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Mind Maps in Action: Youth Business Start-Up

In this instalment of our Mind Maps in Action series, we talk to Darran Gillan about his work with Tollcross YMCA and how mind mapping helped their young people start their own T-Shirt business.

Can you tell us who you are, what your role is, and a little bit about Tollcross YMCA in general?

My name is Darran Gillan and I am the Youth and Community Development Manager for Tollcross YMCA. My job is to plan and deliver all youth and community activities in Glasgow’s east end and maximize young people’s participation by encouraging and assisting them to become involved in YMCA opportunities. My work focuses on building positive relationships with young people and with other youth work partners involved in the organisation, supporting the board of management by developing the vision and strategic plan to guide Tollcross YMCA.
Tollcross YMCA was founded in 1870 and has provided recreational facilities within a safe environment that promotes educational and social activities for the people of Tollcross and Glasgow’s east end.

The purpose of the organisation is to promote citizenship and develop community spirit by encouraging people to consider their environment and develop activities that support and advance people to reach their full potential. We are a small organisation comprised of twelve local volunteers that make up our board of management with six part time youth workers and one community manager.

Can you tell us about the Youth Social Enterprise Club?

The A.S.P.I.R.E programme, which is our social enterprise programme, delivers a series of interactive workshops, training and qualification based activity directly to young people aged 10-18 to help them identify and develop community projects based on social issues that negatively affect their community.

A.S.P.I.R.E work with young people who are disengaged in education, who have been through the care system or long term unemployed. We recognised that their inactivity has diminished their self-belief and aspirations and as a result participants comfort zones have been stretched which helped them to rediscover who they are and who they can be.

What’s special about A.S.P.I.R.E is that its entirely youth lead with minimal involvement from adult youth work intervention. The central message of the programme is that volunteering helps you gain practical experience and related qualifications towards your goals.

The mind map we spotted on Twitter was fantastic, can you explain how that map came about?

Tollcross Tee's is a small order T-shirt design and printing company run by young people from Tollcross YMCA's A.S.P.I.R.E. programme. The idea behind Tollcross Tee’s was identified by young people looking for a gap in their local market, to allow them to make some money for themselves. The young people identified that there are many local and community businesses in Glasgow, looking to promote themselves and their events, but on a tight budget. Or it might be that you’re looking for a novelty gift for a friend or loved one but don't want to spend too much? Then Tollcross Tee's could meet that need and hence the idea took root and now we have a specialised small run orders company that can print one off bespoke design T-shirts up to an order of twenty T-shirts at a comparative rate.

How the mind map that was featured on twitter came about was that at the early stages, when the group were seeking funding for this idea, the grant applications asked lots of difficult questions. The young people involved were all creative types but not business types. So we used a creative process that feels natural to them to answer such questions like, who is your audience demographic? What were the potential threats and solutions to your business? By the end of the session most, if not all the questions within the grant application were all answered by way of mind mapping.

Who introduced the idea of mind mapping for this task? What was their previous experience of mind maps?

I had used mind maps when I was at university and understood that linear thinking can be limiting and that when your trying to develop a business things are all over the place and rarely fall into place neatly. For me as a youth worker the mind map was a great tool for them to use as a number of them could not spell and others where hindered by communication barriers so trying to mind map the questions out was a far effective task than simple brain storming on a piece of flip chart.

The young people involved in the process have never mind mapped before and found it a freeing experience although a bit puzzling to start with as they could not identify how pictures, key words and branches would answer the questions or develop solutions. After the process was complete many related the experience to being an artist painting a picture. They did not realise what they had created until they took a step back and saw that the group had answered many of the difficult questions posed in the grant forms once they looked at the whole picture or in this case the mind map that they had created.

Did the team find mind mapping helpful for this process, and if so, why/how do you think it helped?

The mind map helped the young people with information such as price setting, what method to best place your order? T-shirt size, color, quantity, image file type and date of delivery required minimum or maximum?

The collaborative and picture method of mind mapping was fun, which is very important in youth work. This was learning with out knowing that you were learning. This helped the process along much more than all staring a blank page. Their was a deep discussion of what T-shirt sizes should come in small, medium or large what choice of colors in red, blue, black and white etc.

Mind mapping these issues out created a more focused discussion as within the mind map it was not in isolation, but taking into consideration how one decision in one area can affect other areas of your business. This was visually displayed within the mind map and helped inform the decision making process of the group.

Mind mapping helped resolve the stale mate that developed and from then on such questions where made visual, bright and communicated to their imagination where words, tone and gestures failed.

Also there was much more of an even spread of contribution of ideas as all participated simultaneously, then amended and tweaked each other's suggestions on the board. This would not have been so effective if we chose a more traditional route to problem solve as within every group there is a mix of strong and weak personalities and mind mapping helped the dynamic of the group to all play on an even surface of collaboration with out some members of the group feeling intimidated by dominant members. So again, in terms of youth work practice, this was inclusive.

What outcomes has the mind mapping process helped to identify, and what's happening now with the project?

The young people have now developed their own Tollcross Tee’s website This fulfils some of the promotion and marketing ideas that came out of the mind map. They have also developed a mind map of their business plan so as to keep it relevant as opposed to keeping it stuck on a shelf. This map takes pride of place within the middle of the office as a visual reminder of the content of the business plan.

The webpage’s were all taken from individual mind maps that were then collectively put together as a collage. To the average person it looks like a mad man’s crazy ideas, but it is like a secret code that only those in Tollcross Tee’s can understand and decipher and that makes it cool!

Is there anything else you'd like to include/promote to help Tollcross YMCA?

Tollcross YMCA has been named as a finalist in the 2014 Scottish Charity Awards under the Celebrating Communities Category. The Awards, celebrate the crucial work of charities, community groups and individuals dedicated to making Scotland a better place to live. Tollcross YMCA has been nominated for its deliver of the A.S.P.I.R.E. social enterprise programme within the Tollcross community.

To find out more about Tollcross YMCA and the youth and community activity that we deliver in Glasgow’s east end then visit follow us on Twitter @TollcrossYMCA or like us on

Thank you to Darran for participating in our 'Mind Maps in Action' series and sharing his story with us! You can find Darran on Biggerplate by clicking here. If you've had a mind map experience you would like to share with us, get in touch via Twitter, or leave a comment below.

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Barney is Community Manager at Biggerplate and shares user stories, mind mapping tips, and other news and updates from our global member community!
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