Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice


-building sustainable communities of practice-


The aim of the Academy is to support the development of communities of practice working towards self employment, new business development and SME growth. The programme addresses the challenging needs of transition from unemployment or employment into self employment, enterprise development, new business models or new growth strategies.

The Academy brings together stakeholders:

  • The SME Leadership Academy facilitating and developing enterprising mindsets.  
  • University research providing expertise in leadership and enterprise knowledge.
  • Business associations supporting business mentoring and networking.


The aim of the Academy is to provide a real enterprising alternative in developing new business start-ups through harnessing the direct experiences of Academy network members and local businesses. The Academy model works to support cohorts which can benefit from dedicated support including the over 50s, young entrepreneurs, women in business and groups with protected characteristics.


The structure

The Silver Academy addresses the needs of the over 50s moving from employment or unemployment into self-employment and enterprise. It delivers innovative solutions with a proven outcome being the creation of a sustainable community of practice. This is achieved through:

  • A peer support network established in the sub region.
  • Business Association securing the services of volunteer business mentors.
  • The Academy driving enterprising behaviours from first thoughts to operating businesses.
  • Joined up business support through the partnership of stakeholders.
  • University researching network models, case studies and sharing practice.


The programme goes beyond ‘how-to’ start a business but addresses the individual mindsets, drives and network building to succeed with an enterprise. The programme is transformative taking the participant on the ‘Academy Journey’:


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The programme has been successfully operated targeting the over 50s in Surrey and North Hampshire as the first cohort. It commenced in October 2010 and completed in May 2011 and is continuing on a self financed sustainable way led by the network members.


The interventions

Setting up in business requires absolute commitment. One way to find out about the day-to-day realities of running a business is to talk to people who are in business already. This is the reason why the Silver Academy so highly values the business mentoring and peer to peer mentoring offered within the programme. The challenges for starting up a business are:


Personal sacrifice

The physical and emotional demands of starting up in business require hard work and long hours, and will have impact on the family.

Financial insecurity

There will be times of financial uncertainty and this may have a knock-on effect in terms of financial sacrifice and personal stress.

Loss of company perks

The loss of ‘safety net’ benefits such as pension rights, sick pay, paid holiday and other company perks must be considered.

Pressure on close relationships

The emotional backing of family and friends needs to be complemented by a practical ‘hands on’ approach. Discussing these issues before they arise will help.


Being ‘your own boss’ can be a satisfying experience. However, shouldering all the responsibility for the success of the business can prove lonely.


The entrepreneur

There are certain qualities commonly found among successful business people.



Being a self-starter





Few entrepreneurs can claim to be strong in all of the areas required. The beneficiaries will have diverse backgrounds and economic status and the programme addresses this flexibly. The fact that many of the delegates in the programme are experienced in business or technical trades will mean that they are in a position to mentor other members of the network.

Programme delivery

The economic climate continues to be a difficult one for the self-employed over 50s. The Silver Academy supports their needs around life changing career transitions. The main methods of delivery are workshops, business mentoring on line support and networking. The approach promotes empowerment, reflection and self analysis. The programme is for those committed to starting in business and who will want to be enterprising about their participation in the Silver Academy. The programme provides:

  • 6 one day workshops staged at three to four week intervals
  • Flexible break out groups responding to specific need
  • Mentoring by fellow members of the network including coaching for this support
  • Business clinics from volunteer business mentors
  • Developing leadership practice and skills for all participating
  • Joined up delivery of the range of business support
  • Linking with the established Silver Academy Network alumni
  • An active on line network established for all


The value of the Silver Academy is through purposeful networking and a sense of ownership by the participants. Local stakeholders are engaged including business associations, volunteer networks and business support agencies. Additionally access to international networks is harnessed for the development of global strategies.

The partnership identifies between 60 and 100 participants for the network, each member looking to develop an enterprise. Local stakeholders in each of the sub regions are also engaged to recommend beneficiaries. These include Chambers, Job Centre Plus, volunteer networks, Enterprise Agencies, local authorities and other relevant agencies. Business mentors are sourced from the partnership connections. The partners work together for:

  1. Sourcing, vetting and engaging the participants
  2. Sourcing and engaging the business mentors/champions
  3. Building ongoing networked relationships with the beneficiaries


The value of the Academy is brought to bear on the programme in terms of purposeful networking and a sense of ownership by the participants. It is their network and the partner’s role is to help facilitate its success.


The toolkit

The programme toolkit includes six parts:

  • Main guide for all stakeholders. This is the major part of the toolkit of common interest to all explaining the broad approach and how to interact with the programme.

In addition there are five focused sub sections: 

  • Facilitator and Coaching Guide for delivering the Workshops.
  • Participants guide for understanding the programme and how to access support.
  • Mentors guide for engaging delegates as a Business Mentor.
  • Research and Case Studies Guide for developing knowledge and sharing outcomes
  • Management Guide for the manager in each Silver Academy region



The purpose of the research is to increase knowledge and understanding in this field and to inform practice and policy. This strengthens the Academy model to benefit all stakeholders. The aim is to obtain qualitative research to include:

  • Interviewing an agreed number of participants in depth
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention
  • Capturing the data of the outcomes
  • Evaluation of the project
  • Attrition and failure rate


The outcomes of the programme will be disseminated to:

  • Stakeholders regionally, nationally and internationally
  • Policy briefings to policy makers
  • Social and economic partners




For interest in the Academy models and to discuss setting up communities of practice in your sub region please contact:

Ross McNally

01424 436565


Len Goss

07984 132505


David E Gray

Professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour

University of Greenwich

020 8331 8000 x9023



©Ross McNally, Len Goss, David Gray 2017