[Lieutenant Jan Howlin with Cllr Oliver Whittle]
This Employability Day (Friday 14 July) The Salvation Army in Wokingham welcomed Councillors Oliver Whittle and Julian McGhee-Sumner to its new employment service to highlight the importance of local job seeker support.
Employment Plus Local, which launched in Wokingham in May, is a growing Salvation Army initiative where anyone experiencing unemployment can find information and guidance on their journey into work. It comes as many unemployed people struggle to gain access to mainstream employment support unless they are claiming social security or have been referred by another agency
In Wokingham, Jan Howlin’s team helps around 25 vulnerable adults each day, all of whom will now have access to the Employment Plus Local service.
The Salvation Army in Wokingham recognises the need for vulnerable adults to get employment support and has operated a volunteer-run community drop-in service for over seven years. Jan Howlin, The Salvation Army officer at Wokingham, has extensive experience of supporting people who need extra time and patience. With the launch of the new Employment Plus Local, Jan now has a permanent member of staff whose role is dedicated to supporting local job seekers.Jan says:“Some people come to us and they may have mental health issues, some are experiencing homelessness. Some have found accommodation but still need support. Sometimes people don’t have access to a computer or they can’t read or write."
"We’re not about seeing numbers, we always try to see the person as a whole and will offer tailored support – I’m delighted we now have this dedicated employment support service that’s open to anyone in the community who is looking for work.”
Megan*, 48, first started visiting Wokingham Salvation Army four years ago as she was struggling financially. The support started with a food parcel, but now Megan is able to use the computers and gets help with searching for jobs, and answers to any question she has with her hunt for work.She said:"I find it very helpful to be able to come in here and be able to use the computers and to search for jobs. I need to work to get money to pay my bills and live. I can also use the phone at The Salvation Army to call up and ask about a job. I'm looking for kitchen jobs or cleaning jobs."
The Salvation Army also helped Megan fight her eviction when it went to court. Megan had been sanctioned, meaning she was without any benefits for eight weeks. But with The Salvation Army's help she was able to stay in the house she had lived in for the last 20 years. Wokingham Salvation Army also assisted Megan in finding a tenant, who themselves would have been homeless, to stay with her at the house to help her afford the rent. Megan also has a car, which was donated to her by a Salvation Army volunteer, which means she can apply for jobs further from her home.
[Siobhan Sanctuary (volunteer), Ian Geary (public affairs adviser), Chris Pape (volunteer), Nick Read (Employment Plus), Cllr Oliver Whittle (Wokingham Borough Council), Zara Sanders (Community Manager Wokingham SA), Lieutenant Jan Howlin (Corps Officer, Wokingham SA), Cllr Julian McGhee-Sumner (Wokingham Borough Council), Ann Bushnell (Salvation Army DHQ)]
Councillors Whittle and McGhee-Sumner of Wokingham Borough Council were invited to see the service at Wokingham first-hand as part of the UK-wide Employability Day initiative, which aims to show the impact of local employment support on communities.
Cllr Oliver Whittle said: "I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the officer and volunteers and the work that they do, particularly with people who are homeless and those who are unemployed. And I am pleased that there are strong links to the Wokingham Borough Council staff. The support to encourage people who are unemployed to seek work of whatever nature is to be applauded and it is impressive that links have been established with local businesses."
Attending an Employment Plus Local centre is voluntary and the service is available to any person who is looking for work. Activities deliver back-to-work support and provide computers and internet facilities to assist job searches.
Jan explains: “In this area we tend to see a lot of people looking for work in manual labour. However when people come to us it’s not just employment support that we offer. The vulnerable people we work with will get help in a variety of areas such as help with understanding benefits and housing options, keeping appointments, filling in forms, signposting to other services - all sorts.”
Rebecca Keating, Director for The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus UK service, says: “It is vital that people have the right kind of support to help them look for work and develop the right skills to maintain their employment. Many of the problems that can prevent people from engaging with existing employment support services will be exacerbated by where they live. As a consequence, it can be much harder to find the right type of employment support in areas where it is most needed.
“Services like the one in Wokingham work holistically with a person to address their needs. It’s also completely voluntary to attend, which means that we can serve those people who fall through the gaps and are often not recognised within government statistics, for reasons such as not being eligible for funded programmes or for being discouraged from engaging with the benefits system.”
Rebecca explains that people in work could also require support from services such as Employment Plus Local. She adds: “To be classified as ‘employed’ by the government, you need only be working 16 hours per week, coupled with nearly a decade of falling real wages, we are seeing that the largest group of those considered in poverty in the UK are those who are actually in work. We are concerned that freezes and cuts to in-work benefits are going to exacerbate this problem so it’s vital that our Salvation Army centres, which are open to anyone, are enabled to assist people in their communities, to give people the time, support and compassion they need.”
The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus Local centre in Wokingham is open Monday 1pm - 4pm and Thursday 1pm - 4pm. Other support services, which include a community drop-in and an over 60s friendship club, are open Monday 10am - 5pm, Wednesday 9am - 5pm, Thursday 8am - 5pm and Saturday 9am - 11am.
* Not her real name