There are finally signs of hope for the unemployed in Shropshire. David Burrows reports on the help on offer.
Unemployment in Shropshire might have fallen to its lowest level for five years, with the jobless total in Telford at a three-year low, but for the region’s local authorities that is still not good enough.
However, with the squeeze on public finances tighter than ever, officials are having to come up with innovative ways to tackle the situation.
In Shropshire, that has lead to a pilot scheme which helped 10 people into work in the last eight weeks.
And Telford & Wrekin is also taking a proactive stance with “Job Junctions” springing up across the borough, helping to find work for 71 people in six months. Both are about providing tailored support for individuals, taking into account their needs.
It works – and has brought fresh hope to those given the opportunity for a new start.
The Job Junction has helped people such as 34-year-old Jenny Bellamy, from Brookside, Telford. Before she started going to Job Junction she had never had a job. She said: “I’d never worked. I was a full-time mum.
“I heard about Job Junction through word-of-mouth and got onto a course for food hygiene which was held here at the community centre and then Job Junction helped me for jobs as a kitchen assistant.
“I came here in January last year and started working in March. I got a job at Phoenix School, then I got another job with a catering firm called The Compass Group and also got a cleaning job with them too.
“Job Junction helped me with my CV. I didn’t think I had anything to put on a CV but they helped me realise the skills I had from being a full-time mum.
“I have told friends and family about it and told friends in other areas about the ones near them.”
Dave Cassie, 46, was also found work – at the very place the Job Junction was being held. Dave, of Brookside, a baker by trade who hails from Aberdeen, said: “My partner was poorly for five years and I couldn’t work. She got better and I started looking for a job.
“I came to Job Junction and they told me they were going to open a cafe at Brookside Community Centre, so I said I would give them a hand with it. When they said they were looking for a manager I applied for it and I got the job.
“I got a lot of satisfaction and help from Job Junction. I wasn’t great with computers and they helped me with that. They were fantastic. They couldn’t help me enough. I would say to other people ‘Make the most of Job Junction and keep going because you will get a job out of it. I am proof.
“The support is unbelievable.”
Telford has six Job Junctions – Brookside, Sutton Hill, Woodside. Wellington, Donnington and Dawley – which are run by Telford & Wrekin Council. They see an average of 240 people each week.
Marie Blake, a community learning leader in Brookside, believes they are providing a vital service.
She said: “We have weekly drop-in sessions on a Wednesday. People come in to access IT but also to get support with employment issues.
“We help with CVs and look at the type of jobs people want to do and look to see if they have the skills they need to do that.
“We are working in conjunction with Telford College and have an advisor here. We also get appointments from the job centre that come here. The main object is to educate. If people aren’t prepared for the modern workplace it can be a huge hindrance.
“We had a lot of people telling us they want cleaning jobs and so we set up a course with the family planning team and catering and cleaning. We have built a course around what people want and need.
“We also have employers coming to talk about vacancies that they have.”
The courses are run by people like community learning tutor Lucy Rouse.
She said: “The course has been put together to help people who wanted to go into domestic cleaning and care jobs.
“These two areas seem to overlap in many ways with things like health and safety and handling.
“We’ve had speakers in from private companies and the council to discuss opportunities and things like becoming self-employed. We’ve also had a speaker talking about voluntary work and the benefits of that and how that can open doors to other areas.
“The course has been designed around the needs of the people who come into the Job Junction. We are looking at other areas where we could do the same thing.
“We listen to the people looking for jobs to see what they want to be doing and provide the opportunity to get their foot through the door. We take feedback very seriously. We don’t want to waste people’s time by telling them things they don’t need to know. I base the course around what people want to know.”
The scheme in the area served by Shropshire Council came about as the local authority investigated a new way of working, known as “local commissioning”.
Church Stretton was chosen as the pilot area for commissioning, which involves the council working closely with communities to find out what is important to them to custom-built, as far as possible, to each community’s needs.
One person who has seen at first hand the good that the project in Church Stretton has done is Colette Cousins, who was temporarily out of work when she moved to Shropshire from Oxfordshire.
Although she did not find work through the scheme, she did witness its birth and is now in the final stages of becoming a mentor for others. She said: “I think it is a great thing that they are trying to do.
“The thing mentoring brings is support. I didn’t feel I needed help to find a job, but there is so much other stuff that goes on in the system and sometimes you feel so alone.
“People who have never worked or who have infrequently worked may see a mentor as more of a friend. It is someone outside of the system who can give them a little bit more time.”
George Candler, Shropshire Council’s director of commissioning, said: “We looked at the data in Church Stretton to understand where there were areas of demand and found there was a bit of a spike in terms of unemployment.”
Officials then started work with representatives from the JobCentre and the authority’s training arm, County Training to change the way things work.
Mr Candler said: “Under the existing model, someone will go to Shrewsbury every fortnight, sign on and then search for jobs.
“The first thing we did was to base our team in Church Stretton. We started working with a group of people who were out of work, which was 35 in total ranging from 18 to people in their late 50s/early 60s.
“We paired each of them with a colleague and started to work with them on a weekly basis to find out where they were in terms of getting back into work and to develop a personal plan for them.”
After eight weeks, 10 people had been found jobs, including one who had been out of work for nearly two years. The average cost of a person being out of work for a year is estimated at £10,000.
Mr Candler said: “We are now broadening the scope of that work. We are extending the period into November and we are also looking to broaden the reach and looking to start in Craven Arms and Wem.”