‘Job Done!’ is a project for unemployed people living in Wincanton and surrounding rural areas.
Based at the Balsam Centre in Wincanton, it offers opportunities to those facing barriers to finding work such as mental health or other health/disability related issues. By providing a friendly, supportive environment the project helps to break down isolation, encourages social networking, and thus helps people to build self-confidence and self-esteem.
Project members are then encouraged to develop their practical skills, for example in gardening, cookery, craft or countryside maintenance and are helped to find appropriate volunteering roles. In addition workshops assist with job seeking skills such as CV writing and interview techniques.
Being remote from the labour market, and with the nearest job centre some 20 miles away, causes real difficulties for some unemployed local people, especially for those who may experience health issues, lack confidence or need to up-date their skills. People in the younger 16-26 age group and those aged 50+ can face especially acute challenges in entering or re-entering employment so those two age groups are particularly targeted by the scheme.
The Balsam Centre project started in 1999 with the objective of meeting the social, educational, cultural, and welfare needs of the community. A successful bid to the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), combined with intensive fundraising, enabled the group to purchase a former cottage hospital. Although other premises were considered the choice was strongly influenced by a desire to have a building with a strong local identity and with outdoor space suitable for a variety of activities.
In addition to Job Done! the Centre provides a wide range of services (including a Sure Start Children’s Centre; activities for adults; fitness groups and a weekly lunchtime café) and places a strong emphasis on mental health support for adults. It currently receives funding from a variety of sources including Local Authority contracts (including support from South Somerset District Council for Job Done! and Somerset County Council for the Children’s Centre); Yarlington Housing Group; and the National Lottery.
The centre has a Chief Executive, 4 full time and 11 part time staff and approximately 55 vounteers.
The Centre recognises that often service users are initially very far from being able to enter the labour market and need to build confidence first before developing skills. Its initial focus in relation to its unemployed customers is to improve wellbeing and help confidence building rather than having a primary objective of supplying back-to-work training. However, when it became apparent that finding a job was an objective of many who use the Centre it prompted the setting up of Job Done!- a group that meets for two hours every week. It has one dedicated P/T 0.4 FTE paid helper.
The Job Done! project has developed good relationships with partners in the town and with many outside organisations including the Job Centre. Where possible, individuals are also encouraged to gain valuable practical experience by volunteering in the centre and this has assisted many people to achieve their employment ambitions. The two case studies summarised below are recent examples:
Carole* and Annie* are two young mums with an interest in cookery who started attending the Centre’s cookery group for enjoyment. They then became involved with Job Done! which was able to team them up with the professional chef at the centre’s café for a few hours each week thus enabling them to enhance their skills and confidence. When the chef left Carole and Annie were able to take over that role, running a weekly café for 30 diners. They have just been asked to provide some home delivery meals and have longer term aspirations to start up their own catering firm.
Roy* had worked for one employer for several years and, when suddenly faced with redundancy, initially felt very uncertain how to set about finding alternative employment. Job Done! offered him the opportunity to volunteer in the Balsam Centre gardens where he discovered an interest in, and an aptitude for, horticulture. This experience helped Roy to apply successfully for a vacancy at a local garden centre where he is now a much valued employee.
*Not real names.
Benefits and outcomes
Job Done! has been operating for two years and helped 34 people in 2013. In each year about 30% of those who attended the scheme found employment. The centre is now looking to develop links with local secondary schools in the hope that more young people leaving compulsory education can benefit.
Success is not measured simply in terms of employment as participants have the opportunity to undertake training and/or volunteering activities which are not only enjoyable in themselves but which often help to build skills and confidence and promote wellbeing.
There are clearly benefits to local organisations and businesses which are able to source well motivated volunteers and employees from the local area. Job Done! volunteers also bring significant economic and environmental benefits to the centre itself and are appreciated by all its users.
So successful has the scheme been that the Centre intends to establish two further job clubs in the market towns of Castle Cary and Bruton. Ideally, if additional finance was available, they would like to expand the service to other locations.
The Balsam Centre’s Wincanton premises cost approximately £300,000 in 1999, about one third of which was funded by SWRDA. A number of public and private sector organisations, charities and individual benefactors also contributed. Running costs of the centre as a whole, with outreach at Bruton and Castle Cary and including the two Sure Start Children’s Centres, total about £350,000 p.a. of which slightly more than half is spent on ‘Sure Start’. Operating the JobDone! scheme costs just over £20,000 a year.
It is an on-going challenge to keep a holistic service running as current funders face financial cutbacks in their own budgets. Also, although the integrated services at the centre are highly regarded, separate funders do not always fully appreciate the interdependence of the different facilities provided.
Lessons for others
It is important to find the best available premises. The Balsam Centre has found that although its main centre is appreciated as safe, welcoming and non-stigmatising other outreach accommodation options can sometimes present more barriers to prospective users either through imposing inflexible rules and regulations or by making people feel self-conscious.
Engagement with local businesses, job centres and individuals in the wider community can often provide the key to finding appropriate contacts that meet an individual’s needs.
Individual’s needs are not always clearly articulated and a low-key, flexible and understanding approach is important.
Although the centre has built up an excellent reputation as an integrated hub for promoting health and wellbeing to individuals and families it is a huge challenge to keep it running.