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From 9-5 to entrepreneur | Joanne Cook, Uplift

Uplift supports unemployed individuals to progress and develop into work. We caught up with founder Joanne Cook to find out her secrets to success after seven years in business...

By Beverley Park

How can we describe Joanne from Uplift? I’m not sure motivational quite cuts it, it doesn’t feel enough.  With her high energy, pink lipstick and big dreams she’s perfect for the work she does. Her optimism knows no limits and it’s infectious to be around.  No wonder her learners go on to succeed.

April 2012, April Fools Day, in fact, Uplift started out in business.  Some might consider this an interesting launch day, but Uplift’s motto is, ‘fools for some but not for us’. Visiting Joanne and her team at their Sunderland office was such a wonderful experience.  Uplift support unemployed individuals to progress and develop into work.  The environment, facilities and true passion for everyone to succeed was clearly evident. The ‘everyone has potential’ attitude was a sheer joy to be around. 

Joanne, how would you describe Uplift?

Uplift is a place where nobody is judged and everyone is supported to achieve their potential. Uplift is unique in its approach to learning and stands out because of our people and passion.  We offer a safe environment where people have the opportunity to identify and overcome barriers which may be stopping them in life. Everyone has strengths – it’s our job to help identify them and make our learners realise how amazing they are. We help to change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’. People make such transformations while they are with us. It’s lovely to see the people they become after investing time in their personal development.

Tell us about your career path?

Leaving school, my options were to either start a Youth Training Scheme programme or work in a factory. I started working in an administrative role, but I didn’t really understand what I enjoyed, I had never engaged in any personal development.

I started volunteering after having my second son which introduced me to advocacy, standing up for what I believed in. I worked with other parents and listened to what they wanted. This resulted in me working in the local community, in deprived areas supporting locals and parents. I was introduced to personal development and found it to be like electricity. Working with people and understanding their needs gave me lots of ideas.

Starting Uplift we were told there was no funding, it was the wrong time, that we shouldn’t do it. But I couldn’t, I had to go with my gut and I knew that I could help people. I’m so glad I did as I love my job, I love what I do. Uplift is everything I want from employment. Part of my dream is to share that feeling with my staff and learners. Imagine having a job where you feel part of something you enjoy, where you know your worth and you are listened to.

What made you quit your day job and start your own business?

The lack of autonomy frustrated me. I was restricted and not always able to provide the level of support needed to learners. I have a passion for helping people to see their full potential and self-worth. When you support someone, when you believe in them and they actually start to believe in themselves, it is truly amazing to see what they become. There can be a lot of judgement but I’m not like that. I like to think a bit differently. If you are not happy in your job, then do something about it. You have the power to do that. So I did.  I started Uplift.

How do you stay so motivated?

I engage directly with the learners which helps me to see their achievements. I like to create a nice relaxed environment and love to see people enjoying what they do. It makes me so happy to spend time with the team and listen to what they have enjoyed. The stories we hear about the learners we have helped is so rewarding. I love to push myself out of my comfort zone. If someone said to me you will not be able to do that, I see it as a challenge.

What’s your advice for anyone considering going from employee to business owner?

Believe in yourself. You can do it. If you didn’t do it, what would you lose out on? Listen to your gut feeling, I am a big believer in what you think and feel is what you will attract. It is the Law of Attraction.

What’s your personal ambition for 2020?

To continue to have a happy work/life balance. We have a solid foundation to take Uplift to the next level. To do this, I need to grow too. I would love a mentor who has the same passion for what we do. I want to also see both staff and learners grow too, see them achieve their dreams.

Two quotes to live the Uplift way…

 “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” (Confucius)

“Plenty people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it” (William Feather)

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