Date: 03/09/2008 Category: Social Regeneration
A government minister learned how a hugely successful flagship scheme has helped more than 500 people in Medway overcome barriers to work during a visit to Chatham yesterday (2 September). Stephen Timms, Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, met the staff at the helm of Medway Council’s highly successful Project Reignite. He also met Medway Council’s Leader Cllr Rodney Chambers, Chief Executive Neil Davies and Portfolio Holder for Strategic Development and Economic Growth Cllr Jane Chitty. Project Reignite supports residents who are either unemployed or on low wages and living in five disadvantaged neighbourhoods to become more attractive to future employers. Dedicated neighbourhood outreach workers work closely with residents living in All Saints; Brook Lines; Melville and Brompton; Strood and Twydall. Since November 2006, Project Reignite and its sister project Score have empowered more than 3,000 residents, by equipping them with skills and qualifications or helping them overcome personal barriers, including health and housing issues, drug and alcohol dependency or a lack of self-esteem. The project also provides practical help like writing a CV, advice on personal appearance and how to seek employment. People have gone on to find jobs in industries as diverse as construction, security, retail and transport. Mr Timms met some of the people who have been supported by the scheme and given the support to get back to work when he visited the All Saints Community Centre in Magpie Hall Road, Chatham. Inspirational tales were shared about the personal barriers that had been overcome by service users. Patrick O’ Connor, who lives in Chatham, told Mr Timms about the support he received from outreach manager Kaz Macklin to improve his self confidence. He said: “My agoraphobia has held me back, but Kaz has really helped repair my confidence and supported me while I studied for a security industry qualification, which I recently completed. “Project Reignite has helped me believe I am capable of achieving things in life and given me the confidence to get back to work and stand on my own feet. I can’t thank the team enough for their support and belief in me, which no-one has ever made me feel.” Stephen Timms, Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform said: "I have seen for myself the excellent work Reignite does to enable people to break through often difficult barriers and become ready for work. Reignite is already working with Jobcentre Plus and others to help people out of welfare and into work and I applaud their efforts." Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Strategic Development and Economic Growth Cllr Jane Chitty said: “Project Reignite has a growing reputation for its forward thinking and provision of services to local people from disadvantaged backgrounds. “I hope this visit will highlight the exceptional and hard work being achieved by everyone involved in this fantastic project. “We are very keen that innovative projects like this continue to add worthwhile value to mainstream employment support services. We are delighted the government is advocating support for locally driven approaches to getting the hardest to reach people into employment and off benefits and the recognition of the work of this authority to achieve these aims. What you cannot put a value on is the life changing impact that this has had on so many local people.” The project is funded by Medway Council, the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and is resourced by the European Union and Church in Society. The project is a close partnership between the council, Job Centre Plus and four community organisations, which employ all but one of the outreach workers: All Saints Community Project, Church in Society, Strood Community Project and Melville and Brompton Community Association. Since Project Reignite began in November 2006, it has to date helped 538 overcome barriers to work. It has also enabled 102 of these people to secure jobs, with a further 21 enrolled on higher education courses. The Project is conservatively estimating that it will make a saving to the government’s benefits system to the tune of £539,000. In addition, more than £750,000 of income has been generated for people in the target neighbourhoods as a result of their employment.