable because it was his own insight.

Karen came across as passionate about her mission, perhaps because her own life experience has taught her not to accept what she thought of as her limitations. She told us that although her mother had tried to instil in her the importance of education, she had been a failure at school, ‘deemed not clever enough for GCSE’ and left school without qualifications. She told a careers officer that she wanted to be a teacher, but was advised to learn short-hand and typing instead.

To her surprise, once entering the world of work, others saw potential in her that she hadn’t seen. From a job as a receptionist at a housing association, she worked her way up over 25 years to a place on the group management team of one of the biggest housing associations in Yorkshire, with a turnover of £25 million. On the way up, she had been persuaded, in spite of thinking she was incapable of learning, to work for qualifications in housing, which after initial failures she passed with distinction. Then as a senior manager, her employers paid for her to obtain an honours degree. It was a proud moment for her mother.

Karen’s life was to take a new direction when her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She gave up work to look after him, and when fortunately he did not die as predicted, she was able to resume work. The Housing Association had previously arranged for senior staff to receive counselling and subsequently to train as ‘life coaches’. Karen realised that these new skills she had learned would enable her to realise her childhood dream of being a teacher by the unconventional means of starting her own business to go into schools and work with young people, helping them to believe in themselves.

As Karen put it to us:

‘I’ve got this passion. I’m the living proof that if you work hard, and surround yourself with the right people, set yourself some goals, think positively, you can exceed what you think and really realise your potential.’

Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:

0113 266 6203