Community Links

Community Links blog

Food for thought

April 29th, 2016

With record numbers of people in work, why are more and more people relying on foodbanks?

This month the Trussell Trust foodbank issued a press release stating that foodbank use remains at a record high, yet almost in the same breath we hear that UK unemployment is at a decade low and benefit sanctions are down. Surely the use of foodbanks – a last resort for those struggling to put food on the table – should be dropping in such an economic climate?

Community Links isn’t a food bank, but in recent years we have been providing food bags for those who come through our doors and who are most in need. As with the Trussell Trust, we have experienced a growing demand for our relatively small stockpile of food, so much so that between June and September last year we actually ran out of provisions and had to turn people away.

For the communities we support in Newham work is no longer a certain route out of poverty as stagnating pay and the increasing cost of living, especially in London, make life less and less affordable. These everyday realities are reflected in the Trussell Trust’s data on the reasons for referrals to their foodbanks. Between 2013/14 and 2015/16 the number of low income referrals rose from 20.3% to 23.3% whilst benefit delays dropped from 30.9% to 27.9% for the same period. Similarly the University of Hull’s Mapping Hunger report found that foodbank use is higher in areas where there are more people in skilled manual work, where people are unable to work due to long-term sickness or disability and areas that are deprived. These findings resound in a place like Newham, where deprivation is high and over half the borough’s residents work for below the London living wage.

No one knows and understands these realities better than Jane, who heads up our reception at Community Links and who is the first point of contact for many local people coming to us for help, advice and support:

“We can’t see people starve – so we give them food. We get people from all walks of life; some people have had their benefits stopped, other people are on low incomes; they’re actually working but can’t afford food for their families. When we haven’t got any food that is a real problem; we give out foodbank vouchers but we know the foodbank is really overrun.”

Generous donations from harvest festival collections in over half-a-dozen schools across Newham make our modest food bags possible, however, there is a limited supply and a growing demand for food. Critically the solution to the escalating issue of food poverty won’t be solved by charities like Community Links and the Trussell Trust providing more food, but by Government addressing the root causes of poverty in our communities. For us these are high housing costs and insecure accommodation, low pay and insecure work, and the problems people face accessing benefits.

In 2013 we blogged on whether foodbanks were becoming part of our welfare system. Since then the number of people turning to the Trussell Trust for emergency food has increased from 346,992 to 1,109,309, with an increasing number of these people being in work. Reflecting on these shocking figures it’s fair to say that consecutive governments have failed to stem the flow of people relying on foodbanks. Even the welcome introduction of the new mandatory national living wage this year will do little to counteract the impact of escalating housing costs, insecure work and the predicted losses for low-income working families on Universal Credit.

To avoid the increasing reliance on foodbanks it’s no longer enough for governments to talk about making work pay and affordable housing. Instead we need to act earlier and build a social security system which values and invests in people’s strengths and capabilities, ensuring they’re secure and ready to both seize opportunities and deal with setbacks. Key to this is ensuring a house is a home, especially for vulnerable families who too often see their employment, education and social opportunities dashed as a result of accommodation insecurity.

Paying for prevention: Six actions for funders

April 27th, 2016

In the second report of the Early Action Task Force – “The Deciding Time” we argued that voluntary agencies that are delivering acute services with a queue at the door can’t immediately release the time or the money to track back and work on prevention. If, we said, “the sector believes that this journey is important and timely it must begin it with funders in the vanguard”.

This challenge was picked up by a small group of the UKs leading funders. We worked with them first on applying our classification tool to their funding portfolios and then, building on this experience, on the development of a National Early Action Funders Alliance.

The Alliance was launched in July 2014 and now has a membership of more than 60 funders including most of the UK’s biggest and most influential grant makers. It has established and, from January 2015 begun making large grants through, its first joint project – the National Early Action Neighbourhood Fund.

The Alliance have also published a very helpful literature review “Making a Strategic Shift towards Early Action: Lessons and Recommendations“.

The argument in The Deciding Time – that funders have the both opportunity and the responsibility to be thought leaders and the crucial agents of change – is as critical today as it was in 2014. When I was invited to address the Funders Alliance a couple of weeks ago I thought about six actions that I would like every independent funder to consider:

  1. Join the Alliance: Don’t consider this one for too long – just do it! It is a lively and thoughtful coalition committed to prevention but also keenly aware of the challenges and of competing pressures for their funding. Joint work like the ground breaking classification exercise and the Neighbourhood Fund are a smart way forward in uncertain territory.
  2. Know where you are: You can’t plan a journey if you don’t know where you are starting from. Our work with funders began with the development of a simple tool for classifying current expenditure. These measurements can then form the base lines for transition goals e.g. “We will shift expenditure towards earlier action by 5% per year for the next 4 years” . This guide explains the classification process which has now been adopted by a very wide range of organisations.
  3. Ask the question: “How are you reducing need?”: Many grant makers now ask applicants for evidence of their environmental policies. This has been driving awareness and behavioural change across the sector with a ripple effect well beyond. There is an opportunity to do something similar around earlier action. Grant makers should ask to see 5 or 10 year Transition Plans with milestones for the gradual shift of resources into earlier action.
  4. Strike a grand bargain: When a grant seeker asks for funding to meet the needs at their door the grant maker should offer 25% more – first to meet the need and then to reduce it. That or nothing. We call this extension funding. Over 5 years to 10 years and on a substantial scale it would transform the nature of need and the role of key funders.
  5. Invest in the sustainably of those organisations: One of the many deeply depressing aspects of the Kids Company story was the oft repeated outrage that the charity had such minimal reserves. Infact the terms of the Cabinet Office grant very probably insisted on the return of any grant money left unspent at the end of the year. Other funders would have expected the same. And who runs the marathon to raise funds for a charity that promises to keep its money in the bank? So it is that reserves in this sector are often acquired (if acquired at all) by a rare and inverted slice of someone else’s misfortune (legacies) or by a stealth bordering on deceit (we achieve the objectives but don’t spend all the cash and don’t tell anyone). This is no way to run a serious organisation with long term plans. Responsible funders should routinely add a 5% tier one contribution to every grant just as they now routinely include full cost recovery. This would enable successful organisations to plan to reduce need in the longer term and to build with solid reserves at the heart of the business model.
  6. Measure the difference, not just the numbers: Embedding a whole system shift towards earlier action requires structural and cultural change. It will not be achieved by layering short term projects on top of failing systems or regressive cultures. Projects may be a means to an end but are not the end game. Consequently numbers can only ever be a partial indicator of progress. Ethnographers should be engaged to access progress and it should be their insights, as much as the numbers in the outcomes column, that drive the continuous cycle of testing and learning – design/deliver /assess. Design/deliver/assess.

Ask anyone in the third sector about their long term vision; invariably they will talk about obsolescence, working for the day when they are no longer needed. Press further. What did your organisation do this week, this year to advance that day, to reduce need? Too often the answer is little more than an unhappy shrug. We are too busy doing what we do. Many funders display a similar disjunction between what they think they are for and what they support .

We know that present trajectories, social, economic and environmental are all unsustainable. These escalating needs cry out for braver, bolder, more challenging leadership from third sector funders driving the shift to prevention. These six simple steps can unleash the change that we all seem to want but are seldom achieving.

The economic case for early action

April 21st, 2016

Last week I was invited to address the All Party Parliamentary Group focusing on the first two years of childhood. I was asked to make the economic case for early action, so it seemed appropriate to start with George Osborne and his remarks to the House on introducing the 2015 spending review: “Investment in the long term economic infrastructure of our country” he said is a “major goal of this Spending Review”. This is “precisely right for a country that is serious about its long term economic success”.

George Osborne 0480am

What kinds of investment was he talking about? “New roads, railways, science and flood defences and the energy Britain needs”.

This investment was to be achieved by making “difficult decisions on day to day departmental spending”.

In other words the Chancellor was arguing that the economic success of the country depended on sensible long term investment – a reasonable case to make, but also that investment in physical infrastructure should be prioritised over, indeed prioritised at the expense of, investment in people. Surely, I suggested, the “long term economic infrastructure” is underpinned by a nations physical AND social assets. One without the other is no way to achieve a stable, successful and sustainable society.

Asset life cycle

Luke has previously discussed on this blog the business concept of the “asset life cycle” – the amount that it is necessary to invest each year to ensure the optimal performance of any given asset for the minimal ongoing investment. A typical capital project of the sort that the Chancellor was describing would plan for a big investment at the start and steady planned maintenance there after, so ensuring that the asset retains and grows in value without continuous large and unpredictable spending on repair and renewal:

 photo assetlifecyle1_zpsvbnwrduk.png

What the planners do not do when budgeting for a motorway or an airport runway is minimise the costs on the original build and then continuously fill the cracks and potholes after they have appeared:

 photo assetlifecyle2_zpstn99ttbp.png

These things are so obvious that they seem scarcely worth saying, and I wouldn’t have said them last week were it not for the fact that although the principal is no different government does not apply the same logic to the unborn or newly born child. Instead the state spends as little as possible when the child is born, the start of the asset life cycle, and does the metaphorical equivalent of filling in the cracks and potholes, at far greater expense, after they have appeared.

Using money better

The National Audit Office Early Action Review for the Public Accounts Committee in 2013 highlighted the problem “A concerted increase in effective early action could help to deal with the root causes of many problems, benefiting individuals and society and saving the taxpayer billions of pounds each year, BUT governments have consistently failed to deliver. Early action accounts for only a fraction of annual spending and this spending is not properly co-ordinated. There is no common definition of early action, no central ownership, and little capacity at the centre to drive effective delivery and share good practice.

“The Treasury is far too focussed on the short term, meaning that it risks missing the opportunity to help stabilise the public finances over the longer term, improve outcomes for citizens and get better value for money…it is now time for Government — led by the Treasury — to respond imaginatively to the challenge and opportunity of early action and to adopt an integrated, long term, preventative approach to public spending for the benefit of society as a whole.”

Under questioning from the PAC the Treasury was persuaded to accept the cross government leadership role but progress continues to be glacial, despite the evidence that investment in early action yields rates of return which consistently outperform the ROIs on the roads and railways of which the Chancellor spoke with such approval last autumn. In their analysis of 15 economic studies of programmes from birth to 9, for instance, Reynolds and Temple found an average rate of return of £2.83 per £ invested whilst the Department of Transport estimate the rate of return on HS2 at between £1.80 and £2.50 per £ invested.

What to do?

The NAO report noted that “The UK budgetary process does not include the sort of longer-term vision seen in other countries which could help inform strategic decision-making and would be more conducive accepting short-term costs in return for later benefits.” They made the case for longer term planning as part of the solution.

We agree and have recommended the publication of 10 year spending plans in each Spending Review. Plans would continue to be reviewed every 2 or 3 years, as now, but the current government would consider, publish and be held to account for the effect of its decisions over the next 10 years. Comparing the 1 year costs and consequences of any given policy option often yields a quite different answer from comparing the costs and consequences over 10 years. It therefore leads to a quite different spending decision
This is of course exactly what happens in physical infrastructure projects where the long term asset life cycle is properly considered and decisions are routinely made with implications beyond the current spending period or the lifetime of the present government

Acting on the powerful economic case for early action nationally, and indeed in the cities and regions with newly devolved powers, requires an understanding of, and a commitment to, 3 ideas:

1) The idea that investment in early action is just that – an investment – just like investment in our physical infrastructure yielding a long term return at least as good if not better than roads and railways.

2) The idea that just as HS2 and other capital building programmes are planned and costed for the benefit of future generations not just the here and now so too must we embrace longer planning horizons locally and nationally, for all our social investments.

3) The idea that, if spending on early action is an investment with long term value then it must be classified as an investment and protected in the same way so ensuring that such funding cannot be raided to meet short term pressures.

Without these understandings and these structural changes the economic case, strong though it is, will still be overlooked and diminishing services will continue on unsustainable trajectories, dealing with consequences not causes, barely meeting current needs and accumulating impossible liabilities for the future.

6 reasons to take on a challenge for Community Links

April 20th, 2016

From marathons to karting challenges we have them all. While some require great stamina and strength others can involve you taking a leap of faith from an aeroplane door whilst strapped to a complete stranger. But what all of our challenges do have in common is that they are usually unforgettable and always rewarding.

Doing a charity challenge is an experience like no other and whilst cycling to another country or experiencing an open water swim are incredible feats, you can also take great pride in knowing that what you’re doing is making a real difference to the lives of those who truly need it.

With the London Marathon this coming Sunday, we have created a mile guide to keep our runners motivated to the finish line.

Mile 1
As you approach the start line and wait for the horn, think about our young people aged 5-11 who have nowhere else to go after school except for our community hub Asta because their parents are at work. Asta is a beacon of hope on the Silvertown estate in an area of great need.








Mile 6
With so many people cheering you on from the sidelines take a moment to consider everyone that Community Links supports. From children at our centres, to young people on our employment programmes, to elderly people who are reached by our health programme to go for bowel cancer screenings.









Mile 11
You’re almost half way and in need of a push. Don’t forget how we motivate and prepare young people for the world of work through our Future Links programme. Some of whom never finished school and are currently out of the system.








Mile 16
Now past the half way mark. Think about all of the children who receive gifts from our Christmas Toy Appeal. By gathering generous public donations, each year Community Links reaches out to thousands of East London’s most disadvantaged children, families and vulnerable adults at Christmas.








Mile 21 
Your legs are really starting to ache, but you’re powering through because you know what your success means for our advice services. People are queuing outside our front doors every morning for help from our advisers. Some speak very little English and others haven’t got the money to buy themselves dinner for the week.








Mile 26 
You’re almost there and you can see the finish line but you are completely exhausted. Remember the children from Arc in the Park – a dedicated centre for special needs children. Every child, whatever their needs and abilities, has the right to participate fully in their community – to have the same opportunities as their peers, to make friends, to have fun and to access leisure facilities. This is what is being achieved at our Canning Town centre with activities responsive to what disabled children/ young people and their families want and need.








Yay, you’ve done it! You ran the London Marathon and have raised an incredible amount of support and funds for our work.

Have a moment to take it all in, realise what a huge achievement it is and look at all of the people who have benefited. Your support allows us to continue running community projects for over 14,000 people every year. Without the generosity of our individual, corporate and trust funding we would not be able to meet the needs of so many disadvantaged local people, and voice their issues nationally to have an influence in policy making.

A huge thank you to our Marathon runners Phil Robertson and Matt O’Toole – CVC Capital Partners, Jason Gray – consultant at CVC Capital Partners,  Ashley Carson- BNY Mellon, Steve Burton – Barclay’s and Caroline Brooker – Clifford Chance

If you are interested in taking on a challenge for Community Links, please get in contact with

Our upcoming events include:

29th June- Karting Challenge
16th July – The Great London Swim
20th-24th July- London to Paris Cycle Challenge (Tour De France)
31st July- Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 Peloton Relay (team challenge)

All year round events: Skydiving and Climb High for Community Links (team climbing challenge)

If there is a specific event you would like to take part in, let us know and we will try to make it happen
We are happy to support you to organise your own event be it a bake sale, quiz/race night, book sale, curry night, dress down day

Don’t read this blog

April 18th, 2016

There is so much to be learnt from the seven early action stories which we published last week that your time would be far better spent reading the report than reading this blog…

Back again so soon? Well no doubt you will have your own list of favourite insights from the case studies, but here are mine:

1) Early action CAN be measured:

Early action sceptics and naysayers often argue that you can’t count what doesn’t happen, and that even if you could count it, you wouldn’t be able to assess the saving with any accuracy. Boilers on Prescription did both. They can show very clearly that, within 18 months and as a direct result of their work, the need for GP appointments for their chronically sick client group had fallen by 60% and that the number of people admitted to hospital had fallen by 25%. Given that each doctor’s appointment costs £50 and each admission costs £2500 it isn’t difficult to understand how they justify the claim that their investments in household heating improvements are recovered within 9 months. Other featured projects could be similarly precise about the “business case” for their work. We really must stop tolerating the idea that early action can’t be measured.

2) A better today as well as a better tomorrow:

The numbers also emphatically dismiss the other urban myth about early action – that preventative activity always takes a very long time to bear fruit. The Passage “Homes for Good” project works to prevent repeated homelessness and has, over the last year, enabled 97% of its formerly homeless clients to retain their homes as opposed to 84% of the clients who received no such support. People are befitting within 12 months. As NCT chief executive Nick Wilkie said at the launch of the report yesterday “we are often told that we have to choose between dealing with a problem today or preventing it tomorrow. Actually that isn’t so. Early action is about a better today and a better tomorrow”.

3) The value of light touch relationships:

We have noted before that strong relationships are frequently part of the most effective early action programmes. Relationship based projects like the Ceredigion Specialist intervention Team  and Includem featured in the report and reinforce this point, but the experience of Detecting Cancer Early shows that, in some circumstances, this approach doesn’t need to be as intensive, and therefore as expensive, as we might first imagine. A sympathetic phone call, as opposed to a dessicated text, is increasing take up of cancer screening appointments in east London by 15%.

4) Partnerships with unlikely friends:

There are lots of reasons why partnership working is frequently a sensible thing to do but invariably this means working with people like us and organisations like ours. The remarkable Call and Check initiative in Jersey utilises the “delivery platform” of the postal service to improve health and social care on the island and the Passage’s Before you Go programme has partnered with, amongst others, embassies in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Poland. Whether it is the postie or the ambassador stretching our imaginations to work with unlikely friends brings new and quite different resources to the mission.

5) Building on strengths:

Launching the report yesterday Big Lottery Fund CEO Dawn Austwick noted that funders too often ask “what’s the matter with you” rather than “what matters to you?” In other words grant makers and commissioners and indeed many policy makers and practitioners, look for a deficit to fill rather than an asset to build on. All the featured projects, in their different ways, flipped this around looking for strengths sometimes in improbable places. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jobs, Friend and Houses where the “recovery community” in Blackpool are working together on renovating and renting out derelict properties . Most are ex offenders with a history of alcohol or drug dependency. After 2 years 5% have relapsed, none have reoffended. These are people who are, often for the first time in their lives, focusing on what they can do, clearly very well, not on what they can’t. “We look at today and tomorrow” says CEO Steve Hodgkins “not yesterday”.

These seven stories are the first in a new gallery of case studies that we will be building up over the coming months. Do please get in touch if you are part of a story that should be told.

Students from Newham design landmark sign for Rathbone Market

April 1st, 2016

As regeneration projects rapidly progress in Canning Town, we sponsored Art & Design students from Newham to create a landmark feature for the long standing ‘Rathbone Market’.

Community Links have been helping to shape regeneration efforts in Newham since 1977. Regeneration forms an important context for everything that we do – from our service delivery to our public policy research. Last year, amid the current 3.7bn regeneration project of Canning Town we released ‘Regeneration for All’ policy briefing to highlight key principles of ensuring the process delivers for the whole community. And most recently, we have delivered a community based project for college students to form part of the new phase of  Rathbone Market’s regeneration.

Promoted by the London Borough of Newham, regeneration projects have seen the replacement of high-rise council blocks into glassy residential towers. Yet at the heart of the council’s vision for Canning Town and Custom House is the Rathbone Market area where there will be a new market square as well as 655 new homes.

Based around the rehousing of Rathbone Market which was fully established in 1911, our enterprise team partnered with NewVic Sixth Form College to create a project for 15-20 students undertaking 3D Design on the Art & Design course – that would see them plan, pitch and produce a landmark sign to represent the market’s history and elements of its future.

Since starting on the project in December, students have had three months to turn their own professional designs into a real life 3D public sign. They spent a research day on stalls in Rathbone Market with scaled models of their designs to get a feel for what the public would like to see as a feature in their community.

Following the research and design phase, each individual student pitched their idea to our enterprise manager and a selected panel from the college, for one design to be chosen and taken forward to the development stages as a team.

Chosen for it’s combination of stylish typography with modern textures and colours, the final product is made of three layers of marine ply complete with weather proof varnish and incorporates a reflective perspex as part of the lettering. It is 4 feet wide and 8 feet high so that it can be seen by passengers on a double decker bus.

The sign was officially unveiled on Good Friday which marks a celebration day in Canning Town for the community to come together and join the regular traders with market stands. This year, over 40 stall holders covered a long stretch of Barking Road. The showcase of the sign was to celebrate the market’s proud history and Canning Town’s  changing landscape.

Not only has this project incorporated a change that is happening in the community, but the funding and support students have received from Community Link’s Youth Enterprise Programme has given them real-life exposure. It has allowed students who live in Newham to design for the public, site-specificity and apply their practical skills and knowledge to manage an art commission to a given brief and time frame.

For the Rathbone redevelopment, English Cities Fund has taken on responsibility for managing the market and Community Links have been appointed to run and promote it. The new market sign will be featured in the upcoming Market Square on event days. Rathbone Market is open to the public Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8am – 3pm.

If you are interested in becoming a stallholder at Rathbone Market please email: or call: 07867 454 343 for more information

Join us on 14 April to hear Early Action Insights from the frontline

March 31st, 2016

Back in early November we asked you to share your experiences of early action; services or activities, in any sector and for any age, that stop a social problem from getting worse or arising altogether. Since then we’ve collected over twenty examples of projects that are acting earlier; enabling people to lead thriving lives, costing less and contributing more.

On 14 April we’re launching our report A Rough Guide to Early Action: How society is acting earlier, featuring some of the examples we think showcase how early action is a different approach to public services that are delivering financial, social and economic benefits.

The event will also be the first in our Early Action Insights series – seminars for practitioners, policymakers and funders to discuss how implementing early action can practically be achieved. In this meeting we’re showcasing Boilers on Prescription and The Passage in an open discussion chaired by Dawn Austwick, CEO of the Big Lottery Fund.

Boilers on Prescription is getting doctors in Sunderland and Durham to prescribe home heating improvements for people with chronic respiratory diseases. After 18 months, their doctor’s appointments have fallen by 60% and visits to A&E by 30%. The Passage is a London homelessness charity that’s made prevention a key aim in a sector often pushed into managing crisis. Responding to increasing repeat homelessness, one of its projects – Homes For Good – connects formerly homeless people with community organisations, enabling them to build a social support network that helps them keep their homes. Over the last year, 97% of the people it supports are still living in their own homes.

By hearing from the practitioners that are making these projects happen, we’ll share insights on the practical challenges facing others seeking to put early action into practice. That’s why Boilers on Prescription will shed light on how to engage partner organisations to deliver early action. The Passage will help show how resources can be reinvested to run prevention alongside acute services. And we’ll also discuss how early action can be implemented in austerity, how to measure its impact and how organisations can use their frontline experience to design early action services.

In such austere times, having a platform to discuss how we can make a common sense idea like early action common practice is more important than ever. With increasing funding cuts to public services, early action is a long-term strategy that will reduce our need for costly acute services and make better use of existing spending in the meantime. People who are not facing problems are healthier, happier and more able to contribute at work, support their families and get involved in their communities. This is good for individuals, good for society and good for our economy.

As it is, George Osborne’s budget announcement that an additional £3.5 billion needs to be cut by 2019/2020 is forcing already tight budgets (over a third smaller in real terms since 2010) to breaking point. It’s a short-sighted approach that will not only increase our need for acute services later down the line, it’s effecting policies that are failing to address some of the systemic reasons why people continue to face problems in the first place, including a disproportionate squeeze on low-earnersgrowing housing insecurity and rising health inequalities.

We hope our Rough Guide to Early Action will inspire you to start thinking differently about how services can be delivered. There’s a lot to be done at governmental level, but growing momentum for early action also depends on building our knowledge of what works, and sharing what’s possible from the bottom-up. Localism does not limit its ambition. As Boilers on Prescription and The Passage show, early action is getting traction with big players such as the NHS. It’s by sharing how this was achieved and how other projects have amplified their work that we’ll start seeing services acting earlier. That’s why we hope our Early Action Insights series will be a space for practitioners to get inspired and equipped to make early action a reality in their areas.

We welcome you to join us on 14 April 2016 in London for the first Early Action Insights,
book your place


Young unemployed supported by Big Lottery Fund’s Talent Match London programme

March 23rd, 2016

After a week of headlines about apprenticeships, including ours which highlighted the growing underrepresentation of young people, it’s time for our employability programme Talent Match London to receive some recognition for creating a lasting change in youth unemployment services.

With unemployment ranking as the number one fear among Britain’s youth, there has rightfully been an increase in the backing and precedence for Talent Match London – a partnership of organisations which places youth-leadership at the core of tackling the biggest issue young people feel they face.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and run by London Youth with Community Links as a main partner, Talent Match London launched in 2014 to support long-term unemployed young people aged 18-24 into positive, productive futures. With two years into its service delivery, almost 1,000 young people across 7 London boroughs have been engaged on the programme.

This includes those who are completely outside of the benefits, work and training system and those facing the biggest barriers to getting work: from young mums to former gang members, to those simply lacking the confidence or skills to find jobs.

Whilst many programmes rely on young people ‘coming to them’, Talent Match London is different and has been hugely successful in its peer-to-peer outreach. The team spend a lot of time targeting hard-to-reach communities and in doing so, of the 939 young unemployed people so far engaged: 11% are caring for somebody; 16% have a disability; 17% have a child; 20% are ex-offenders; and 18% have experienced homelessness.

Following detailed mapping of need and existing provision, the Big Lottery Fund have continued its funding for a further three years giving the opportunity for sustainable employment for young people.

What makes Talent Match stand out from the rest?

We asked Talent Match London’s Youth Adviser Fateha Begum, how the programme is different to other employment schemes out there?“Talent Match London is youth-led which you don’t tend to see in many services. It fully involves the participants and has a Youth Advisory Committee who are involved from the strategic level to outreaching and planning events in the local community”. From the onset, Talent Match not only focusses on getting young people into a job, but it gives them the skills, the positive attitude and the drive to build themselves a career Fateha explained.

Fateha signed up to Talent Match through Community Links when it launched and described the programme as being too surreal to be true. She had been volunteering with Community Links for two years prior to becoming chair of the Youth Board which is made up of young people from across the partnership. Now as a young person in a paid Youth Adviser position for Talent Match London, she explained how young people play an important role in the service delivery: “They understand what their barriers are and can describe where they are coming from, so building solutions for them is a lot easier than having to base things on assumptions. The programme gives young people empowerment, but the support is always there from people who care and have a passion for what they are delivering”.

As a main partner for Talent Match London, Community Links takes a holistic approach towards engaging young people. We work with West Ham United Foundation, City Gateway and Poplar Harca in the areas of Barking, Dagenham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. Through our delivery of the programme, young people are matched to a dedicated personal advisor and in some cases also get a Talent Mentor from Community Links who provide guidance and advice on a one-to-one basis to boost young people’s confidence and skills with the ultimate aim of supporting them into careers.

Youth Unemployment – one of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s labour market

Latest figures show that young people in the UK are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than people of other ages. Despite a wealth of investment into interventions, there is a disconnect between young people and employers. Particularly, a disparity between what young people consider important and what employers are actually looking for.

A Reed survey of 2,000 young people across the UK highlighted that three out of five placed ‘skill set’ ahead of ‘mindset’ when considering what employers are after – while a previous survey with employers showed that 96% of employers picked ‘mindset’ over ‘skill set’ as the key element in those they seek and retain.

This mismatch of expectations is being confronted head-on by Talent Match London. Its model for service delivery brings together detailed input from young people, partnerships of employers as well as education providers and others towards boosting opportunities for young people. Talent Match London has been designed to provide not only the skill set, but the confidence, resilience, networks, and the sustained backing that young people might need as they set out to navigate a fulfilling career path.

During its first two years of delivery, Talent Match London have helped 227 young people into employment, with continued support to make sure they can sustain jobs once they are in them. A further 39 young Londoners have been supported into self-employment.

Talent Match London supporting young people into meaningful careers

Talent Match London will be using the Big Lottery Fund investment to continue placing young people at the centre of the programme, ensuring the principles of good youth work are fundamental to the way the programme is delivered. Over the next three years Talent Match London will benefit 2,500 16-24 year olds, all of whom have been out of work for over a year, placing a particular emphasis on those who are ‘hidden’.

To find out more information about the youth-approach programme you can access Talent Match London’s two-year learning report here.

Let’s make sure young people are given a fair deal on apprenticeships

March 18th, 2016

As the Government plans to increase the number of apprentices to three million by 2020, it’s high time we addressed the growing underrepresentation of young people

It’s National Apprenticeship Week 2016 and the official theme is “an apprenticeship can take you anywhere.” However, the reality for many under 19-year-olds and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is that apprenticeships are taking them nowhere. In fact, as a proportion of all starters the number of under 19-year-olds has almost halved since 2009, going from 42% to 25% of all apprenticeships. Yet at the same time under 19-year-olds account for the majority (56 per cent) of apprenticeship applications, revealing it’s not for want of trying or enthusiasm that young people are less likely to secure a place. So why are apprenticeships letting so many of our young people down?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Employers would say they face difficulties in recruiting younger apprentices due to weak employability skills, whilst young people would say that it’s an uneven playing field, where employers are cherry picking older and more experienced applicants, many of whom are existing employees. The latter argument is supported by research from the Institute for Public Policy Research which found that two-thirds of apprentices (67 per cent) at level 2 or level 3 were already employed by their company, rather than new recruits.

Rightly or wrongly we know there’s a growing preference by employers for older and more experienced apprentices. This presents the Government with a particular challenge; how can they dramatically increase the number of apprenticeships and improve standard’s whilst ensuring more young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t get left even further behind? This challenge could be exacerbated by the introduction of the apprenticeships levy next year which gives employers greater autonomy over how they deliver their apprenticeship schemes.

At Community Links we believe Government need to do more to support and prepare young people for apprenticeships, whilst ensuring employers are incentivised to offer the flexibility and understanding to take them on. We prepare thousands of young people in East London for employment each year and know they have the appetite and drive to become successful apprentices or employees, but often lack the social and communication skills. Our Future Links and Talent Match programmes deliver pre-apprenticeship and pre-employment training to young people furthest from the labour market. This training is focused on building the confidence, resilience, networks and skills of our most disadvantaged young people and supporting them through the job application process.

So as we near the end of National Apprenticeships Week and the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy commences its inquiry into apprenticeships, it’s high time we gave young people a fair deal. This starts with ensuring disadvantaged young people have the best possible access to high quality pre-apprenticeship training and support. Likewise employers need to be properly incentivised to recruit young people onto apprenticeships and to better understand their needs. Overall the Government should set a hard and fast target to dramatically increase the proportion of under 19-year-old apprenticeship starts by 2020. Failure to do so means the rot will most likely continue, limiting the life opportunities of potentially millions of our youngest and brightest.

Councils, sugar and us

March 17th, 2016

What is it with Mr Osborne and the council? Were the family dustbins repeatedly overlooked in his formative years?

Cut after cut to council budgets throughout his first term as Chancellor was followed last October with news that central grant support was to be phased outentirely by 2020.The blow was softened with the additional announcement that local authorities would, in future, keep the business rate income derived on their patch.

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Yesterday business rates were cut.

We’ve written on this blog many times before about the consequences of government devolving responsibility, which we would generally applaud, but then retiring to a safe distance and pulling out the money. The early intervention grant would be a case in point. Cuts in services? Nothing to do with us guv, that’s a local decision.

In general we think devolution is a good idea and not just to big cities. Double devolution, the principal of devolving first to local government and then to local people in community organisations or neighbourhood groups, seems to have largely disappeared from the Westminster lexicon but it places the decision making exactly where it belongs – in the hands of those who know most about the locality and will be most affected by the policy. Devolved responsibility without devolved resources, however, is like a three card trick – superficially enticing but ultimately fraudulent.

As local authorities budgets crumble good intentions become increasingly detached from reality and early action is invariably a victim: As we reported just last month for example 87% of councillors believe that early action for children and young people is a high priority but 59% expect to be presiding over a reduction in their area as they grapple with cuts of 71% in central government funding for this provision.

Trailing yesterday’s statement as “a budget for future generations” was a cruel trick. If only it were true.

As it happened I listened to the whole budget statement in Out Patients as I waited for dental surgery. In front of me was a volcanic vending machine spewing out more sweet drinks than there are spoonfuls of sugar in a can of coke. Any dental patients who grew weary of corroding their own teeth could diversify and clog up their arteries with a bag of pork scratchings or any one of a rich variety of other fatty snacks.

When I mentioned to the surgeon the ridiculousness of all this he assured me that the hospital was even handed in its treatment of the common patient and its most precious staff. Apparently there are identical machines in the staff facilities in the operating suites.

Subject to the small print, we welcome the Sugar Tax. Reducing our sugar intake improves our health in the longer term. It is sound, early action but on its own it won’t be enough. Establishing a society that routinely prevents problems from occurring rather than one that struggles to cope with the consequences requires attention to systems and culture everywhere. Of course there is a hugely important role for government in all this. That’s why budgets matter. But there is also an equally critical role for leadership at every level – the consistent conversion of common sense into common practice.

That’s why the Task Force will be launching a gallery of case studies next month highlighting effective practical work on the ground. Sign up to join us on April 14th when we will be launching the series showcasing two examples that are investing earlier and establishing partnerships to make early action happen.