Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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May 20 2009
Thames Reach Bondway aims for at least 10 per cent of its workforce to be former homeless people In April last year, Thames Reach Bondway (TRB) announced plans to employ the very people it was set up to help by developing a scheme called Giving Real Opportunities for Work (GROW). The aim for 2007 is for at least 10 per cent of the charity's workforce to be former homeless people. So, how are TRB getting on? In July 2005, GROW took on 12 trainees for an agreed period of one year. The year was broken down into two components: nine months of paid in-house on-the-job training where delegates are immersed in a full-time schedule, a commitment equal to that of a full-time job, and for the final three months the trainees are paired up with life coaches. Life coach and trainee tackle the disciplines and skills that become crucial when seeking employment, including job search skills, the art of writing a succinct and successful application, interview techniques (including mock interviews) and finally, feedback and improvement strategies. "We can and do train existing staff to be life coaches and it's the life coaches who are paramount in helping the trainees make the transition", says Kath Dane, project manager of GROW. After a year of training and coaching, the successful candidates will be suitably qualified to apply for support worker roles throughout the sector, although a handful of GROW graduates will go on to enrol in additional in-house training for a more specialised field (i.e. human resources, IT, policy and research, and finance). Dane warns that it doesn't end there: "Being a newly qualified trainee does not automatically guarantee you a job. Trainees have to apply just like the rest of the workforce and so our results speak for themselves!" Ten months into the programme and it's clear that this year's intake are a tenacious and dedicated bunch. Of the initial 12 people, six have already secured jobs (three now work within TRB and the other three sought employment within external companies), four are currently applying, one person dropped out completely and another decided to give volunteering a try before engaging with the demands of employment, which is an option, explains Dane: "Unfortunately, the pressures of employment aren't for everyone - coping with huge lifestyle changes, a new identity and the worries of coming off benefits are substantial stresses. The last thing we want is to cause a relapse into homelessness, or worse, due to stress of work and change. Those who opt out are encouraged to volunteer and try again when they feel ready." In spite of the success of the scheme over the year, Dane and her colleagues have had to negotiate a few barriers. In order to make the on-the-job element of the first nine months work, each trainee must be integrated into a TRB team. This means that teams have to agree to take on trainee at the work experience stage. This initial acceptance can sometimes prove tricky, Dane reports: "It's not uncommon for [the teams] to be extremely resistant, but sometimes this resistance is quite well founded. There is the valid worry that confidentiality might be breached, since many ex-homeless trainees will often know our clients' backgrounds better than we do. It's important for our clients to know they can trust us if we are to be successful in the work we do?î??? and, apart from that, there's the usual prejudice; some people believe that the trainees might not be up to the job. This is usually short-lived, since after the nine months, I find that people get extremely excited for the newly qualified trainees and are genuinely happy for them". Dane and her team's hard work to promote and roll out employment initiatives like TRB's GROW are paying off. These schemes are becoming more commonplace amongst other UK charities, which is probably attributed to their many benefits. Resettled people get more of the jobs, current service users see inspiring role models when they seek help and then there are the advantage of having wealth of first-hand knowledge and expertise of the ex-homeless.
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