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Communities that Work Board member in the news: Coast and Country does not only supply social housing, it also provides skills

This article was originally posted on the Business Quarter website on 11th August 2015 –

Steven McCorry, who is profoundly deaf, had been out of work for more than five years and found it difficult to gain work experience.

But then he discovered housing association Coast & Country’s Journey into Work programme. McCorry, from Dormanstown, attended Work Hubs, part of the Journey into Work scheme, and was referred to Forging Futures, a training opportunity which is also part of Journey into Work, designed to develop skills and confidence and that also offers a chance to take up a paid work placement with Coast & Country and other employers.

Since then he has been working as a labourer on the Crown House project and at community centres around the area. Crown House in Middlesbrough, the former DSS office, is being brought back to life as part of the Boho 6 Middlehaven Waterfront mixed use regeneration project, with Coast & Country’s Empty Homes scheme playing a role.

Emma Tooth, community investment officer at Coast & Country, says: “Steven is doing very well in his work placements, acquiring valuable experience and skills and gaining in confidence. “This is a fantastic example of three of our innovative schemes working together for the benefit of an individual and the wider community.”

Journey into Work was set up in 2009, since when it has given help to some 5,000 people and has helped more than 1,500 people into work and has provided training to about 3,500 people. It operates largely in Redcar and Cleveland where the association has about 10,000 homes and about 13,000 tenants.

Coast & Country’s Journey into Work initiative comprises a package of measures that the association has developed to help people find work, volunteering or training opportunities.
It offers advice on employment and training opportunities from assistance with writing a CV to tips on interviews. It also offers job clubs and appointments with advisors.

Its Tenant Resource Centre at Westfield Farm in Dormanstown provides free training opportunities, a free IT suite and help and support to assist people back into work. It offers at least two free courses every month aimed at supporting people into employment. Among the most popular courses are food hygiene, first aid training, horticulture and Site Safety Passports or CSCS card training.

For those wanting to start a career in construction, Coast and Country’s Barn training courses equip people with skills in tiling, painting, plumbing or plastering, as well as basic DIY skills. Tracy O’Neill, director of customer services, explains: “Westfield Farm is the hub of all our activities around improving skills. It’s a lovely relaxed environment, it’s not like walking into the Job Centre.”

Coast and Country also works to provide younger people with skills. As a partner in Trust 4 Learning, it delivers extra-curricular activities to students to help them better understand the world of business and employment, supporting their future career choices.

And its STAR programme is designed to tackle unemployment at an early age. Working with young people from year nine upwards, the programme focuses on laying foundations for the world of work. The association’s Journey into Work Fund can provide some help to pay for items necessary for finding work, such as interview clothing, tools, insurance, transport and a variety of courses.

Coast and Country has also joined Communities that Work (Guac) a group of more than 45 housing providers which has been formed to help get people back into work and to lobby the government.

Why did Coast and Country set up Journey into Work? O’Neill explains: “It answers one of the main priorities for our customers. If you’re in social housing you’re 50% less likely to be in employment. It makes good business sense for us. We have 12 wards in the most deprived super output areas [on the indices of deprivation] and we needed to do something to narrow that gap.”

She adds: “We find people don’t just need help with getting into work, they need help to become digitally included, help with money advice, it’s a multi-faceted problem and you have to provide a range of services to people.”

“People who want a job will go to a job centre, people who want training will go to a college. We need to take these services out to people’s communities, so Work Hub is a pop-up service we provide in libraries or our own locations with somebody providing money advice, somebody who can provide digital inclusion support and someone who can help plan a CV. They get signposted from there onto the training that they need and hopefully into jobs.”

Coast and County also has a long-standing apprenticeship programme with up to 30 apprentices at any one time in areas from housing to IT and from heating to horticulture.

“We spend £180,000 every year on apprentices,” says O’Neill. “We don’t just take apprentices, they have mentors and they do team building and we let them manage budgets and they put on events for the company. It’s very important to us and it’s linked to our belief that young people deserve a chance but it makes good business sense in terms of succession planning and we have an 89% retention rate in terms of our apprenticeship programmes.”

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