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Norfolk Couple Plays a Blinder

Norwich-based couple, Brian and Victoria Matthews are looking at a bright new future thanks to a scheme which helps adults improve their literacy and numeracy skills. Attending Adult Literacy courses at City College Norwich has given them the confidence they needed to start up their own company, Victoria Blinds.

They both left school at 16, Victoria with a few, “not great” qualifications and Brian with none. Brian had been out of work for two years and Victoria was working parttime for a blind company. With two small children, they felt they really needed to do something that would turn their lives around. Victoria explained: “Being unemployed really knocked Brian’s confidence. We needed to do something that would give him and the whole family a future.”

Initially, they enrolled on locally-run confidence building and ‘heal your life’ courses and from there decided that they should “go back to basics”. So they signed up for the Adult Literacy Level 1 Class run by City College, Norwich as part of the LSC’s Skills for Life scheme. Victoria said: “We loved it. The main thing about it was that it gave us the confidence we needed to move forward. We also had a fantastic tutor, Clare Glaister, who was really down to earth and great fun. It wasn’t anything like I remember my schooldays being.”

In fact, Brian and Victoria got so much out of it that the next year they signed up for Adult Literacy Level 2 and it was while they were working their way through that course that they hatched their plan to start their own business. Victoria knew the blinds business inside out but prior to doing the course she felt she didn’t have the confidence to go into peoples’ homes to measure up and talk to them about what they wanted She was also worried about writing letters and emails to customers. As she said: “When you are working in an office you can always ask a colleague to check a letter or an email before it goes out but when you’re working on your own you don’t have that back-up. Having done the literacy course I knew I’d be able to manage that side of the business with no problem at all.” In fact, Victoria is now so confident of her abilities that she has written all the text for their website at www.victoriablinds.co.uk

Meanwhile, the literacy course was also doing wonders for Brian’s confidence. So much so, that Brian was able to get a job as a coach driver which meant they could use his income to start the business, Victoria Blinds, and grow it slowly. As well as being financially successful, the new venture fits easily into family life as a lot of customers prefer Victoria to measure up in the evenings or weekends when Brian is around to look after the children.

Graham Brough, Area Director, Learning and Skills Council, Norfolk, said: "This is a fantastic success story and I'm delighted that the Skills for Life scheme has been such a help to the Matthews. Improving literacy skills is so important in opening up new career possibilities and we hope that more people will take advantage of the learning opportunities the LSC can provide." Victoria said: “What the Government is doing with this scheme is brilliant. It has helped us so much.”