Gecko Programmes: A 3SC Success Story
As part of 3SC’s ongoing tenth-anniversary celebrations, we’re shining the spotlight on Gecko Programmes – one of our first delivery partners back in 2009 and they have continued to work with us throughout the 10 years. Our partnership has been very special as Gecko delivers true social impact for the young people and the employers it works with.
As one of the first partners to join a 3SC consortium, Gecko has grown into a social enterprise with a multimillion-pound turnover, changing the lives of countless young people and paving the way for success in their careers.
We talk to Pat Cross, Gecko’s founder and Managing Director, about Gecko’s journey and how 3SC’s support has enabled them to grow into the champions of social impact they are today…
In 2008, Pat Cross founded Gecko Programmes following a long career in community work, as an educator and in skills development.
“I became interested in developing a career that helped people and delivered social impact whilst at university,” Pat says. “I left with a degree in Accountancy and Economics behind me, but I also wanted to leave that world behind me too.
I couldn’t see myself working on the accounts for big corporations, reporting on profits and what investors were going to earn from somebody else’s activity. It seemed very non-impactful. So, I looked to set my life on a different course.”
Pat became involved in community groups, predominantly tackling homelessness, before training to become a teacher in further education. Later, a stint at the BBC gave him a taste for the creative industries.
Yet it was whilst working for a private company that provided education and skills support for businesses and employees that he became inspired to amalgamate his wealth of experience into setting up an organisation that delivered training and skills support focused on the media and creative industries. One with social impact at its core.
“Although I was helping people, there was a discord. I felt that the main aim was profit and that this perhaps came above the overall impact for the people and businesses we were supporting. I knew I could do better and build a social enterprise with a focus on social outcomes for the service user, not the investors. I wanted to put people over profit. And so, Gecko was born.”
As a sole trader, Pat offered consultancy and advice to a client-base of companies, voluntary organisations and educational institutions looking to gain government funding for community and employment projects, writing and presenting proposals on their behalf with success. And when the Labour government announced the Future Jobs Fund in 2009, both Pat and his clients were naturally very interested.
However, the Department of Work and Pensions’ initiative came with certain restrictions that would prevent them from being able to take part in the scheme. To apply for the contract, Gecko’s clients would need to be able to provide a minimum of 30 six-month work placements.
“It immediately meant that my fraternity of clients couldn’t apply to deliver any part of the Future Jobs Fund contract. Being able to provide only one or two placements wasn’t enough and wouldn’t have met the DWP’s requirements, no matter how fantastic they would have been at providing the service. It was then that I started to look around at options. I was lucky enough to come across an article by the NCVO about a bold new initiative – a new organisation looking to build a consortium of third sector organisations to deliver the contract. This was the beginning of our partnership with 3SC and the rapid growth and development of Gecko Programmes into what we are today – a public-service delivery organisation.”
As a 3SC delivery organisation, Gecko found themselves able to have a slice of the contract that may have otherwise been monopolised by private corporations and large charities. Yet the results confirmed 3SC’s core belief that public services are best met by mission-driven, people-centric and community-based third sector organisations.
Throughout the course of Gecko’s delivery of the Future Jobs Fund, they placed 225 young people into paid six-month work placements, with just under 60% subsequently staying in employment – a result far higher than the scheme’s national average.
“Ultimately, the results and impact of our delivery of the Future Jobs Fund put us on the map. It gave Gecko a reputation as a quality provider of employment and skills public-services. In the two years, we delivered the contract, it gave us a £1.8million turnover. We could never have fronted this cost without them (3SC). But the support we received was so much more than financial. It was the ongoing operational and human support we received from the team that ensured we could deliver this successfully.”
As the Future Jobs Fund was abolished, Gecko continued to work as a 3SC partner on its successor, The Work Programme, as well as delivering work placements for people with visual impairments as part of the Specialist Employment Support contract. With 3SC supporting them, Gecko has directly helped over 3,000 people through delivering the three contracts.
Yet countless more have benefitted from the social enterprise’s work, now empowered to bid and manage public service contracts independently. Pat makes no secret of the fact that this may not have been possible without the reputational-building partnerships fostered with 3SC.
“Gecko’s partnership with 3SC has probably been the most significant factor in our growth. Today, we have close links and contracts with the Job Centre, The Skills Funding Agency, and many other DWP contracts to mentor unemployed people into work. Could this have happened without 3SC? I’m not sure it would have…it gave us our reputation. It gave us our level of trust. It was because of 3SC we were able to prove that we can not only deliver on a contract but do it with success and meaningful impact.”
Gecko continues to go from strength to strength. In July 2019, they reported to Ofsted that 92% of the young people they group-mentor into employment through their links with the Job Centre go on to find employment. And although Gecko now has a whole team running the operation, Pat still makes sure he’s on the front line and meeting the people benefitting from their vital help.
“When we mentor groups of unemployed young people through the Job Centre, they get given a handbook…it has a picture of me on the front! So, it does sometimes raise a smile in the group when I walk through the door to talk to them face-to-face. It’s something I always try and do, even if it’s just for ten minutes. We may have grown as an organisation, but I always want the young people we work with to know who I am, how they can contact me and that I am always willing and wanting to discuss anything with them. I’d never want to lose that personal aspect of what Gecko does.”
Pat fondly remembers many of the young people Gecko have helped into employment, both as part of a 3SC partnership and independently. What seems pertinent, however, is the long-lasting impact the work they have done has had on those they have helped. From a young homeless man who was mentored into his dream role as a school sports coach where he continues to thrive, to an unemployed graduate Gecko mentored into work at a university as part of the Future Jobs Fund who has since gone on to a high-level managerial role there after a nine-year career.
Countless people have benefitted from Gecko’s delivery of government employment and skills contracts, proving that third sector organisations are best placed to deliver lasting, life-changing impact on those they support.
Editorial by Nick Ford