Bridget Klubien

By Bridget Klubien

The end of 2009 saw drastic budget cuts to community education in schools. Of 212 schools that had Adult Community Education programmes, 150 had their funding entirely withdrawn. Without funding the vast majority closed their programmes immediately. A few continued to employ their coordinators on salary to see if they could cover costs - most found this unsustainable.

The programme at Western Springs College was the only one to be transformed into a privately owned social enterprise.

At the time of the funding cuts I had worked (from home) as coordinator for six years. I was now facing redundancy. As a sole parent I was eager to continue working from home. I calculated that if the Board would rent me the school rooms for $5.00 per hour (plus GST) I would be able to continue the programme. Supported by Principal Ken Havill, a loyal supporter of community education, the Board agreed.

I set up my company, Leisuretime Learning and continued the programme for a further seven years.

Courses were shortened, fees went up and my remuneration went down, as did the school’s income from room-hire.

A logo was created, a website built and I adopted a cloud-based event management platform (Arlo). Now I could accept enrolments on line, including credit card payments and most communication with students was automated. Programme brochures displayed the Leisuretime Learning logo as well as that of Western Springs College.

I now worked the evenings myself, including locking up. I learnt how to keep my own accounts, make PAYE payments, and complete GST returns and financial statements. I used Adobe Creative Suite to make my own posters and bought public liability insurance to mitigate the risk of accidental damage to the school.

Initially there was a drop in enrolments but from 2011 onwards the programme generally delivered 110 courses attracting 1100 enrolments each year. I introduced a “money back guarantee” which promised a full refund to any student who was not “delighted” with the first session of their course. Fortunately my tutors were excellent and refunds rare.

Unrestricted by the constraints of receiving government funding I now chose to enrol secondary school students as well as adults. Courses included Cooking, Sewing, Pilates, Yoga, Retirement Planning, Silkscreen Printing, Interior Design, Photography, Xero and so on. I usually had twenty tutors and one school student (Classroom Preparation Assistant) on the pay roll. Marketing on a low budget ($1500 p.a. plus GST) was my biggest challenge. I learned how to use Mail Chimp and was grateful to the managers of five local supermarkets and the local library who allowed me a prominent place to display my brochures for a month prior to each term. Social media was an important area for future development. 

The event management software and bank fees associated with credit card payments together cost nearly $6,000 a year. My income dropped to $22,000 p.a. but I gradually built it up again and for the past two years it has exceeded $30,000 p.a. At 25 hours a week I earned $23-$25 per hour, however the business paid internet, mobile phone, mileage and home office expenses. I loved being autonomous and derived personal satisfaction from delivering what I knew to be a valued community service.

To anyone considering this kind of endeavour, two factors stand out as being fundamental to success. The first is reliable access to suitable facilities at low cost (e.g. cooking facilities, sewing machines and computers) and, if you are working with a school one needs a principal who is will defend the value of community education against its detractors. Use of the facilities should be assured with a written agreement including notice required for termination.

I estimate it would take between one and two years to build a programme like Leisuretime Learning from scratch to a level that is self-sustaining. A one-off establishment grant of say $50,000 would optimise the chances of success (to subsidize the coordinator’s income, pay for office equipment and software and especially to pay for advertising. A further $20,000 the following year would be useful.

Such a start-up would nevertheless rely on the goodwill of the school and the co-ordinator. They both need to be willing to accept below market rates for their contribution.

After thirteen years it is time for me to have a change. The school is embarking on New Zealand’s largest ever school rebuild and the decision has been made to close the programme while building is in progress.

Leisuretime Learning may resume under a new Director in 2019 when construction is complete.