Alok Sharma MP sees community services inspire people to take steps towards employment

published on 26 Jun 2019

Alok Sharma

Minister of State for Employment and Reading West MP, Alok Sharma visited The Salvation Army last week (21 June) to meet people who have benefitted from its tailored community support.

The Salvation Army’s employment and homelessness services in Reading have expanded and developed in recent months following continued local demand for people experiencing homelessness and unemployment.  The church and charity was awarded a contract for homelessness services by Reading Borough Council last year and its Employment Plus Local programme works alongside, to help people into a better position to start work. 

Mr Sharma met with Salvation Army staff and clients ahead of Employability Day (28 June) at their homelessness ‘Lifehouse’ on Willow Street and church on Anstey Road, where volunteers run a Salvation Army Employment Plus local service.

Experienced staff deliver personalised employment support to help people access development opportunities, update their CV, apply for jobs and training, access courses to help improve confidence and budgeting skills and prepare for interviews. The church provides a meeting place to share job hunting tips and advice, exchange skills, find jobs and share experience, together with chaplaincy services. 

The minister heard from Salvation Army staff about their experience supporting people find work as well as for those who are homeless and are preparing for longer-term accommodation. 

Alok Sharma MP said: 

“Witnessing first-hand how the community work of The Salvation Army at Willow House, Reading, helps support vulnerable local people, was extremely encouraging and demonstrated the vital importance of the relationship between our local jobcentres and community organisations. 

“Services such as the Employment Plus programme, available at 80 Salvation Army churches across the UK, provide a tailor-made pathway for unemployed people to find their way into work, complementing our welfare reforms aimed at removing the personal barriers people face to finding a good job.”

Manager of The Salvation Army homelessness services in Reading, Chris Scott said:

"The Salvation Army church and Lifehouse work together to support people on in their journey into long-term accommodation and work. For some people, overcoming rough sleeping and addiction, that may mean a very long journey, as they may need to get to grips with how to operate computers, or understand how to cook and clean for themselves and pay bills.

"When people come to us in desperate need, we help them overcome their problems and get their lives heading in the right direction. We do this by giving them unconditional love and support and by offering a range of specialist services run by trained officers, staff and volunteers."

Rebecca Keating, The Salvation Army’s Director of Employment Services, said:

“We are very pleased that the Minister of State for Employment came to see the vital work that’s done here to support people with a variety of complex needs on their journey towards sustained employment. I am especially pleased he was able to speak with our clients, many of whom have now found work despite battling with physical and mental health issues. Mr Sharma was able to hear first-hand the challenges they have faced.”

Currently, many of The Salvation Army’s specialist and tailored Employment Plus programmes receive funding from the European Social Fund (ESF). The aim of the ESF is to support those who are best served by individualised and holistic employability support and fund programmes that help people move into sustained employment.  

While current programmes funded under ESF will continue, there is still little information from government on what these critical programmes will look like after 2020. Mr Sharma heard The Salvation Army’s concerns about the potential loss of funding, which helps to provide its valuable employment services in Reading. 

Employment Plus offers a welcoming and positive environment for people needing support in their search for work. A drop-in service is available every Tuesday at the church between 1pm and 3pm. Alongside the employment service at the church on Anstey Road, The Salvation Army runs activities for children, parents and toddlers, women, older people as well as a craft and bible study groups, together with Sunday services.

The church will also provide free meals for children during the summer holidays, through their ‘Make Lunch’ scheme. The initiative begins at the church on 25 July during Monday and Thursday lunchtimes (11.30am – 1pm).  Learn more.