Nov. 16, 2021

18. Becca Deans MBE


Hear from Becca Dean MBE, founder of The Literacy Hubs, and co-founder of the award-winning The Girls’ Network. In this episode, we learn how Becca’s passion for her home town of Portsmouth, led her to create a fantastic charity that provides disadvantaged children with a supportive and creative space to learn the literacy skills they need to thrive. Make sure to listen until the end of the episode for bonus material. 

You can find out more about the Literacy Hubs here:
Website: https://theliteracyhubs.co.uk/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theliteracyhubs/
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/theliteracyhubs

A transcription of each episode, as well as guest profiles and much more, is available on our website www.sondership.com

Credits
Title music - Buddha by Kontekst https://soundcloud.com/kontekstmusic
Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0
Free Download or Stream: http://bit.ly/2Pe7mBN
Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/b6jK2t3lcRs

Transcript

Becca:

For a lot of these children, when you struggle with literacy, it's really hard to feel like you're good at something and when you've got something that you can show and celebrate, it builds that confidence and self worth.

Danny:

Welcome to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host, Danny Attias. The Sondership podcast is all about hearing inspiring stories from people with purpose and today's person with purpose is Becca Dean, MBE. Becca is the founder and CEO of the Literacy Hubs, which helps communities gain the literacy skills they need to thrive. Their first hub the Pompey pirates launched in September, 2020, and it provides an intensive year long literacy program and unique, creative and adventurous learning environment that inspires young people from the least advantage community to improve their literacy skills and fall in love with reading and writing. Becca also co-founded the award-winning charity, The Girls' Network, along with Charly Young, something that earned both of them an MBE each, they don't have to share it. You can hear about Charly's journey on a previous episode of the Sondership podcast Becca has been listed as one of Forbes, 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs. She is also the winner of the stylist magazine women with heart awards a recipient of a shaping Portsmouth award and was awarded the teach first innovation award in 2012. Becca is Portsmouth born and bred and passionate about putting local female voices on the air. Each week she presents in conversation on express FM, where she welcomes a woman who has achieved incredible things, both professionally and personally in order to share their story, wisdom, and of course their favorite tracks. I might need to start to introduce music to this show. Becca, welcome to the Sondership podcast.

Becca:

Hello. Thank you so much for having me. I love how you said Express as well.

Danny:

Yes.

Becca:

You've got that. Yeah, it's a local radio voice.

Danny:

Well, you know, some talent scout might pick up this podcast one day.

Becca:

You never know.

Danny:

You've got a face for radio Danny, where you waste all this time. Becca, we always open up asking our guests to share the earliest or most memorable Sonder moment. And sonder is that realization that feeling you get when you remember that your voice is not the only voice that's out there, that every random passer-by has got a life as vivid and complex as your own. And people like yourself who are so driven by purpose clearly are tuned into the needs and the stories of others. So can you share with us one of your earliest or most memorable sonder moments?

Becca:

Yeah. Oh, I'm going to go with my most memorable I think. And actually when I really thought about this definition, it gave me goosebumps and it keeps giving me goosebumps every time I think about it, I think it's such a concise and beautiful way to describe a reality that we can often forget. It's really mindful, I think. So when I think about my most recently, actually I had quite a horrible period of being really unwell. I was in hospital a lot. And there was a moment when I was rushed into hospital, I was on a drip in the ambulance. It was awful. I couldn't keep any fluids down. I was really unwell. and I just remember looking around and thinking of all the other people and all of the people that must've been in the hospital feeling I felt. when you're in hospital, you are in a bad way, particularly if you're in A&E and it's sometimes your lowest points and you can feel really alone and think that's just you and you get really in your head. And there was a moment when I was put on this ward and it was, a female ward, there was a woman next to me and we were both just crying. We were both, so, I think, scared. She looked really scared and she said to me, are you okay? And I said, no. And I said, are you okay? And she said, no. And we didn't have to say anything else. We just kind of looked at each other. And it was just that comfort in that moment. And yeah, it was my most memorable sonder moment because it was kind of two people in this really dark place together. And I always think about that woman actually. And is she okay And what happened? And as I was recovering, she was a real kind of prominent figure in my mind. So that is my most memorable, I think.

Danny:

And recent as well. I'm really sorry that you had to go through that and I'm glad to see you're looking well. I hope

Becca:

Yeah.

Danny:

well as well.

Becca:

Yeah, I'm much better now.

Danny:

Excellent. I suppose there's an element of the fear of the unknown, it's one thing if you've broken your arm and you're in A&E, you know where you're at, you know what's coming next, you know, it's uncomfortable and it's painful, but you kind of know the journey that you're about to go through. I had to call an ambulance couple of years ago and, oh, it's really hard. I mean, they were asking me really complex questions like, and how old is your daughter? Oh, I don't know, just send an ambulance. You're just, you know, that state of adrenaline and uncertainty and concern, is really interesting. And, and also when you went through the story, I was wondering which way you would go, because there's thinking about all of the people around you in the hospital. When I'm in that scenario, I'll often kind of think about the, the nurses and the doctors.

Becca:

Yeah.

Danny:

What their lives must be like on a day-to-day basis, clearly exacerbated by the pandemic, but also they normal human beings like the rest of us, right, they've got their families and their commutes and they've got their paychecks and their salary rises, and you just think in that moment, we expect them to be there for us. We expect them to provide us with that service, but there's their whole story that's going on. So yeah, really, really great, and thank you. Thank you for sharing that with us. So Becca you are not only founder slash co-founder of one charity, but as a founder slash co-founder of two charities, both The Girls' Network, and I Pompey pirates, but the Literacy Hubs of which the Pompey pirates is the first hub,

Becca:

Yeah.

Danny:

I want to, I want to definitely hear more about that, but let's start with, going back to the beginning. I know you used to be a teacher. What was your journey to teacherhood.

Becca:

Yeah, I think about this a lot because both my parents were teachers, and they taught in state schools, quite deprived state schools across Portsmouth. My Mum, an English teacher, I went on to become an English teacher and my dad and was a primary head teacher, and I always said I'd never wanted to be a teacher. I think it was probably thinking about it, that thing that young people do where they want to do the total opposite their parents. But, I think deep down I was inspired by them and, I felt proud of them and I don't think I understood that I was proud until I was older. um, I remember kind of walking down the high street with my parents and ex-pupils stopping them and saying to them, you know, oh miss, you know, do you remember me? Thank you for those amazing lessons. I'm doing this now. I'm doing that now. And just that pride on both sides. And I think probably deep down, I thought I want a bit of that, but that's how amazing is that? And like that impact that, that you can have on people. But yeah, I didn't really say that I definitely wanted to be a teacher, but I think education and working with young people was probably something I always wanted to do.

Danny:

yeah.

Becca:

yeah. And then went to university and then did teach first, which is a graduate.

Danny:

What did you study at university?

Becca:

So I did sociology and politics at university? Yeah. And I think I was really interested I suppose, in people and society. And I really focused on social policy within my degree. I think that's what attracted me to then apply for teach first because, they class it as a graduate scheme. But yeah, you're placed into areas, or schools that are particularly challenging and quite deprived communities.

Danny:

And did you meet anyone interesting on your teach first training course.

Becca:

Yeah. I mean, so many, I suppose, one particular. in particular. Yeah. Yeah obviously Charly and she's, she was amazing. We met, we were both pasted in Northwest London, so we were teaching a Wembley Leavesden area.

Danny:

And that's, that's where I come from, by the way.

Becca:

Yeah. It's such an amazing community actually. I absolutely loved living there loved my time teaching there. I think the children there are really, really special. There's something about the community in Wembley that I loved. So Charly and I ended up living together in our second year, which was intense and fun, with a load of other teachers as well. And yeah, that's sort of how The Girls' Network was born really through our conversations, about the experiences of girls in our classroom. I was teaching an all girls school, Charly in a mixed school. And we, yeah, we constantly had conversations about, the aspirations of the girls and the barriers that they faced, and often the lack of self worth, and what we could do about it. And I think those conversations organically, became The Girls' Network.

Danny:

As, part of your teacher training, you're actually put into the schools and you were seeing not only what you could do within a school and to help kids as a teacher, but you're also seeing a gap in the system and an opportunity to take it further is that right.

Becca:

Yeah, it was that gap that really stood out. And I think that frustration that, looking back at when I went to school, it's a very normal state school in Portsmouth and thinking, why is this still something that needs to be done about it. And yeah, so we saw that so many of the girls that we were teaching just lacked confidence and self belief. So they would say things to us like, oh, I'd love to be a doctor. I'd love to be a vet, but they never thought that they could actually do it. And they also didn't know how to do it. And then, also it was inexposure. They didn't necessarily have the networks. And we talk a lot about you can't be what you can't see at The Girls' Network. And for a lot of these girls, they didn't see professional working women. And I think Charly talked on her episode about, when we took a group of girls in central London. And one of them asked us why a woman was wearing a suit. I think that is just the, kind of epitome of why we set that up to give them that exposure to women that were doing amazing things. So they could then think that they could do it as well.

Danny:

That's really lovely and that story in particular, just puts you into that mindset of how can they not see? And we should talk about the five C's in minute because I've, heard you talking about this in the past and I'll test it to see whether you can remember all five C's are, but how they don't get an opportunity to see, women in particular doing these professional roles in their environment. And so if they don't see that how do they, how can they genuinely believe that they can become next lawyer doctor, vet, astronauts? Every young boy who grows up wants to be an astronaut and every young girl as well now, hopefully. by settinB this up, you've created this environment, which gives them an opportunity to success. pop quiz, what are the five CS Becca?

Becca:

You're really testing me. So the five CS are the lowest paid currently in the UK. I think they are catering, clerking. Is that right clerking, cashiering? catering, clerking, cashiering, cleaning. Am I on three?

Danny:

I think you were on four. We could maybe call it. The truth is, I don't know the answer. So anyone listening to this needs to Google the five C's but it's a really good reference point. And if that's all you ever see, then that's all you ever know and you don't aspire. It's not, you don't, but it's much harder. So with The Girls' Network, obviously you are setting people up for success. So that was kind of London-based to start with. And of course that's gone more national, hasn't it. But you've said a couple of times here you are Portsmouth born and bred Portsmouth and proud. So you're back in Portsmouth now and you're setting up another, charity so tell us about that.

Becca:

My new charity is called the Literacy Hubs, so, we work with communities, to help them gain the literacy skills that they need to thrive. And Portsmouth, obviously as you said I'm passionately Portsmouth. and, this charity came about through, I suppose, conversations. In Portsmouth, there's a real gap or a dip, I suppose, in literacy levels between primary and secondary school. So that key transitional period, between children moving to secondary school there's a big drop off of children living in poverty. So receiving free school meals and then literacy levels lowering. And of course, if they don't then have those literacy skills, they then can't access the secondary school curriculum and that's fundamental to succeed in life. And I kept being in conversations with key stakeholders and the city and trying so many different things, talking about it. And nothing really worked and, yeah kind of looking for someone to do something. so I took on that challenge, I suppose, and spent time talking to stakeholders and really understanding the gap, talking to parents, talking to teachers and the community and, and trying to find a solution that would really, really work. Our first hub is the Pompey pirates. So it's in the heart of the city, it's in a ward called the Charles Dickens ward, which has a really high levels of deprivation So at 44.8% children in Portsmouth in that Charles Dickens Ward live in poverty.

Danny:

And when you say live in poverty, you measure that through free school meals? How do you define that?

Becca:

So we use an kind of index reference. It looks at kind of, various indicators of, of poverties though. Things like children on free school meals, kind of, income, children kind of families and long term unemployment, as well as those kind of, uh, a number of factors we look at, but it's an area where there's real need and real low levels of literacy. And so, I spent a lot of time talking to the community and we have, the Pompey pirates now, which is, it's a ship, it's a pirate ship and it's based on three things. So this fantastical out of the ordinary learning environment that the children might never normally have access to. And part of the things that were coming out of the conversations with children and parents is they know they needed to catch up, but they didn't want to be pulled out of lessons. They found that embarrassing. They didn't want the kind of, traditional kind of handwriting, scrappy bits of paper that got lost. They wanted something that was fun and interactive. So we kind of came up with this idea with this incredible pirate ship. And then the children work on published projects. So every term they, they work on a published project with real tangible outcomes. So the first is a book, and yeah, they it's published and showcase in the local bookshop. The second is a radio show say they, write speeches and about the environment that are actually played on local radio station. And then the third is a films that they produce, short films, and they're shown it at a local cinema. And then the point of that is that it's real tangible outcomes, but a chance for the community to come together and celebrate.

Danny:

So you, are getting them to learn, you're getting in this kind of amazing environment, but you actually get them to, to, ship their work. So write stuff, create audio, create video, and put it on display in the community so they can see that they can create something that, that then becomes real that is seen and then they can improve on it and get better. And that it has value. that's huge, right? That's slightly different to painting a picture at school and putting it on the fridge. that's going 10 levels beyond that showing how, I mean in this world of self publishing or Amazon, or god-forbid creating your own podcast, you've got this ability to show them. And this is age, you said, transition from primary to secondary. So like 10, 11 years old, that kind

Becca:

Yeah. Yeah.

Danny:

12. Right? So that's exciting. I'm thinking, how far's Portsmouth can I get involved? How can I get involved? How can I get down there? I want to be on this pirate ship.

Becca:

Yeah, you're very welcome. And I mean, you summarize it really well. It is, the pride that they have when they have their work published and it's a real quality book, all of their work is in it. and obviously it's sold in a bookshop and what we do is we aim to get it out before Christmas and they can give it as gifts, and presents for Christmas, to family members, but yeah, it's real pride. And for someone that has struggled with writing and feels like they can't do it, and they've written themselves off to then be an author and to have something that their work is in it's so important for them and they feel special and like they have a voice and that it's almost sometimes that transformational impact that they need to then be able to access literacy and feel that they can do it.

Danny:

Amazing. So tell us about the incredible volunteers that make all this happen. Assuming you're not doing it all by yourself, Becca.

Becca:

I wouldn't, I don't sleep a lot anyway. Yeah. We could not do what we do both at the girls network, but at the Literacy Hubs, without our volunteers our volunteers at the Literacy Hubs, we call them crew mates. So they come and support the ship and yeah, they work one-to-one or in small groups with the children. And that's what makes a big impact in terms of academic attainment when you work in smaller groups and one-to-one, and so they're, they're incredible. yeah, they give that time and we have people, from students right through to retirees full breadth and depth of roles people that just love reading and and come and share that passion with the children and we get them to do crazy things. We have things like pirate commands to get the children's attention. So we say things that attention deck and everyone salutes and says, aye aye captain. yeah, they have to do great and wonderful things. Yeah. Yeah. incredible.

Danny:

Thinking about your volunteers. In fact, it was one of your, volunteer mentors from the girl's network who also lives in Portsmouth, Karen Bates, who, has listened to this podcast and thought immediately about yourself and Charly and the work that you've done around the girls network and said, you have to reach out to them. I want to hear them on your show. So, your volunteers are clearly spreading your message far and wide as well, which is, really brilliant. There's not enough learnt or said or done about the that volunteers personally derive from the act of volunteering. We always think about volunteering as kind of being a one directional thing. Isn't it great. They're giving up their time to help other people, but the, the emotional, psychological of volunteering are huge and certainly encourage anyone listening to think about where they can get involved in things and volunteer that they will benefit themselves. Not just that the charity or the organization that they're volunteering with.

Becca:

I think particularly at this time of COVID and pandemics and lockdowns, community has never been more important. And I think a great way to get involved in your community and, meet others in the community and connect to your community is through volunteering.

Danny:

So let's find out a little bit more about Becca MBE, you mentioned about talking to key stakeholders in the city and now you're on a different level now, right? So you are MBE, co founder of a really successful charity in the girls' network. pretty well-connected and, and part of well, by definition, the Girls' Network you've grown your own personal professional, both network. And how you're able to use that to your advantage. How does that, feel being, I don't want to say so influential because I don't want to, you know, embarrass you, but you are so influential, you know, you're having a direct impact on thousands of lives their families. But how does that feel for you being in this position where you're able to get funding, policy, make a difference in people's lives?

Becca:

Wow. I've never really thought about it. I don't see myself as influential.

Danny:

Spoiler alert, you are!

Becca:

Yeah. Do you know what I It's really interesting doing it a second time. What's great is being able to, put all my learnings, you know, all the successes we had, obviously all the failures and the challenge we had and, and doing that a second time. It's, it's really interesting and actually maybe more enjoyable, because you kind of have that, that confidence, behind you. And when we first started The Girls' Network, we were young, we were in our twenties. And it was yeah, good time ago and, and doing it a second time. And that network that Charly and I both have now, it's just been so crucial to our success and we couldn't have done it without that network And I'd say it's so fundamental to being a successful entrepreneur, particularly when you're starting something in a community, you can't do it alone. You have to have that network of people that you can bring with you. Enable you to collaborate with, and it would enable you to do things better and faster. So it is really important to nurture your networks and make them feel involved in what you're doing.

Danny:

Becca there's always a risk here that when we hear stories such as yourselves, you're your own, they sound linear sound a bit fairytale. they sound so about success. And clearly, my parents are teachers, so I became a teacher and then I into teaching and I saw the gaps. So I created the mentoring network and then I moved on to do a literacy network. and of course, things are never linear and you don't really know how things are going to pan out. And they only look linear when you're at the end of the road and you're looking backwards and you go, oh, that's how I got here. And so what I'm really interested in is you talked about some of the failures. what are the downs as well as the ups? Have you got any of those stories that you're willing to share?

Becca:

Yeah, for sure. And someone early on in our careers described, I think it was CEO of teach first actually, Brett, he's the founder.

Danny:

Hm.

Becca:

And he talks about being an entrepreneur. And actually, I think being a teacher, you experience hills of happiness and valleys of death. And quite often you talk about your hills of happiness, but you've never gotten to the place of death. And it's really important and I wouldn't have been able to set up the second charity if I hadn't had valleys of death or haven't had an experienced failure because it's that almost gave me the passion to do it a second time. I think the, one of the biggest learnings was, being a leader when you're so young. I'm really passionate about talking to young entrepreneurs because, think it's a challenge when you're young, because there were times when I felt under extra scrutiny because I was so young and that imposter syndrome was so real. And I think I felt, when I was younger, a real need to kind of follow what I thought was like theoretical leadership ideals, and I remember like loads of leadership books and management books and kind of going into later talks and, CEO courses, and wanted that even though I was young, I was a really good leader and could follow, those kind of theoretical ideas, but now I'm doing it a second time I feel like I've scrapped that completely and just do what feels right and authentic to me, and creating a culture and an environment based on, what I want, and what I know is right for my team in order for them and the organization to thrive. And I think, yeah, it was that imposter syndrome really early on that, I had to battle with, and then Charly and I learned a lot. I mean, it was incredible. Co-founding something together because you experienced those highs and you experienced those lows together. it's hard when you also get to a point of scale. It's really hard for both of you to really thrive and flourish because we had similar strengths and diff- different strengths and those similar strengths both of us couldn't it was hard for us both to do those things as well. so yeah, it, that was a huge learning to.

Danny:

And how, how has it then felt trying to set something up on your own now.

Becca:

I reflect a lot on, on the, kind of the, the challenges of doing it on my own and, and yet having a co-founder. I miss sometimes there's moments when you hit a certain milestone and I'll would have naturally kind of Charly and I would have celebrated that together. And when you're at the top and the CEO, you kind of like Yay, by yourself. So it's those moments I miss, but what is really nice is it's given me the confidence to do it and to kind of have my own lane and, and yeah, it's a really nice feeling.

Danny:

it's interesting because even though the people close to you will celebrate in your success, they don't really understand the win, each time. Whereas in that case where your co-founder with Charly, she understands it because she's part it and you can celebrate together. So if we go, oh, that's good. You know, well done that you got some funding, I suppose. If you get funding for 10 million pounds, everyone goes, yay,

Becca:

Yeah.

Danny:

it's something tangible. But if you say I've got agreement from the council to use this space, to build my pirate ship, They have no idea how hard that would have been to secure that space and get the funding to do it. So I can, I can really relate to that. Okay. So that's really brilliant Becca, and interesting that you talk about how, it was really difficult when you were starting up because you were so young and you were trying to teach yourself about leadership, but you reflect back, I mean, I remember when I recently looked you up and saw that you and Charly were both MBEs and I'm like, oh wow. And then I saw your pictures, when were these photos taken? Oh no, they are really still quite young. So with all of your wealth of experience, even though you're still incredibly young, do you look back at that startup Becca and say, oh, she had a lot to learn, you know, look at how much she's grown as a leader and as an entrepreneur.

Becca:

for sure. I think we've always got a lot to learn, particularly as, entrepreneurs and when you're starting something You should always be learning, but yeah, I really look back and think, wow, the difference, particularly when you've done it again,

Danny:

Yeah.

Becca:

you, you do things and you think, oh Yeah. I've done it that way because I made that mistake last time. So, It's, it's amazing to look back.

Danny:

I suppose what I was trying to get out there is it, it helps understand why you would have come under more scrutiny at that time, but really, the responsible thing to do for those people is not to over scrutinize you, but to over support you to over encourage you and give you the opportunity to learn and grow, as you go along. So, I mean, there's, there's definitely something there about, you know, it's not about, puppy training. It's about getting people to have an opportunity to learn from their own failures as well What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs people listening who are trying to follow their own purpose?

Becca:

I I suppose, yeah, I've got three bits of advice. So yeah, first it's kind of mentor get a sounding board, get a really great board or advisory board of people with skill sets that aren't necessarily yours, that you can learn from, and make sure that you have a diversity in your income streams. I think particularly charities and social enterprises fail because they rely on maybe just grants or one source of income, and it's really important to have a diverse income, and also go for it and believe in yourself and go with your gut. I look back and think, oh, I wish I just did that even more. Totally believe in yourself. And when you've got people around you that will give you feedback and support you, you'll flourish.

Danny:

Brilliant. That is fantastic Becca, me where can people find out more or get in contact with you and the Literacy Hubs.

Becca:

So we are on all socials, the Literacy Hubs with an S on the end, and we're theliteracyhubs.co.uk as well.

Danny:

We'll put those links in the show notes of this podcast, and all that's left is to say thank you so much, Becca Dean, MBE for being a guest on the Sondership podcast.

Becca:

Thank you so much for having me. Portsmouth is a coastal community, it's an island.

Danny:

Hold on Portsmouth is an island,

Becca:

Yes, I know.

Danny:

But the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Wight's an island, is Portsmouth an island?

Becca:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I know it's such a good geographical fact. I think when you grow up in Portsmouth, it's something you learn about maybe at school.

Danny:

Yeah.

Becca:

and there's such a rich history in Portsmouth.

Becca Dean

CEO and Founder

Becca is a former English Teacher and the CEO and Founder of The Literacy Hubs (@theliteracyhubs on all socials). The Literacy Hubs helps communities gain the literacy skills they need to thrive. Their first hub, The Pompey Pirates launched in September 2020! The Pompey Pirates provides an intensive, year long, literacy programme in a unique, creative and adventurous learning environment that inspires young people from the least advantaged communities to improve their literacy skills and fall in love with reading and writing.

Becca is also the Co-founder of the award winning charity The Girls’ Network. In June 2021 Becca was awarded an MBE in The Queen’s birthday honours list for both her work with The Literacy Hubs and The Girls’ Network. In 2017 Becca was listed as one of Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs. She is also the winner of the Stylist Magazine 'Women With Heart' Awards 2017, been featured in The Independents 'Happy List', a recipient of a Shaping Portsmouth Award and was awarded The Teach First Innovation award in 2012. Becca is Portsmouth born and bred and passionate about putting local female voices on the air. Each week she presents 'In Conversation' on Express FM where she welcomes a woman who has achieved incredible things both professionally and personally in order to share their story, wisdom and of course their favourite tracks. Becca believes that coordinated, local, action to raise literacy levels, will lead to increased educational attainment, employment and economic engagement across the city.