This guest post is by Andrew Harrison, Head of Contracts at Groundwork UK.

As has often been said of late, we’re facing unprecedented challenges as a nation.

Those challenges are many and significant – global economic trends, a changing climate and now an unforgiving pandemic. All of these forces impact first and worst on those in our society who have least, adding to the structural inequalities that have been affecting parts of our country for decades.

Supporting those who need it most

Groundwork was established 40 years ago to help drive change in communities impacted by economic challenge, social unrest, and environmental issues.  Our work to support those who are marginalised and disconnected from the economic mainstream, to build the capacity of local community organisations and to help local small businesses stay competitive and operate more sustainably has never been more important. 

Like many others in the voluntary sector, we’ve had to respond quickly and learn difficult lessons to transform our service offer and continue to provide support to those who need it most.

We’ve managed to do that in a variety of ways.  For example, in Blackpool we’ve supported the local authority by managing a food distribution programme on a local housing estate.  We’ve worked with NEET young people online and via telephone to ensure they can continue to access vital training and employment opportunities.  Our Green Doctors – community workers trained in domestic energy advice – continue to find ways of delivering energy advice to those suffering from fuel poverty remotely, working closely with local agencies to ensure that every contact counts.  Over 8000 community groups were able to benefit from £4m of emergency funding that we awarded on behalf of the Tesco Bags of Help Covid-19 Communities Fund. 

Key to our ability to provide that support to communities has been strong, effective partnerships. 

Sustainable jobs to reduce reoffending

This is why we were delighted to have been awarded a grant through the City & Guilds Foundation’s Future Skills Commission for Prisons for our Green Start programme, which will enable us to develop and deliver a new learning programme in prisons, focusing on employment pathways into the green economy. 

Green Start will work closely with employers to tailor content in order to prepare participants (cohorts of male and female offenders) for real ‘green job’ opportunities – for example, domestic insulation, retrofit, sustainable construction – upon their release.  By offering ‘through the gate’ employability support, the programme will offer continuity and support to participants in the crucial period following their reintroduction to society, aiming to secure employment that is critical to reducing the risk of reoffending.

Green Start was conceived prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and although the current restrictions have delayed the start of delivery, we believe its scope and purpose is even more relevant and necessary than when we first envisaged it if we are to address barriers to employment in what will be an even more competitive job market.  The concept is being met with continued enthusiasm and support from employers despite the difficult economic conditions, who see opportunities to progress their commitments to operate more sustainably and deliver social value.

This should all provide us with some degree of comfort that, despite the obvious challenges, we are all committed to working together to build back better towards a green recovery when the pandemic is finally under control. 

For more information about our work to support communities in need, please visit www.groundwork.org.uk.

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