An event has been held to celebrate the success of a £7.8 million project in Shropshire, which has supported scores of vulnerable and isolated people back into employment and training and helped hundreds more build confidence and skills ready for the world of work.
The Building Better Opportunities (BBO) initiative has been led across the county by Wellington-based supported employment and training charity, Landau, in partnership with 18 different organisations.
Co-funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund, the project, which aimed to reduce isolation, build confidence and support people into training and work, has provided support to a total of 2,459 individuals to date.
Over the duration of the programme, it has helped 549 people into employment; supported 1,155 people to gain skills for the world of work; reduced isolation for a further 545 people and created 137 jobs locally.
On Wednesday (May 4), those involved in the programme, gathered at Shrewsbury Town Football Club to celebrate its success and hear from individuals about their achievements.
Phil Taylor, chief operations officer for Landau, said the BBO programme had been a huge success.
“This project has been hugely important to those who have been long term unemployed. It was designed to support people from jobless households, people with disabilities and those with low basic skills by improving their wellbeing, confidence, mental health, helping with isolation and moving people closer to the jobs market.
“Here at Landau, we have been here to steady the ship, but this has been a collective effort through everyone’s hard work, and we have done a great job together. It has been a great success in Shropshire.”
Madeleine Spinks, CEO of the Data Orchard, which was tasked with providing an independent evaluation of the programme, said it was clear from the analysis that Building Better Opportunities had been successful in helping participants overcome several key challenges to employment.
She reported that at the start of the programme 41% of participants had a low life satisfaction (compared to 5% nationally) however, by the end of their time on the programme, this figure had dropped to 10%.
“This shows a great improvement in the way people felt about their lives after being involved in the programme,” she said.
National charity Small Woods Association, which operates its Green Wood Centre headquarters in Coalbrookdale, was among the partners attending the celebratory event.
The charity has been running its Build-a-Bench courses with funding through the BBO programme. It helps participants learn fresh skills, build confidence and meet new people while they receive support towards getting back into employment.
Participant Lizzie Fellows told the event that the initiative had been “life-changing”.
The 21-year-old had been suffering from anxiety, depression and agoraphobia and had felt extremely isolated throughout the Covid pandemic.
“Being referred to Small Woods was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” she said.
“I visit once a week and it is the highlight of my week — I want to be there every day. It has brought life into my life.”
Amanda Lickorish has also been a participant on the BBO programme and has received support from project partner Crowsmill Craft Centre C.I.C near Bridgnorth.
Amanda was suffering similar challenges to Lizzie after relocating to Shropshire from Oxfordshire and despite being previously employed and running her own craft-related courses, she was finding it difficult to gain the confidence she needed to work.
However, the team at Crowsmill, which supports people to learn new skills and build confidence through a range of crafts including carpentry, welding, blacksmithing and metalwork, helped Amanda turn her life around.
She said: “It never occurred to me that I would be a user of this kind of service especially as I used to provide craft services myself. I started the programme feeling completely out of my comfort zone but in no time at all the place really got under my skin.
“They helped me gain the confidence I needed to get back in touch with who I was. It’s so unique, so friendly and I did not want to leave when my time on the programme came to an end, so I have now become a volunteer teacher there.”
Dickon Pitt, director of Crowsmill, added: “We’ve been delighted to be involved with the BBO programme. Through the BBO journey participants have demonstrated increased self-esteem alongside new skills acquisition. This belief in themselves has enabled them to take up a range of volunteering opportunities and as a result they have been able to move forward with their lives.”
The BBO programme has been running in Shropshire since 2017 after Landau won the bid to deliver the project.