Jacky Leonard's blog

Archive entries for: Apr-2011

Making a difference?

Categories:  Being on purpose, Training & Coaching, Sport and Leisure

Over the past 7 months I've have had the pleasure of working on an inspirational project with three of the major players in the active leisure sector. Funded by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), DC Leisure, MEND and Lifetime formed a partnership to recruit and train around 150, 18-24 year olds across the country to become Community Activity Leaders.  Successful candidates took part in a six month placement in leisure centers’ across England.

For a variety of reasons many of these young people have found it very difficult to find sustainable employment.   Our aim was to provide them with a job opportunity that would improve their employability by the end of their contract.

Throughout the project, as expected their performance has been mixed; some taking full advantage of the opportunity and other’s falling at the first, second or third hurdles.  It would make a fascinating psychological study into attitude and motivation.

The first batch of ‘graduates’ completed their placement last week.  Prior to their departure they attended an exit session.  This had a dual purpose, firstly it allowed us to evaluate a number of aspects about the project and just as importantly, it was designed to help them reflect on lessons learned and plan their next steps.

For the first exit session I adopted the Forrest Gump philosophy – life is like a box of chocolates…I really didn’t know what I was going to get!  It turned out to be a real joy.  The majority of these young people have gone through such a transformation in the past months; it was like they’d grown up!  They were interested, engaged and participative, genuinely appreciative and positive.  I swear I was witness to an attitude transplant in some cases!  They tackled each activity admirably and demonstrated an ability to self reflect and look to the future with a little more optimism.  I was truly exhausted by the end of the day!

The saddest thing is that some of them will be unemployed again now their contract has ended – their placement was only for 6 months.  My consolation, based on my observations during the session, is the belief that the opportunities they’ve had on this project have made them much more employable.  In fact some of them have already been offered positions at their host centre’s or elsewhere.

Although I’m known for my objectivity this is intended to be a very personal perspective.  I know projects such as these will be evaluated by the funding organisations on hard data.  The attitudinal changes and emotional impact is often excluded which I think is a shame, so in my quest to redress the balance I wanted to include some of the very human elements of the project.  After all it is about people.

There have been times during the project when I wondered whether it was all worthwhile.  My reflections following that first exit session are that if supported by people who care enough to give a damn, a project like this can make a difference.