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Teacher frustration was the business inspiration for this “hands on” venture

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Learning Space is an educational organisation, providing a wide range of resources for children of all needs. Lorraine McAleer founded the company nine years ago when she saw a gap in the market and it has been growing ever since. We caught up with McAleer to find out more about the business inspiration.

McAleer has a background in child education, and originally trained as a teacher herself. While studying in London, she realised there were no shops or facilities an education professional could visit to view teaching resources hands on.

In London at the time, “there was nowhere to go in and see the resources and share ideas”.

“I got to hear the frustrations the teachers were having over the current suppliers, how they weren’t customer focused. Because they seemed to be the big fish, they kind of had no choice but to go to them,” she said.

From this experience, the idea for Learning Space was born – a place to share ideas, provide training and activities for children, and give parents and teachers a chance to get a hands on look at educational resources.

Before launching the business, McAleer took a job working in a toy shop. “How could I open a toy shop without ever working in one? So I had to go and get that experience,” she reasoned.

Her six-month placement in a toy shop gave her invaluable experience and further business inspiration – it gave her ideas on how the management structure should work, how to listen to staff and how to provide good customer service. “It made me realise how different we were going to be,” she said.

McAleer’s sister Mary got on board when the first store was launched the pair are now co-owners of the business. From the beginning, they wanted the business to be about meeting the needs of all children, and “empowering, educating and enabling children to reach their true potential”. To this end, they recruited a team that all have specialisations in child education so as to be able to deliver advice and information as well as selling products.

“It’s not just about selling the product, it’s about upskilling and making a positive impact in children’s lives – so I suppose what sets us apart from our competitors is it’s about more than just the products to us. We wouldn’t recommend something to somebody just for the sake of a sale.”

With this emphasis on “sharing ideas” at the heart of everything the business does, social media has been a valuable resource. Learning Space uses these platforms to share tips and advice and demonstrate different ways you can use a product. In this way, these social media outlets become learning hubs for an online community of parents and teachers – even if they aren’t buying anything, they can take valuable information away.

As an extension of this idea-sharing approach, Learning Space is looking to launch a new facility with a greater focus on training by next June. Once it has perfected this model, it plans to roll out more facilities across the UK and Ireland in the next five years.

To help the business with its ambitious growth plans McAleer signed up to Entrepreneurial Spark Powered by NatWest’s business accelerator programme, which she says has helped her be “more focused”.

“They challenge you on what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it,” she said. “It’s a time to be able to step back from your company and see it from a different angle.”

According to McAleer, there are many different ways to measure success – the business has won a lot of awards, it has won a lot of big contracts, and it has fulfilled those contracts and kept its clients happy.

However, there is one thing above all else that tells McAleer her business is going in the right direction: “Daily, we hear positive things from parents and teachers, grateful for what we’re doing.

“Knowing that we’re making a difference, cheesy as it sounds, is what makes us a success.”

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