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How Propeller helped the Bee Tree Community grow

Debbie Bentley, a postgraduate research student, tell us about starting a business during a global pandemic with the help of our Student Enterprise service, Propeller.

Debbie Bentley first started studying at the University of Central Lancashire in 1994 and graduated with a First-class BA (Hons) Health and Education, and then worked here as an Education Studies lecturer. 

Debbie has also taught at some of our partner colleges, as well as studying various postgraduate professional courses to further her career, including PGDip Professional Counselling, so she knows exactly what it is like to be both a student and a member of staff. Now Debbie has returned as a postgraduate research student and is completing the Education Doctorate.

Debbie Bentley, Founder and Co-Director of Bee Tree
Debbie Bentley, Founder and Co-Director of Bee Tree

Here’s what Debbie has to say:

“When I first walked into Lancashire Polytechnic all those years ago, as a single parent with little success at school… never did I imagine where I would be now, and the amazing people I have studied and worked with.”

Alongside her studies and working full-time, Debbie has raised a growing family and had to overcome many obstacles during her time at UCLan – most recently something we are all familiar with: a global pandemic. COVID-19 has presented many problems for people, especially with mental wellbeing, and 2020 was an extremely difficult year for many with 2021 not proving to be much easier. Debbie, along with two other students, Katie and Clare Watson (co-founder), decided to utilise the skills and knowledge they had gained during their studies and working life and founded her own business: The Bee Tree Community. Debbie tell us all about it:

“The Bee Tree Community is an online community centre. We provide a variety of regular online educational, physical, and creative social activities which allow those who are isolated and excluded from everyday social activity to participate in a community to support their physical, mental and spiritual health. Through participating in a variety of educational and creative social activities our members keep active mentally and physically, engage in new learning and meet new friends."

Bee Tree Community logo - Well 'Beeing' Together
Bee Tree Community logo - Well 'Beeing' Together

"Underpinned by the principles of the Five Ways to Wellbeing and social prescribing philosophy, we currently have more than 120 members, aged 18 to 78 years, from across the country participating in up to 14 different sessions per week, including craft, yoga, singing, creative writing, history, bingo and more. Our hosts for these sessions are all volunteers, many with their own businesses. At present we collaborate with several small health and wellbeing businesses from around the country, including life and wellbeing coaches, cognitive behavioural therapists and counsellors, community artists and teachers of all kinds.”

Debbie and her fellow students set up the business along with the help of our student enterprise service, Propeller. This service is available to help support students, staff and graduates become ‘business ready’, whether you’re working for yourself or someone else. You will find skills workshops, 1-2-1 support from business mentors, an abundance of online resources, and interaction with local business within the Propeller Hub.

"My advice to students thinking about starting a business or CIC is this: contact Propeller before you start, get good advice and network with people who are supportive."

Debbie tells us about the invaluable support she gained:

“We began by contacting Propeller for some much-needed advice, then set up our Facebook group to generate interest for our pilot in Sept 2020, which we ran for six weeks. We developed a wonderful team of volunteer hosts, gave them all Zoom training, and set up again for 10 days over Christmas. Following another short break in January we launched on 1st Feb.

"We have had to learn all about Zoom and online working, becoming a CIC, bank accounts, finances and grants, working with volunteers, marketing, publicity, social networking, websites, social prescribing, networking and much more.

"My advice to students thinking about starting a business or CIC is this: contact Propeller before you start, get good advice and network with people who are supportive. Take your time, be patient, stay focused and be realistic - build your business on rock not sand.”

For more information about The Bee Tree Community and to become a member, visit thebeetreecommunity.com. Membership costs £10 per month, with your first month free.

You can also read more about Clare Watson (Co-Founder and Co-Director of The Bee Tree Community) here.