09 October 2023

The Sixth Form were treated to another fantastic Nicholls Lecture Series recently when Old Birkonian, Mark Powell, delivered a talk on his life and career leading a successful social enterprise business. 

By Samson B, Sixth Form student 

For the third Nicholls lecture of this academic year, our Sixth Form was delighted to welcome back Old Birkonian, Mark Powell, on his retirement day. Mr Powell was Chief Executive and Founder Director at yes2ventures, a social firm development agency based in Sheffield that has been creating opportunities for people disadvantaged in the labour market since 1999.
Mr Powell took an anecdotal approach to his lecture, sharing some of his life experiences, whilst showing us how his career progressed throughout. Mr Powell started by sharing memories of his mischievous days at Birkenhead school and Bristol University, where he earned his BA (Hons) degree in Drama and Spanish. Mr Powell went on to explain he did not know what he wanted to do with his life besides acting, so after university the question we are all eventually asked at some stage was posed, ‘What’s next?’. Ironically, Mr Powell would go on to be a teacher, at a school in a deprived area of the North-West. However, he never felt he could make the desired impact with the resources he was given. The final straw for Mr Powell was when he came in one day to find ‘one lad holding another out of the window by his ankles’. In response Mr Powell left the room, and school, without saying a word. Mr Powell joked that, for all he knows, the child is still dangling outside the window with a fully grown beard by now.
Having already captured the attention of his audience, using humour, anecdotes and posing the occasional question, Mr Powell continued by explaining the social work aspect of his career. Mr Powell explained how he moved to Sheffield in 1989, and in the same year set up a plastics reclamation enterprise, which, with a workforce of people with disabilities or mental health issues, would go on to be one of the UK’s leading social enterprise businesses. Ten years later, in 1999, Mr Powell would go on to set up yes2venture, a company helping to upskill and employ those disadvantaged in the labour market. One of many ways in which yes2venture helps the community is the travel service they offer for people nervous about public transport, thirty-three disadvantaged part-time drivers provide travel support across South-Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
Mr Powell left having delivered a strong message, just because many of the people he hired were at some ‘disadvantage’, does not mean they were incapable, and when given an opportunity, and not simply overlooked, many proved this. Having been lucky enough to speak with Mr Powell over lunch, it was clear to see that he took great pride in his work and held a genuine compassion for every individual he helped. All in all, the lecture was a great success, inspiring us to try and take a leaf out of Mr Powell’s book to the best we can, and we were extremely fortunate to have Mr Powell share his retirement day with us.