2nd February 2022


Making a positive impact on the education sector


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About James & Jemma

Back in 2010, James and Jemma became part of Wheatley Park’s Head Boy and Girl Team. It was around this time when their school was put into ‘special measures’ by Ofsted. And thus it became the pair’s mission to show that their school was about more than just this ‘failing’. They struck on the idea of renting out Wheatley Park’s facilities to make the school money, and open their doors to the local community to show them how amazing the School was. Soon after, they found themselves entered into Oxford Business X, a competition for young entrepreneurs which involved pitching to local business ‘dragons’ in the hope of acquiring financial backing. James and Jemma pitched successfully, paying for the initial start-up costs. The rest, as they say, is history.

You met when you both became Wheatley Park’s Deputy Head Boy and Girl. How did this event start you on your entrepreneurial journey?

I think it allowed us to explore a different passion to academics – in this case, organising events. It’s a theme that we often share when we go back to schools to talk about our journey – saying yes to new opportunities at that age can be so pivotal to opening doors. Our school were extremely supportive and in turn, we became really passionate about promoting it in the local community – something School Space strives to achieve for all its school partners.

Since its inception in 2011, School Space has generated over £2m for your partner Schools. How do you plan to grow this over the next 12 months?

One of the things we’re most proud of is that over £1m of that was over the last year, during the pandemic. We have always been especially careful to provide our school partners with a service which grows bookings and community use, but also retains them – and we made sure that through our support and managing lockdowns speedily and with integrity, the schools didn’t lose out over the pandemic.  This strategy together with support from the FSE Group who enabled us to access debt from the Greater London Investment Fund will support our post-pandemic growth with a brilliant platform to expand with new school partners in 2022.

What has been the most challenging and enjoyable experiences of creating School Space?

Apart from knowing we are making a positive impact on the education sector, for me it’s the team. We have some wonderful people who have joined us in our journey and mission to support schools, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to make this about more than just James and I’s passion for schools and communities. We’re hiring a lot of new roles at the moment, and that’s really exciting.

Where would you like School Space to be in five years?

Working with thousands of community groups and schools. For us, the impact is the important thing and the goal is to extend this far and wide and to grow a great company in the process!

How do you keep your team motivated, especially under current circumstances?

We’ve always been lucky to have a remote team, based all over London and the south east, so we were (relatively) well prepared to have an online company culture. We have daily stand ups, a party call each week and invest a lot of time and effort into recognising all the brilliant work going on, as well as the challenges which come with it and a very intense year for our whole team. We are lucky to have a fantastic team who are motivated by providing great service to our schools and customers, so a lot of it is about calling that out and making sure they are rewarded for it! In particular our Community Connectors, who work at each of our schools on the ground in the evenings and weekends are incredibly hardworking and caring people, and we make sure we are hiring those motivated to help their local school.

What is your advice for first-time founders?

Work out what your strength is and delegate everything else as quickly as you can. Learn from people who are just ahead of you (avoid taking all your advice from top dogs – they will have a lot more resource than you!). Founders are usually happy to share their experience and it’ll help you avoid some mistakes at the next stage of growth. I’m always amazed at what I wish I’d known 6 months ago/how many new things there are to learn at each stage of company growth.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned which have impacted the way you work?

Making sure I know what my personal goals and motivations are for the business. What I mean by that is, when you have a business it’s so important to set company goals and share these with your team, but something I’ve learnt the hard way is how easy it is for your life and the business to blend into one and lose sight of your own wellbeing in that process – and therefore hinder the company’s progress because you’re not at your best. It’s the oxygen mask metaphor – founders need to look after themselves first to give the business the best chance of success.

Apart from that, I feel like I learn a new lesson (and usually make a new mistake..) every day. A lot of my job is learning from things going wrong and doing my best to learn from them and make the company better day on day, week on week.

Which entrepreneurs do you respect and why?

When I started out I read a huge amount of business books and really valued the range of perspectives they gave me – like Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, or Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules. However I’ve always been inspired by people I’ve met along the way – social entrepreneurs like Lily Lapenna and Michael Norton, our investors Martin Leuw and Kim Morrish, and some mentors with sage advice like Devi Clark and Shawn Jhanji.