Creative Engagement lays the foundation for success

A group of people from hostels and supported housing schemes in Blackburn with Darwen are looking to the future after completing a course designed to develop life skills and reintegrate them into society.

Delivered by Newground, part of Together Housing Group, the 10-week Creative Engagement project was funded by the Department of Work and Pensions through its Integrated Communities programme, which is part of Blackburn with Darwen Council’s ‘Our Community, Our Future’ social integration programme.

The course combined classroom based learning on subjects such as ICT, housing pathways, substance awareness and sexual health with practical workshops such as cooking on a budget and bike maintenance and field trips such as to Chester Street Mosque, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and Witton Country Park. The group were also involved in a workplace visit and given support developing their own employability skills.

To connect them with local services and outdoor spaces, the group spent time at Newground’s facilities including Offshoots, where they learnt woodland craft and survival skills, and Greensleeves Allotment, where they took part in gardening and vegetable growing.

Ian Whittaker, Senior Project Officer for Newground, said: “The course has been a huge success with many participants not only reporting a boost in self-esteem but also going on to secure further training or work.

“I think the key to the success is the variety of the course. While life skills such as managing finances helps with future planning, cultural experiences like visiting their local mosque, museum and football stadium reconnects them to where they live and helps them feel part of their community. Other activities such as yoga and meditation help promote a healthy body and mind.”

To celebrate the final day of their course, the students and their mentors headed out on a barge trip along Foulridge canal in Colne, reflecting on the journey they’ve been on over the past few months.

Among the course participants was Jake, 24, a former resident of Hollin Street, a Together Housing Group supported housing scheme for homeless people in Darwen.

Jake said: “Before I started this programme, I was in a black hole. The course has got me out socialising during the day when I’d otherwise be sat in depressed.

“I’ve been to courses similar to this before and for most staff members it’s just another course, but here the staff are so friendly and they make you feel like they are going to help. They deal with you individually, they get to know you and your problems and actually work with you to help solve them.

“I particularly enjoyed learning about local history – I never even knew the museum was there.”

Zoe, 21, another former resident of Hollin Street, said: The course has pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to do more for myself. Thanks to the course, my confidence has grown so much. I’ve decided to go back to college to do a catering course and it has given me the courage to be able to find my own house. I’m getting myself back on the right track and actually doing something with my life.”

Carla Passarello, Service Leader at Jobcentre Plus, added: “The Creative Engagement programme was devised to support those people who are often overlooked in the labour market, helping them along their journey towards employment or training.

“I’m delighted that already in this first group there have been so many positive outcomes, with some signing up for training courses, and others making plans to take on accommodation tenancies. For this group of people, life is definitely looking up, and I’m proud of the role the Department has played in that.”

Funding for the DWP’s Creative Engagement programme has come from the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). As one of only five national Integration Areas, Blackburn with Darwen is working closely with MHCLG on innovative ways to address the borough’s social integration challenges

The Department for Work and Pensions is a partner in the borough’s social integration programme ‘Our Community, Our Future’. This three-year programme brings together a range of partners working together to strengthen relationships between people from different backgrounds, to help the borough become a place where diversity is valued and where people’s faith and cultures are understood and respected.

More information about Our Community, Our Future is available on the Council website.