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Supporting young people: Looking back on Aspire and Ambition

Laura Gavin 12 January 2018

"It’s been completely life-changing, for so many of the’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done."

Two of our most challenging yet rewarding projects have recently come to a close at P3: Aspire Gloucestershire and Ambition East Midlands.

Both were set up to address youth unemployment and homelessness, and involved working in partnership with other local agencies such as The Y Leicestershire and CCP in Gloucestershire, to support complex and chaotic clients who had not been able to find support elsewhere.

These 3-year projects offered a completely different approach to our other services in that they were funded by the government’s Fair Chance Fund (2014) and made possible by Social Impact Bonds, in which social investors put money in and the project received payments based on its monthly outcomes.

We asked Service Manager for Aspire, Ella Hawkins and Assistant Director for the East Midlands, Rebecca Harrington-Leigh to take a look back on all the highs – and the bumps in the road! – along the way.

What did Aspire and Ambition set out to achieve?

Ella:  The premise was to tackle the ‘revolving door’ of youth homelessness, as once people get to the higher priority end of the scale, it’s much harder to enable them to get away from this kind of lifestyle. These were young adults who had been through mainstream services and for one reason or another, their needs weren’t being met.

Rebecca: They had to be 18-24 years old to qualify for the programme, not in education, employment or training and homeless, and could stay with the service for the full three years.

What were the challenges in working with this group of young people?

Rebecca: The project was Housing First, so the approach was the young people needed housing and then everything else can be tackled. However, some clients have never been able to live independently and never managed a tenancy. We had many clients get into trouble, within hours of having moved into their accommodation, and we had to deal with things like criminal damage and anti-social behaviour, which was really tough.

Ella: You’re often trying to negotiate with young people who have no concept of consequences, though in some cases it did really work. The accommodation was by far the biggest challenge.

I also struggled with the fact that on paper it was about getting jobs and education, but there was a huge piece of work in the middle to get them ready to sustain all of these things. There was a real mix of complex people, some of whom needed really intensive support around mental health, drug and alcohol abuse…

Rebecca: There were a lot of softer outcomes like reconnecting with their family or just having a day where they engaged with their worker, basic stuff that I think some of them needed 6-12 months of before saying: ‘OK, are you ready to engage in this course, or are you ready to look at work?’

Ella: I think this was the first project of this kind for everybody in the organisation, including senior staff, so I actually think we’ve learned a lot and now I’m running ACTion Glos (a multi-agency project to support long-term rough sleepers with multiple and overlapping issues), I have gained so much knowledge that I can apply to that.

What was actually involved with the link worker's job?

Ella: From a link worker’s perspective, it’s an amazing job – your skillset is so broad because you’re everything from a social worker to an agony aunt, to a benefits expert! I’ve just been in touch with someone who’s a project manager at another organisation, who started off as an Assistant Support Worker with P3, so that’s really good, what he’s achieved inside of three years. It’s a real juggle, especially at first when they were managing new referrals, a new project, people moving in and out of accommodation. On the flipside, it’s really upskilled them, in ways that they wouldn’t be able to gain in another role.

Rebecca: Yeah and you know, they needed passion and tenacity and fire in their belly. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to fulfil that multi-skilled, multi-faceted role. But we retained everyone at Ambition for a large part of the contract.

How did you approach supporting this group of young people?

Ella: I know that we both had to come up with different solutions for people who struggle with life as you or I may know it, and actually sitting in a college environment with people who may not have the issues that they’ve got is really difficult. Some of them did do it, but a lot of them didn’t. So, we had to look at education in a different way.

Rebecca: We tailored it so we could accommodate the fact that the young people in our cohort were not always going to be able to knuckle down in a classroom environment, so how do we work round that so they still get to take part in education and come out with a qualification?

It’s about adjusting expectations and seeing them all as individual people.

Actor Stephen Graham visits Ambition clients in 2017

What about the rewards; what do you think is special about this type of project?

Rebecca: With some services, you might work with people for a short time if it wasn’t working out or they had reached their goals, but with these projects, you’ve got one lot of people for three years and you stick with them and you go for it.

And for some, it didn’t work out, but we’ve had so many who have. We’ve got some young people who are working and continue work and have moved on into their own tenancy. For others, they’ve reconnected with their family and that’s perfect for them. It might seem a small thing, or it might seem a huge thing – it doesn’t really matter, the outcomes are brilliant for the individual people.

Ella: This is a group of people, not to be over-dramatic, who society had given up on.

Rebecca: And they feel it don’t they, that’s what they think about themselves.

Ella: Yeah, they feel that they’re not worthy, they’re not part of something and actually we're talking about young people who would probably be tomorrow’s really entrenched rough sleepers or serious addicts. They can really mess up, but you’re still there. And I think that creates such trust.

We had a guy who had ADHD, couldn’t sit still and doing an assessment in four walls in an office was just not possible. So Stephanie, one of the link workers, used to go for a walk with him. Because we weren’t restricted by parameters, that was breathtaking, just being able to be a bit more flexible.

It’s been completely life-changing, for so many of the clients. There are things I would have done differently, but it’s definitely the best thing I’ve ever done.

You can find out more about the Aspire and Ambition projects by following the links to our service pages.