A SOCIAL enterprise group helping young people on the margins of education and training become more employable has been boosted by a coronavirus fund grant.

The Platform Project in Swindon has been awarded £13,300 from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to help with salary costs. The fund has distributed more than £1.1m through more than 260 grants.

Sadie Sharp, the project’s managing director, said the number of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work since the pandemic has tripled, which prompted it to evolve the way it works with those who are referred by organisations including schools, social services and other youth charities.

Many of the young people aged between 16 and 21 coming to the project have missed school because of exclusion, problems at home or being caught up in crime. Others have been in care or have additional needs. Most of them have seen their situation worsen during the pandemic.

“They are coming to us as a bit of a shell of a young person,” said Ms Sharp. “They lack confidence and social skills when talking to new people. They are apprehensive about trying new things and we see a lot of anxiety.”

The group has previously run separate commercial projects to provide its young people with business skills and experience, including digital magazine i-Dare, start-up firms producing clothing and mugs made by young people and a digital marketing agency. But now it is running them all concurrently with up to 40 ‘interns’ working on them for at least ten hours a week for six months.

The interns produce the magazine once a month, work on their own start-up businesses based on their interests and are also collaborating on a project to support a voluntary group – the current group has chosen homeless charity Threshold.

“They have team meetings to discuss the projects they are working on that day and are using Teams, planner boards, collaboration functions and all of the IT they would be using in the workplace,” said Ms Sharp.

“We are working on the basics like active listening skills and being prepared for meetings and they are getting experience of project management and working to deadlines. It’s an accelerated way of developing their general employability skills and confidence. Employers now want what they term ‘intra-preneurs’ – people who are self-motivated, can spot opportunities and have good internal customer service skills.”

Another strand to the group’s support is helping its young people gather even more useful experience and contacts. “We also have a mentoring project where they are paired with a local mentor within their area of interest if possible,” said Ms Sharp.

“They are there to expand the young people’s career network, so they will introduce them to other people in that field, broker work experience and work with them on applications.”

The Platform Project has also had funding for new partnership managers to build relationships with local employers and organise more mentors, work experience placements and careers talks.

Ms Sharp said the new model is already proving to be successful. “About 70 per cent of our young people were going on to positive onward routes – employment, more training or further education – when we had the standalone projects but since we’ve had this new combined internship model that number has gone up to nearly 90 per cent,” she said.

“Since Covid where people have finished education and just cannot get into work, the longer they are searching and not getting any positive results their confidence and self-esteem goes down. This concept of a transition training workplace while they are still searching seems to have really lifted their aspirations.

“We are very grateful for the grant, it has been really nice listening to the interns’ conversations here in the office and hearing the wheels turning, it has a nice buzz about it. The ball is rolling because the model works rather than because I am pushing it.”

Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We have had a long association with The Platform Project and have always been impressed by the way its positivity and practical help instils belief in young people as well as giving them a pathway into work or further learning.

“Our fund is there to help the community recover from the dreadful year we have all experienced and this is a perfect way of using it.”

Find out more about The Platform Project at platformproject.co.uk

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund, or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk