A project aimed at helping people facing multiple and complex barriers to move towards employment says the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic mean its work is even more crucial at this time.
The Building Better Opportunities Getting Cumbria to Work (BBO GCtW) project supports people in the Barrow and South Lakes area aged 18 and above, who are either unemployed or economically inactive.
It is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund and is run by Cumbria Council for Voluntary Service (CCVS) in partnership with five charitable organisations – The Well at Barrow, Imagine Independence, Right2Work, Barrow Women's Community Matters and Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service (CADAS).
The coronavirus pandemic had caused an adverse economic impact, with more people now unemployed and a huge spike in applications for Universal Credit, said project manager Natalia Wealleans-Turner.
"We want to help people weather this really difficult period. We have been giving and will continue to give our existing participants essential support so they are in a stronger position in terms of employability because when the lockdown is lifted, they will emerge into an entirely different labour market which has been adversely affected.
"Our aim is to ensure our participants who are vulnerable and some of the furthest away from the labour market, are not left even further behind.
"We also want to help new people who are now unemployed or claiming benefits as a result of the economic impact of Covid-19."
Ms Wealleans-Turner explained: "The main aim of the project is to support people to take gentle steps by accessing support and training that will increase their employability.
"This can involve addressing barriers to employment, such as childcare issues, the person's mental health, providing support to those in recovery from addiction or working with people for whom English is not their first language."
Current participants include mums looking after pre-school children or people caring for loved-ones, people with physical and learning disabilities or mental health conditions and people who have a history of offending, often because of drug taking, who are now rehabilitated but struggling to find work. The project is also working with some of the refugees from Syria in Barrow.
Each new participant has a one-to-one meeting with a key worker to help them draw up a development plan.
Ms Wealleans-Turner said often it was a case of trying to boost a participant's confidence and self-esteem. Support might include accompanying someone with anxiety on a visit to a library, café or a job centre appointment. It might involve the person attending activities to improve their mental health and well-being, such as yoga, mindfulness or arts and crafts sessions.
"Since 2017 we have supported 326 people, of which 65 have left the project into employment; 34 have gone into education and training and 18 have left more equipped to explore employment options," said Ms Wealleans-Turner.
Feedback has been excellent. A participant in the four-week job search programme said: "My experience has helped me an awful lot in looking for work, preparing for interviews and changing details on my CV."
Another stated that key worker support 'enabled me to enrol on a catering course at Furness College'. And, of a Manjushri guided meditation activity, another said: "I feel as though it has given me a new coping mechanism."
Jobs search workshops have taught people to understand their transferable skills and how to write a good curriculum vitae.
The project has worked with more than 40 local business and organisations to offer work placements and volunteering opportunities, including Joss Engineering, Barrow Domestic Appliances, Lowther Castle and St John's Hospice Shop and it is keen to work with others. The team would really like to hear from any firms with job vacancies or potential work placements.
"Not everyone will leave with a job but the project can make them more employable and make a difference in terms of softer outcomes," said Ms Wealleans-Turner.
During the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the project team is very keen to emphasise that the project is 'still very much open for business,' with one-to-one and group sessions being held virtually.
For example, Sally Benson, who usually provides face-to-face craft activities to help people feel more confident about interacting with others, has created special craft packs which are sent to participants, who then do the activities by watching video sessions online.
"We have regular telephone contact and email support with participants and use online platforms like Zoom to engage with groups," said Ms Wealleans-Turner.