The story of God’s Lily and start ups goes right back to the beginning of the journey. If you have read the story of Lily’s Place you will remember how the diagram of what Lily the Pink Ministries was supposed to do came in a dream.
I had tried putting some workshops on and then wondered how to pay for them. The answer seemed to be to get funding but to get funding I needed a legal entity and the only form of legal entity that one person on their own in could set up under British law is a limited company. So I set up a Community Interest Company. Once I had done that I asked the question that I should have done right from the start i.e. God what do you want me to work towards? The morning after asking that question I woke up and drew the diagram of Lily’s Place.
How on earth could Lily’s Place ever become a reality?
One of the things that became obvious after God’s Lily had the vision of Lily’s Place and that was that it was impossible for her to do it all. It got worse in that her desire to teach led to her looking at the idea of providing online courses. Bear in mind that this was well before the learning platforms that we use today were available.
I had looked at the idea of learning platforms in one of the modules of the masters course that I had started at University of Teesside. (I ended up with a diploma rather than a full degree as I was unable to complete the project.) They focussed on systems that could be sued in schools and universities and the only such platform I had access to afterwards was Moodle.
Problem one – Creating a learning platform
There was a huge issue that I had to overcome i.e. Moodle was designed for educators rather than entrepreneurs. It was the leading learning management system for schools and colleges but it was designed to be used on their internal servers. I never managed to find a way to add a front end to it so that I could take payment for courses.
Today there are plugins that will link Moodle to other websites that can be used as a shopfront and make it possible to develop courses that you take payment for. Instead, I started using WordPress and then added a membership plugin and a learning management plugin. Now I had the ability to create and sell courses. They did not have all the features of Moodle but they had all the essentials
Problem two – Generating course content
Once I started with Moodle it became quickly obvious that one person could not produce all the course content that would be necessary. There were two solutions I have tried using to resolve that problem.
Solution one was to do something similar to what I had done while teaching in a college i.e. find teaching material others had created and sold. In a college context, this is textbooks. In the online world, this is private label rights. The difference is that textbooks are generally written by people with integrity and are made available through the traditional publishing system. PLR material often has a bad reputation as people are more focused on making money than serving others. Finding good PLR can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Solution two was to find people who were subject experts in their own right and wanted to run their own courses. That is the space that systems like Thinkific, Udemy and Teachable have moved into. The fact that these are businesses with teams shows how hard it would be for one person to develops something like that. Maybe that is why this has been a step too far at the moment.
As far as I can work out the only other alternative is to do it yourself. Producing good content is like producing fine wine. Some years (or products) are better than others. They also take time to mature. Well, how can you write about something unless you have at least read around the subject and then pondered on what you have read?
Some of what I have spent time on writing is a mess. They are definitely learning pieces rather than masterpieces. Others like Setting up Safe Haven, The Virtuous (and Successful) Woman and Find your Purpose Love your Life are worth reading and have been published on Amazon. In fact, as I write this I am waiting for proofs of all three of them to arrive. I have just completed one, I have added the bit that I had not covered but was bugging me to another and made some corrections to the third.
Problem three – Sharing within the church
In many ways, this is the biggest challenge of all. When I started on this journey I had huge problems trying to explain to those around me what I was doing and why.
I tried sharing it at church but then came across Mrs Fear. I would say something and the response was I don’t know about that. There was the time when I said I would like to use biblical principles but not make them obvious. I got the lecture on you cannot do that because that would be deceiving people. You have to quote scripture to back up those principles everywhere. Ever tried doing that in a secular setting. It starts to sound as if you are putting yourself on a pedestal because you do things the Bible way and it does not take long before you manage to upset everyone. Yet she was a leader within the church and you are supposed to submit to leaders. Trying to submit to her did a lot of damage. The only way forwards in that situation was to declare independence and do things alone.
The other person I met at church was Mr I Don’t Believe that Social Action Projects Work. Or maybe it would be fairer to say that in his experience they had not been successful in the way he viewed success. So I could put an idea forwards and it would be rejected as not being something that would benefit the church.
Those attitudes led to a problem in terms of gaining the experience I needed for content creation. How do you gain the experience you need to help others get church-based community projects up and running when your own church puts up obstacles? Maybe that is why the strapline of this site says it is for those frustrated by the slow progress towards a fair society.
The big issue then becomes how do you gain the social proof that what you are trying to do works when you cannot overcome the obstacles those around you have put up. If you do not have the social proof of it working you end up talking about the frustrations of not being able to do things.
Problem four – Gaining visibility
Lily’s Place is such a huge dream and a big concept that those with their feet on the ground say they cannot get involved as it is just pie in the sky. Finding the right message that speaks to the sort of people I think should be involved in Lily’s Place has proved to be very difficult.
It is a name that speaks to women more than men. It speaks of love and mercy rather than dominion and fighting for justice. Lilies are used to represent things like purity and peace rather than more manly virtues.
For someone who has spent a lifetime being told shut up and keep quiet standing up and shouting about what they are doing is not easy. Then there were the school bullies and the chocolate coated dragon who helped me learn the skills required to hide and stay safe rather than those required to stand up and speak up. Add to that the idea that if there is any contention in a marriage then it is the wife’s fault for not being submissive enough rather than the unreasonable behaviour of the husband. I can find loads of stories to use as excuses for why it so hard. People fear being burnt for speaking out but when you have been burnt for presenting your case it adds to the challenge.
If you have not already guessed I am something who thinks deeply and then writes it down trying not to miss anything out. That apparently is part of having the redemptive gift of teacher. In an age of short quick messages that does not help.
Where is Lily’s Place now?
It took 8 years of battling to get the first prototype up and running. It was only after I left the people who had become obstacles behind. I had been looking for pastures new for other reasons but in the process found a place where it was much easier to thrive and move forwards.
After that had been up and running for about 18 months I wrote a book about the project specifically for those who were also facing obstacles. One chapter lists the reasons we could have used to stop us doing what we did. Reasons that others could use or have used to stop them. Setting up Safe Haven is the book I wish I had 25 years ago.
The next step has two components. There is the offline business club and the online business club each serving different purposes.
The offline club for those who are out of work and thinking about starting a business. The aim is to support them in a sort of apprenticeship before they officially venture forth as fully fledged businesses. The way that the British government provides financial support for those on a low income means that if people start a business they need to have a reached a certain level of income within 12 months and to be able to maintain that income every month. If they don’t then they will be worse off financially than if they had not even tried to help themselves. The aim is to prepare people so that they can launch themselves in such a way that they manage to reach escape velocity.
The online club is for those who want to mix business and some kind of minister to the community. That is in some ways is the easier to set up as all it needs is a website. The COB club can be accessed here.
Neither of these two things are easy to launch in their different respects. So many people are under so much pressure in terms of time that starting another church-based community project would not be easy. Putting out the bait to attract people to join either the online or the offline group is a challenge. Well, publicity is often hard to get right.
Progress might be slow but there is some progress.