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Social Justice

How a stationery company is helping disadvantaged women rediscover their self-worth

Jenny Adjene is the director of social enterprise Hip Hip Hooray that frees women from a cycle of addiction, homelessness and offending through a year-long employment programme

Together we can. This is the message of Jenny Adjene’s social enterprise Hip Hip Hooray.

The 36-year-old launched her party invitations and stationery business based in Tavistock, Devon, in 2014. When the country went into lockdown in 2020, however, Adjene realised she wanted to do more for her community. And what she came up with was a lifeline for women stuck in a cycle of addiction, homelessness and offending.

“When the pandemic hit, weddings and parties stopped overnight. It gave me a chance to stop and take a breath,” says Adjene.

“I realised I had drifted far from my previous career [in the Youth Offending Service] and what I was really passionate about: supporting people. I had a bit of a lightbulb moment during the early days of the pandemic, that we could completely reset our business, turn it into a social enterprise and our purpose could be offering life-changing opportunities for women.”

It was while volunteering at Trevi’s Jasmine Mother’s Recovery in Plymouth that Adjene saw firsthand the challenges disadvantaged women face. “It gave me an insight into the cycle women can get stuck in and how difficult it is to get out.”

Studies show that just 17 per cent of ex-offenders are in employment within a year of release, while data from Prison Reform Trust shows that women are nearly three times less likely to be employed on release than men.

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Women are referred to Adjene’s employment programme by the Prison and Probation Service, the South West women’s charity Trevi and New Futures Network.

Hip Hip Hooray’s programme includes 12 weeks of group work, focusing on confidence building, life skills and identifying what’s keeping a woman stuck in a cycle of addiction or offending. The group work is run by Gifted Women, a charity established in 2021 by Adjene to help with funding and provide assistance on a larger scale.

“To ensure we are reaching those who are most stuck in their cycle, the women have to have three or more of these life experiences: a history of homelessness, addiction, contact within the criminal justice system, removal of children into care or domestic abuse,” Adjene explains.

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“We create a culture of sisterhood,” Jenny explains, “the women experience this together, they are not alone.”

Following the group work, participants complete a 10-week work experience placement. They gain experience in printing, packing orders, customer service, product development, marketing and social media. Afterwards, Hip Hip Hooray offers 12 months of paid employment at National Living Wage.

Print from the ‘Wild Women’ empowerment collection
Print from the ‘Wild Women’ empowerment collection

Adjene has seen 14 candidates, aged between 22-45, successfully complete the group programme this year. Five have completed work experience in her shop and since launching in November 2020, four have become part of the core team.

The training is 95 per cent funded through selling stationery, which is “a challenge,” says Adjene. “We would like to find funding to employ a worker to support the women and the employment programme specifically.”

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Over the next five years, Adjene hopes to cause a ripple effect and inspire local employers to offer life-changing opportunities. Her plans include starting a peer mentor scheme and running a full professional printing production in-house so that women can learn a new trade.

Print from the ‘Wild Women’ empowerment collection
Print from the ‘Wild Women’ empowerment collection

“Society needs to value women who have had adverse life experiences more and judge them less,” she says. “Trauma is often at the root of the cycle of addiction, homelessness and crime that women get stuck in. So many feel they have nothing to offer, they feel they are a write-off. But to watch them throw all of that out and realise they have the opportunity to reach their potential, the transformation of some women has been incredible.”

From May 2022, Hip Hip Hooray’s empowerment collection will move to flourishpaperworks.co.uk as the social enterprise expands.

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