Steven Cotton tells us how a ‘lightbulb moment’ while working for an employment charity in London convinced him to move back to Sheffield and set up Grow UK which gives unemployed young people access to CV workshops, skills development and the ‘glam side of work experience’ (picking up alpaca poo!)

  • Tell us about your business – sell yourself!

Grow UK is a youth employment charity working with people aged between 16 and 24 who face barriers to employment. That might mean they lack confidence, or lack qualifications, are struggling with mental health problems or may have a criminal record all of which makes job applications a little trickier.

We work with them for an eight-week period, three afternoons a week including a group session where we focus on social and emotional sides of work like confidence and motivation and how to present yourself – the stuff that underpins the ‘hard’ side of work. We also have one-to-ones where we go through what has caused them to be out of work and how we can overcome that.

Grow UK is a youth employment charity working with people aged between 16 and 24

We partner with Holly Hagg, a not-for-profit community farm with alpacas – it’s a beautiful peaceful space and offers a therapeutic work experience where the trainees can get out of the city, get their hands in the earth, breathe fresh air and be amongst trees and nature. It also means they can put into practice the skills they’ve been learning like teamwork.

The farm is a lot of fun for the young people – although they do joke about the glam jobs like picking up alpaca poo! But we then point out that there’ll be elements of any job that you don’t like and it’s all about motivating yourself.

  • What gave you the idea for your business?

I studied management at the University of Sheffield and then went into recruitment. I enjoyed the supporting and helping people and realised that my approach was more like a coach – I liked working with new graduates or people who were looking at getting new skills.

It’s a bit boring finding people qualified for the job and slotting them in to the role but that’s the side of recruitment that makes the money. My boss used to say I wasn’t cut out for the job because I wanted to spend time with the people who weren’t going to make him any money!

Then I worked for an employment charity in London and loved it. That was the lightbulb moment, I thought ‘This is what I want to do with my time’. My wife was expecting our first child and I decided to take what I’d learned in London and add it to the mix with a similar venture in Sheffield.

  • Who is your audience and how are you targeting them?

Our trainees are all young people with barriers to employment like struggling in mainstream education who aren’t ready for an apprenticeship or traineeship but need some support as they make the transition into adulthood and the world of work.

We work with referrers in the city, as well as Job Centre Plus, the Youth Justice Team and the Community Youth Team. We’ve also worked with charities including Roundabout and Golddigger Trust.


  • How can people get in touch with you?




Twitter: @grow_sheffield