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WorkShop: 5 Lessons on Setting up a Community Project

Every Thursday morning my wife and I run a little work club called WorkShop that we have set up voluntarily in our spare time to serve our local community of Ladywood. Here are a few lessons that we are learning along the way that we hope will be useful if you ever want to set up your own project.

1. Investigate the need in your area

Karis Neighbour SchemeLadywood has significant levels of unemployment and there are no other work clubs or job clubs in the vicinity. After some investigation of the needs of the local area we found that a local Christian charity Karis Neighbour Scheme working with the Nehemiah Project had already completed research indicating the need here not only for activities to engage people but also to enable them to look into paths into training and to take steps towards getting work. There are other events for unemployed people such as the Drop in Centre that meets in our church’s little building but there is nothing specifically supporting people back into work in the way that WorkShop aims to do.

After starting this we also found out that Job Centre Plus was facilitating a number of organisations set up work clubs in the area and we are now registered with them and they have sent us a few people. We’ve now found that they are giving grants to help people set these up and help with the marketing which we are exploring.

2. Don’t go it alone – work with partners

We couldn’t have set up WorkShop on our own. We are working in partnership with a few other organisations that we made contact with as we initially explored the idea of serving our community.

church aliveWorkShop is partnering with our own church Church Alive and also with another local church – Church of the Redeemer who allows us to use one of their rooms – free of charge. The room is furnished with a number of desktop computers and has internet access. Karis Neighbour Scheme, also based on the Church of The Redeemer’s premises, work a lot with local residents offering befriending and practical support such as DIY and gardening. Karis has been instrumental in helping us to get established and has referred a number of people to us over the months. Karis have also secured funding for us and Church of the Redeemer is holding the money for WorkShop.

As we have networked with other organisations and explained what we are doing we have found them really helpful.  For instance, we are also grateful for ongoing support from Birmingham Disability Resource Centre. Though we are not just aiming to help people with a disability we are aiming to be inclusive and our one-to-one approach is suited well to anyone with additional needs.

3. Plan some activities but be flexible

seetecWhat sort of activities do we have? Well, to start with you complete some activities that get you to think about all your existing skills – even those you never knew you had and we find out what you are looking for. Some may want to find out about training courses or volunteering opportunities. Many may want help writing a CV, or may just want somewhere to start job hunting from. Also Seetec an organisation who provides help and training for jobseekers, have not only donated a couple of laptops but also access to their online activities.

When someone comes along we spend some time getting to know them, assessing their needs and suggesting the best activities for them. People may want to ask us questions about where to find help with courses, volunteering or jobs. We spend a lot of the time talking to people individually. Of course some may want to just work quietly. Not everyone in the area has a computer at home so some appreciate using the internet access for job searching. We also have the jobs papers to hand and a variety of other leaflets.

4. Don’t be discouraged by small beginnings

job centre plusWe had initially thought WorkShop would develop into a fairly cohesive small group of job seekers with people continually finding work and new people joining. This is a small beginning and we do hope that this will develop into such a group. But what we are finding is that we are spending more time with people on one-to-one basis for those that want it. People discuss their skills with us and ask for feedback and guidance on developing their CV or assistance in completing application forms.

I think doing a lot more marketing is important to engage more people. We need to be printing more leaflets and taking them around other community groups. We also need to be presenting what WorkShop is all about to groups that could refer people. It might be worth going into Job Centres to sit in on advisory meetings explaining who we are and what we do and to volunteer ourselves as guest speakers at Back to Work sessions that the Job Centres are running.

5. Get more volunteers on board

We are yet to do this. We made contact with the Church Urban Fund at Greenbelt who has a model for job clubs that we might want to use supported by the Jericho Foundation. This looks similar to what Pecan & Tearfund are doing. What I like about these is that they are not just offering a model but also support in doing what we are doing and they see it as a church project. These contacts look very promising as they are both looking to help churches set up these sorts of clubs. Interestingly they both recommend getting a few more church volunteers on a rota. And they will help pushing advertising to get a group formed so that we could start doing group activities.

There is no doubt that Ladywood needs WorkShop and working together with others we hope that we are beginning to fulfil that need. It’s still early days yet but many people have been helped already.

October 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

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