Joanne Robinson - ASB Business Award winner 2016


The Little Art School is unique - a hybrid of a profitable, scalable Limited Company
       working hand in hand with a charity dedicated to promoting positive social change.      

What is your current role within the company?

I am the CEO, co-owner and Founder of The Little Art School Co Ltd.

What is your background prior to working for this company/setting up your company?

I studied History at Oxford University, worked in northern Japan after graduating and then joined the RAF where I served as an Officer for 6 years. On leaving the RAF I had 4 children and juggled with an MA and then working as a Freelance Journalist (writing reviews of fancy hotels; tough job!!) Art was a hobby I came to as an adult and my journey as an accidental entrepreneur has been terrifying and inspired in equal measure

What makes your company and/or your role stand out?

The Little Art School is unique. We are a hybrid; a profitable, scalable Ltd Co working hand in hand with a charity dedicated to promoting positive social change. We are building both Ltd Co and Charity simultaneously, creating many flexible working opportunities for women with caring responsibilities, enabling them to stretch their skills and experience without sacrificing their dedication to those in their care.

My role is multi-levelled. I have created the two unique and highly structured Drawing and Painting courses which are our key ‘product’. Our Progressive Course spans 10 years and takes an artist as young as 5 and trains them in drawing and painting techniques in the same way as you would teach a child a musical instrument. By the end of the course children are completing highly complex oil paintings. Our Non-Progressive course has been designed for people with Dementia. This course builds self-esteem, creates great happiness and, we are discovering, may have positive neurological benefits. The course is delivered completely free of charge in care homes and in our studios. We were awarded the prestigious ‘Best Innovation in Continuing Care’ award in the Scottish Dementia Awards in Sep 16. St Andrews University are researching the effects of our unique course right now and we hope that the results of this research will enable us to rapidly scale the delivery of our non-progressive course to people with dementia across Scotland and then the rest of the UK.

This ties into the rest of my role, which is essentially taking a product and service which we have extensively validated, tucked away in Ayrshire, and scaling it up right across the UK. We opened in Glasgow in 2015 and plan to open our first Little Art School in England this year.

What is your area of expertise / inspiration?

My area of expertise is essentially as a leader. I have an incredible team of 25 women. Every one of them brings skills and experience to the table. Many of us felt that we simply didn’t want to make the sacrifices of our precious time with young children to become tied to the unrelenting hours of the corporate, or for me military, world. My job is to take the very best of this skill and experience and direct it to growing our charity and company; whilst at the same time always ensuring that every one of us works hours, often long, but always to suit our families first.

It has been both a huge honour and an incredible morale booster for the Little Art School to have received recognition from the ASB. In 2014 as we began our journey, we were awarded ‘Most Innovative Start Up of the Year’, in 2015 we won ‘Best Performing Team’ and in 2016 completed the hat trick with ‘Young Business of the Year’. Although it was me up on the podium accepting these incredible awards, I was very much aware that I was there as a representative of my amazing team. I have many gaps in my knowledge, experience and skill set. I have never worked in a business before setting up my own. My skill is being able to spot the talents and gifts of others, sometimes before they know it themselves, to foster and develop those talents and to grow our company and charity by getting the whole team to work together towards our clear goal and vision.

What are your plans for the future?

We are at an incredibly exciting and slightly nerve-wracking point in the development of our hybrid. After proving beyond doubt that we have created both our two unique courses and the operational structure to deliver the courses in a cost-effective, profitable and job creating manner, we are now ready to scale up nationally. We have some wonderful mentors and supporters and are so grateful to have the ASB behind us cheering us on as we pioneer towards a future of sustainable growth fired by a desire to make our communities more loving places for their most vulnerable members

What inspires or motivates you?

My business partner, Melissa Haddow. She is my rock and my guiding star. We co-own the company and co-founded the charity together. Melissa brings structure, accountability and a clear-headed strategy to our organisation. Without her, I’d have given up long ago and slunk away in idealist defeat. Melissa has a driving determination and a passionate belief in what we are doing. I admire her more than any person I have ever met in my life.