Caring for dogs is providing a route back into the workplace for vulnerable people in South London. Paws and Pause is London’s only socially responsible dog day care centre providing work experience for people who are recovering from mental health difficulties. It offers a therapeutic environment within which they can gain practical skills and build their confidence so that they are ready to re-enter the workplace.

The creation of Paws and Pause was inspired by project workers turned entrepreneurs, Grace Beards and Jodie Larsen. The business partners met when they worked together at St Mungo’s, the homelessness charity, on a project to support people recovering from addiction. During their experience there, they were surprised by the lack of opportunities to provide placements for people in their care to work with animals.

Grace said: “Jodie and I share a love of dogs. Both of us have always had, loved or looked after them so we know the positive impact they can have on people. Dogs never judge, they help us feel calmer and they’re fun to be around. When we brainstormed ideas for the business, we wanted to combine this with something that would have real social impact. A dog day care centre that provides sustainable traineeships to help people develop employability skills and get back to work was the perfect combination.”

The entrepreneurs started their journey in April 2019, when they moved into a railway arch in Loughborough Junction. The space, which is owned by The Arch Company but sub-let from community organisation Meanwhile Space, was ideal for their business because of its location near to parks, easy access, affordability, community-setting and the vibrant business community it sits within. “Because we’re new to running a business, being part of a network of business owners was important to us. Our location within a run of arches featuring lots of independent companies gives us the chance to tap into their knowledge and learn from them. They’ve been really supportive during our start-up phase”, said Grace.

In their first few months, they renovated the arch to ensure it provided a good, safe space for the dogs in their care. The ladies did most of the hard work themselves and were grateful for a £5,000 grant from funding organisation UnLtd, which provides support for social enterprises. By August 2019 they were ready to open their doors and they threw everything into a marketing campaign in their target areas of Lambeth and Southwark. Once they welcomed their first dogs, the business took off through word of mouth, with new dogs coming through their doors every week and a team of six trainees recruited to help care for them.

After this whirlwind of a first year, Grace and Jodie were just considering how they could grow and expand the business when the Coronavirus pandemic happened, and their plans were halted by the lockdown. While they had to put a stop to the day care visits, they’ve been working with their trainees to secure government funding and to plan for branching out into wellbeing training and events once they can reopen. The next stage of their growth will help them to offer more traineeships and they are already researching more organisations that they can connect with to achieve this. Grace said: “It’s been a worrying time because most of our trainees are vulnerable and have been shielding. We’ve been keeping everyone up to date on weekly team calls and doing lots of planning and admin, so that we’re ready to hit the ground running when we can reopen the centre. Despite the challenges, we’re feeling confident that we’re in a good place. What we offer here is totally unique.

“It’s been really hard work, with long days and small financial returns, but it’s been so rewarding. We’ve created something that is now a self-sustaining business and as we’ve grown, we’ve also seen our trainees develop and become more empowered. Being with the dogs is having an incredible impact on them – they gradually learn the dogs’ body language and how to understand it, which helps them to translate that understanding to their relationships with people. You can see their confidence grow and with that, their stress levels drop, and they really start to have fun caring for and playing with the dogs each day. Everyone here is fully invested in the business and increasingly we can see that our clients are too. They know their dogs are in good hands and they can also see the transformation in our trainees, so they know that booking a day care session with us is also helping to transform people’s lives.”

514 Ridgeway Road, London