Trustees from The Story of Christmas joined members of the CRASH team for a ‘work in progress’ tour of the Thames Reach Employment Academy on Thursday 29th March to see first hand how their generous donation was being put to use.
Founded in 1978, The Story of Christmas is the charity carol service of the property industry and London corporate sector raising over £5 million for charities associated with homelessness. Through CRASH, they joined British Gypsum, EC Harris and Land Securities to support Thames Reach in realising their ambitious goal to help unemployed people in Southwark and Lambeth develop new skills, access training and education opportunities and to find work.
The tour of the Grade II Listed building was led by Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain and his colleague Steven McIntosh. They were joined by two former homeless men were already benefitting from being involved with the project. Speaking candidly, former drug addict Ben recalled his lowest point on the streets. “I was sitting in a burnt out car in the freezing cold trying to find a vein,” he said. “People walked past me like I was invisible. All ties with my family were broken, I wasn’t allowed to see my children; there was nothing or no one there for me.”
Ben was referred to Thames Reach through his key worker and, thanks to their support, has turned his life around in two short years. He began volunteering with the charity before being taken on in a paid role as an Outreach Worker helping homeless people access the services that will help them off the streets and find help with their addiction or mental health issues. “Many people on the streets don’t know what is there for them, who can help them,” explained Ben who believed that he was able to gain the trust of those who needed help because he could genuinely empathise with their situation.
It is a similar story for 22% of Thames Reach staff who were formerly homeless; a figure they believe enables them to take a broad perspective on the issues facing those on the streets. However, Jeremy Swain wants to see this percentage rise and it is this aim that is at the heart of the Employment Academy. “This will be a place where people are challenged to get involved, where expectations and aspirations are high and which transforms vague hopes into practical objectives and concrete achievements,” he said. “It will contribute towards ending homelessness by giving formerly homeless people and those experiencing social exclusion who live locally the opportunity to make fundamental changes in their lives, building economic independence, personal resilience and, in doing so, extend opportunity and choice.”
“Without Thames Reach I wouldn’t be here today,” said Paul who is now working with contractors Lakehouse to refurbish building whilst attending college one day a week to study for an NVQ. Paul explained how for two years his home was Lewisham Park, his bed a park bench and how he would look forward to illness because it meant a warm night in A&E. Paul was illiterate but good with his hands so had been in constant work until his partner died, it was then he began what he called his ‘downward spiral’. When asked by Story of Christmas CEO Marc Corbett-Weaver what the Academy meant to him, Paul replied simply. “It’s given me back my self esteem.”
Due to open in August 2012, the Academy will host a range of different services which will aim to:
• Broaden the routes available into work for service members focusing on five industries: Construction, Retail, Social Care, Catering and Security.
• Provide information, advice and guidance so that individuals can make informed choices about the options available to them
• Deliver specialist training to help individuals develop the skills and confidence to move towards work and offer practical placement and volunteering options
• Embed employment, training and skills development more fully into Thames Reach’s mainstream support activities
• Offer a shop window to employers, show-casing the talent and potential of individuals
• Give emotional, practical and financial support to those returning to work
• Provide role models and examples of success
The Academy will not seek to replicate provision that is available elsewhere. Its role will be to ensure that maximum use is made of other services and resources, both specialist and mainstream.