Trading Places puts trust in top brass

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Bob captures the essence of First Step Trust’s Trading Places initiative when he says, “The stigma around mental health is corrosive, it gets you down. First Step Trust (FST) gave me the chance to break away from welfare benefits”… Despite the ups and downs, “I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Bob has been one of the volunteer FST workforce given the chance to move into employment as part of this inspiring prototype, which was launched last year.

It offered senior executives the opportunity to ‘trade places’ with a member of FST’s workforce for a few hours, either at its Abbeyvilles’ restaurant in Clapham or at its garages in West Norwood or Woolwich. The executive was able to reciprocate with an opportunity for one of FST’s workers to either shadow them for a day or spend some time at their workplace.

Trading Places brought benefits to both sides:
• senior executives met people with mental health problems and other disadvantages on an equal footing – everyone was there to do a job of work.
• this has helped to dispel some of the myths about mental illness that lead to stigma and disadvantage in the workplace.
• the experience has benefited FST workers and help them to gain the confidence to move on into paid work.
it is hoped it has encouraged senior executives to consider partnerships with social enterprises, such as FST, when letting or bidding for work contracts.

Nicholas Campbell-Watts, Director of Mental Health at Certitude, and Lambeth Collaborative member had a great time working alongside the team at Abbevilles. ” Everyone I spoke to had a personal story about why they were so passionate about working there. It was so obvious how much every person’s contribution is valued by the team which does such a lot for everyone’s self-esteem! To do all that in a commercial setting producing amazing locally sourced food…is pretty special.”

Socially Minded and Responsible Trading

Meanwhile, Paul Lelliot, Deputy Chief Inspector of the Care Quality Commission, “learnt how to make a mean soufflé” at the restaurant, while Jack Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Jobs & Growth Lambeth had a really good day at the West Norwood SMaRT garage. “The workforce are a really vibrant bunch who relish the challenges facing them in the garage. Creating sustainable training and job opportunities for people excluded from other opportunities is an essential part of Lambeth Council’s plans for the future,” he says. “SMaRT stands for “Socially Minded and Responsible Trading”. My experience today confirms that FST ‘does what it says it does on the tin’. Keep up the good work!!”

Ronnie Wilson, FST’s CEO speaks passionately for those often disenfranchised when he says “a few years ago, some of these folk would never have had the opportunity to even consider returning to work… First Step Trust (FST) manages social enterprises that allow people to experience real work as the first step of their journey back into paid employment.”

There is overwhelming evidence that employment in a healthy work environment is good for people. It provides meaning and structure to a person’s day and creates a sense of being part of society and of a wider community. This applies equally to people, who because of mental health problems, are unable to hold down a job with a mainstream employer either temporarily or longer-term.

The provision of work for people with mental health problems has wider benefits by reducing people’s dependency on health and social care services, reducing dependency on welfare benefits and reduction in poverty.

Rachel Hubbard, CEO of Deaf Umbrella whose stint reminded her of the times when her father worked in his garage, sums up the venture beautifully when she says, “SMaRT garages fight for the right to be treated with dignity and the right to be educated. It’s overalls and dressed like work; but really it’s a massive opportunity!”

Watch this space for more information on how Trading Places may be extended.

For more information about First Step Trust http://firststeptrust.org.uk/

Click here to read how the top brass coped on the frontline

Click here for the January update.

Click here to see how MP Helen Hayes and others fared in February.

Karen Hooper

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