There is an assumption amongst many that the unemployed, those claiming disability benefits, the homeless and vulnerable are in that position through their own making and lack the drive, independence and incentive to change their lives for the better.
And I’m sure that there are people like this but for those individuals I met when I visited The Workshop in Bulwell it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Lillington Road base operates under community interest company Eve Trades and offers learning opportunities for those individuals that some in society dismiss.
Participants in the scheme are referred from support services and face a number of barriers such as mental health issues, learning disabilities, substance and alcohol misuse, offending histories, physical disabilities and long-term unemployment.
But help is on hand in the form of a support network of trainers, advisors and volunteers who not only give them the work skills of various trades but the confidence, social interaction and hope for the future.
The Workshop offers four week courses in painting and decorating, DIY and woodworking and bike maintenance. But it is not just about learning these basic skills but more about giving these vulnerable people a purpose and place in our communities.
Thanks to the Big Lottery’s Reaching Communities funding stream, which has given the group a £358,000 grant, the initiative can continue for a further three years.
“This funding will allow us to continue this truly life-changing work for the benefit not only of the individuals involved, but also of the wider community,” said Claire Eden, chief executive of EVE Trades. “Since the project has been running, hundreds of learners at the Workshop have not only gained new skills but also overcome many personal issues.”
Michael Johns is the Workshop co-ordinator and explained the benefits of the scheme.
“Learning these basic skills helps them do jobs in their own home to improve their living space and gives them a sense of pride and purpose,” said Michael. “Each course takes individuals on a four week journey and they can remain with us through all three areas.
“Throughout the process we can then look at extending their learning opportuinities elsewhere or assist them with finding employment.”
The Workshop comes under the umbrella of charity, Framework. Once learners have completed the courses they can then progress into volunteer placements within Eve Trade’s social enterprises that operate out of the Workshop. This needs to make a profit to keep operating and does this by selling and trading its skills on the open market.
People can access the courses from across the county and have their travel costs reimbursed and lunch is provided each day.
“We have a lunchroom that’s like an old works’ canteen where the participants can all get together and make lunch and talk about their experiences if they wish,” added Michael. “It has a real community feel.”
The success of the scheme is measured by the effect it has on people’s lives.
Andrea Hall is a learning support worker and says it gives structure and focus to the individuals taking part.
“It is really rewarding to see people working through their problems and witness the change in their attitude,” explains Andrea. “Some arrive very shy and quiet, nervous about being somewhere different and around strangers but then over time you can see their confidence grow and they become animated in what they are doing and learning and talking with others.”
Martin Giles from Hucknall was building a clock when I met him. The course was recommended to him because of his long-term unemployment.
“I am really enjoying the woodworking and finding it a valuable skill,” said Martin. “It gets me out of the house and although I was nervous when I first came here, it was good to mix with the other trainees.”
Rachel Carter is from the city and is currently on her first course at The Workshop- painting and decorating but hopes to do all three.
“It has a great atmosphere here and is informal and relaxed which I like,” said Rachel who is now turning her life around after substance misuse. “I want to go to college but thought this was a great way to learn some basic skills before in the hope that the practical experience will open up more doors and opportunities.”
Rachel was told about the course by her support worker after being unemployed for five years.
“I saw it as a road to a better future and it has given structure to my week,” added Rachel.
After the government changed the criteria for claiming incapacity benefit last year, and after 10 years of claiming, Allan Barratt was moved to Job Seekers Allowance and referred to The Workshop.
“It has completely turned my life around coming here,” said Allan of Hucknall. “It gave me a reason to get up in the morning and I enjoyed it and was treated with respect.”
Since completing the courses, Allan has become a volunteer worker at the centre. He works in the office as an administrator and also meets and greets the new trainees.
“As well as the practical courses they workers helped me apply for full-time jobs and gave me tips on interview techniques,” added Allan who has set up his own business teaching computer basics. “I was in a benefit trap and day after day was the same.
“From my first day here everyone was really friendly -nothing was too much trouble and I was made to feel part of a team.
“I would recommend it to anyone- come and give it a try.”
For more information or to book a place on the course call 0115 9709536 or visit www.evetrades.co.uk.