In 2015, Breathe was selected to take part in a unique development opportunity that helped us achieve some of our crucial goals in the journey from a small social start-up to an award-winning and trusted partner of the NHS. Looking back, the mentoring and support package that Breathe received from the Big Issue Invest Corporate Social Venturing Challenge helped us make the next step in our growth development. Breathe spoke to James Fairweather, Director of Big Issue Invest Scotland, about what his encounter with Breathe meant to him – on both the business side and personally.
Q: How did you meet Breathe?
I was first introduced to Breathe at a presentation that Yvonne gave to potential investors and mentors at a conference arranged by Big Issue Invest. In my ignorance, I had never heard of the condition hemiplegia and I was hugely moved by the video that Yvonne showed of children attending the Breathe Magic Intensive Therapy Camp for Young People with Hemiplegia. I understood little of the condition but I could immediately see how isolating and, for a young child, how frustrating it could be not to be able to carry out what I would consider easy daily tasks.
Q: How did that match with Big Issue Invest’s philosophy?
Our approach is one of care and support for those in challenging circumstances. Big Issue Invest look for social entrepreneurs who make a difference to their cause through the creation of a sustainable business. Critical to Big Issue’s philosophy is that it’s a hand up, not a hand out. This in particular seems to fit really well with the work that Breathe does. From an impact perspective, Breathe makes a significant and sustainable difference and, although investment was in the end not needed, Breathe is a business we are very proud to support. With Yvonne’s permission I spoke about Breathe and the Magic Camp at several subsequent events at which I happened to be talking.
Q: Did you see the magic in action?
I kept in contact with Breathe’s progress and was invited by Yvonne to see what was going on at the camp for myself. I arrived on a beautiful summer’s day in London and was met by two young mentors, Josh and Laura. They introduced me to the concept of the two handed handshake and then explained to me the way that the camp was set up and structured. I was shown the doors that had to be opened with two hands, the magic box which required two hands to access the tricks, the cartons that could only be opened with two hands and so forth. Laura explained to me that young people with hemiplegia typically will not use the affected hand or side, and this camp was centred around encouraging the use of both hands to increase dexterity and flexibility. Both Laura and Josh had attended a camp in the past and had seen the amazing benefits of ten days of intensive magic. Josh explained to me the way that magic has unlocked doors for him both physically and socially, and how determined he was to support Yvonne and the team through volunteering as a mentor.
I witnessed ten young people being taken through varying complexities of magic, every young person focussed and trying their hardest, and the magician taking the time it needed to help the trainees on their journey to become a magician.
Q: Was there a moment that stuck with you specifically?
Breathe has introduced me to aspects of hemiplegia that I had not considered but which, if overlooked, create vulnerability. For example, I heard the story of a girl who through her parents unstinting care had grown up unable to dress herself. Now 19 years old, she had qualified for university and the idea of her leaving home and having to rely on strangers to help her dress left her at risk. After attending the Breathe Magic Intensive Therapy Camp this young woman was now able to dress herself and live more independently.
I know there are many other aspects of hemiplegia that I will never consider. What is extraordinary to me is that I know that Breathe will have them covered. As a parent myself seeing a vulnerable child is always a moving, concerning experience. What I saw at the Magic Camp was children in difficulty, frustrated, embarrassed, angry and isolated released through the power of care and magic into a new world –and that was truly life changing.