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Tackling unemployment

How Big Local areas are creating new pathways and opportunities into work

July 2014

Several Big Local areas are supporting residents to access employment opportunities as a way of creating a positive change for people in the area. Big Local partnerships are identifying some of the key steps along the pathway to finding work and developing creative ways to support residents into employment. 

This case study looks at the People’s Empowerment Alliance of Custom House (PEACH) and Wormholt and White City Big Local areas in London to understand more about what they have been doing. 

PEACH workers' co-op

The People’s Empowerment Alliance of Custom House Big Local area identified jobs and education as top of their list of priorities. Their goal is to ‘Increase the quality of employment in Custom House, ensuring that people have stable, adequately paid work which is accessible’. 

To respond to this priority, PEACH have created a workers’ cooperative as part of their plan. The co-op is a popular idea with the Big Local partnership as it fits well with the aspirations of residents in the area. 

One of the reasons to establish a workers’ co-op was a need to provide flexible working opportunities, so that those with parenting responsibilities could find work during the hours they’re available. The co-op is first focusing on winning cleaning contracts but might expand to security and facilities management. 

What is a co-operative?

As a starter, PEACH adopted the principles that the cooperative movement holds and endorsed them for their own workers’ co-op:

  • co-ops are autonomous and independent self-help organisations
  • co-ops educate and train their members so they can contribute to the co-op. We also inform the public about the benefits of cooperation
  • cooperation among co-ops benefits members and the wider co-op movement
  • co-op membership is open and voluntary
  • co-ops are controlled only by their members, who each have equal control
  • all members have a fair stake in the co-op. Investment does not give control and only gives a small return
  • the co-ops acts with concern for the PEACH community.

Where to start?

In order to setup the co-op, some of the residents talked to the Belfast women’s cooperative to get some ideas and begin the process. They also held meetings with people that were interested in becoming part of the cooperative. Ten founding members got the group going and they are now registering with the cooperative movement online, with a growing database of members who can contribute to winning contracts. 

Developing skills through training

Joe Richards, a resident who is leading the project in PEACH has undertaken some initial training in how to setup accounts, produce a business plan and ensure that the co-op successfully generates income. The co-op members are now planning to get trained in health and safety issues as they’ll need to produce certification in order to win contracts. 

Once they have completed this and purchased insurance liability, they will be ready to start bidding for work. The cooperative have already been in touch with Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking Council and hope to work with them in the future. They are also following up other contacts they have made and are constantly seeking new opportunities.

Setting up a co-op can take time

Getting people together and coordinated takes time and Joe has needed to work hard at this. Some people that were initially interested have dropped out because they found it difficult to keep interested while things got up and running. However, the co-op will continue to be open for new members so there’s always the possibility for them to come back and they hope to continue recruiting more residents over time.

Joe feels that the cooperative can serve as a really helpful project for PEACH to deliver their vision of as many people becoming employed in Custom House as possible. But beyond this, it meets a wider aspiration about putting residents in control of their employment. Joe says:

"In the future, the idea is people will be working for themselves. It’s about empowering people."

Support from PEACH 

The PEACH Big Local plan has clearly set out ways of supporting the co-op project, including helping co-op members to develop the skills they need to take this project forwards. Because some of those who’ll be supported are also members of the Big Local partnership, this has raised some issues around the relationship between PEACH and the co-op. So they have worked hard to ensure that any conflicts of interest are managed and reduced.

Some of the training PEACH is funding to help people on the co-op learn different skills include IT, accounting and tendering. These opportunities to develop new skills are important learning opportunities and Joe has found the experience of establishing the co-op a very rewarding experience. Joe explains:

"At first the concept seemed a bit daunting but through my research I’ve found out some co-ops have been going for 20 – 30 years which has been really inspiring. Most of the things I’ve learnt have been from other workers’ co-ops’.

While the process of establishing a co-op can take time and requires some patience, Joe feels positive about their future. He hopes that over time meetings will become less formal, so that as people get to know each other they can create an organisation that people will enjoy being part of.

Wormholt and White City

As part of their vision for Wormholt and White City the Big Local partnership has included employment opportunities: ‘We will work to support local people secure jobs and training opportunities that help them realise their hopes and aspirations… We aim to create a confident and vibrant community that benefits from the wealth and success of the West London economy’.

Their consultation with residents revealed a high number of adults and young people who currently have no qualifications and are not in training or employment. However, there are many employment opportunities locally and more are likely to develop in the future. Providing residents with real chances of competing for these jobs is a key aim and many of the priorities within their Big Local plan are all about tackling unemployment and helping people to develop skills. They include:

  • providing more opportunities for training and employment for young people and adults
  • building the skills and abilities of local residents to run their own communities, manage the delivery of local services and start new businesses
  • providing a community chest grant of £20,000 per annum and establish a youth fund run by young people
  • training and employment.

Working with local employers

Wormholt and White City is close to the Westfield retail development and the Big Local partnership is working to explore the employment possibilities that could open up for residents; including retail, facilities management and marketing. Discussions with residents have revealed that they are sometimes struggling to submit application forms within the often short, two-week deadlines. The Big Local partnership has acted on this and through discussion with Westfield shopping centre has now agreed that residents in Wormholt and White City will have longer notice of employment opportunities and will be informed about them before they’re publicised more widely. 

The Big Local partnership is also keen to ensure that everyone has access to online facilities, since 98% of Westfield employment opportunities are advertised solely online. Garry McMillan, chair of Wormholt and White City Big Local says:

"We want to make sure that everyone locally is skilled to apply for a job they are suitable for. Some of our work will be focused on English as a second language (ESOL) to ensure that everyone is equipped with the right language skills."

Working collaboratively with partners

Garry McMillan, chair of the Wormholt and White City Big Local partnership, has been working closely with the local council and White City enterprise to find solutions that support the employment of residents. Together they are planning to setup a shop-front enterprise for young people to engage in training and other activities that will help them gain employment. 

The ‘job shop’

The idea is that the shop-front location will provide a ‘job shop’ that Garry hopes will become the first port of call for young people seeking to develop their skills or find employment. It will offer seminars, CV-writing courses and a number of workstations that people can use to find opportunities and complete applications. The idea of the job-shop is that it will serve multiple needs, so that people might come to the enterprise to use a work station, but then access training and other opportunities. 

The council is part-funding the venture and refurbishment of the shop with £70,000 and the Big Local partnership has established a good working relationship with them. Garry says:

"It’s about local people turning around to the council and saying ‘this is what we want’. Credit to the council that they get the ethos (of Big Local) and have responded well."

There is even the possibility that the Big Local partnership may open another shop in the future, which would become an innovation hub. This would consist of a number of work-stations with phones and computers for people to use. At first the service would be free but over time may gradually become a paid for service at affordable rates if it proves popular. The vision is that the hub will create an environment in which people can learn from each other. 

Word-of-mouth promotion

The ambition of the job shop is to respond to residents’ multiple needs, so it’s important that they raise awareness of it and promote the opportunities available. Garry thinks that the best way to spread the word will likely come through local networks, with residents telling one another about their experience of using the job shop. Garry hopes there may be also be further opportunities coming into the area through corporate social responsibility and there will be chances to provide mentoring opportunities for young people using the job shop. 

Garry is very positive about the development of Big Local in the area and recognises that while it can be frustrating in terms of the time it takes to get going, persistence pays-off and once people start seeing results, attitudes can quite quickly change. Garry is particularly inspired by the collaborative possibilities emerging through Big Local and the potential to bring diverse groups together to bring about their goal.

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