Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation (HIWCF) is currently managing a £1.76 million ESF* funded project, Solent Supporting Employment (SSE), enabling disadvantaged and vulnerable people facing barriers to employment to move closer towards the employment market. Uniquely, two of the project delivery partners are social housing providers. 

Of the £1.76 million funding available to distribute, HIWCF made grants totalling £337,935 to support employment projects have been awarded to two housing associations. Sovereign (in partnership with Southern Housing Group), a social housing association with over 3,500 homes on the Isle of Wight, and Abri, one of the south’s largest housing providers based near Southampton. Both groups also contributed financially toward the grant match funding of the projects. When assessing the applications, the panel was impressed by the extent of the community coverage, embeddedness, and each association’s understanding of their client groups unique situations and needs. Both groups have established teams and facilities, experience in implementing previous programmes focused on employability support, training and sustainable employment. Importantly the target beneficiaries represent the ‘hardest to reach’ with multiple complex barriers to employment.

The grants enable disadvantaged or vulnerable people facing barriers to employment to move closer towards job search or finding work. Both housing provider projects aim to reach those who are long- term unemployed, people with disabilities, single parent families and people in Black and minority ethnic communities, particularly in areas where deprivation is high.

Through Sovereign’s ‘Skills for Work’ project, participants receive 1-1 support from an employment adviser, including skills and confidence development, mental health support, digital skills training, and signposting toward work placements and volunteering opportunities.

Erica Watts, Head of Employment and Training at Sovereign said: “Sovereign has a proven track record of providing employment and skills programmes to our residents, and we’re delighted to be working with our partners Southern Housing Group to access European Social Fund investment to help Isle of Wight residents to take the next steps to fulfil their career aspirations.”

The team at Abri work collaboratively with local service providers such as Job Centre Plus, Chamber of Commerce and the local council to deliver the ‘Radiant Futures’ and ‘UP’ (Unlimited Potential) projects. Adopting an holistic approach to employment support, an assessment of need and an action plan is tailored for participants who then work 1-1 with employment advisors, and take part in employability training, wellbeing workshops and if relevant, self-employment advice courses.

Michelle Dawson, Director of Housing and Community Investment at Abri, said: “Our projects have already provided life-changing support, helping the people most in need to overcome challenges and improve their long-term job prospects. As well as helping improve people’s immediate wellbeing, these projects will help participants address the root causes of long-term unemployment. We’re pleased to be able to extend this support to those living in Eastleigh. We’ve invested £15m over the next five years in our communities that need it the most, to improve their health and wellbeing, increase employment opportunities, and empower communities.”

Rob Armstrong, HIWCF Contracts Manager, continues: “As housing providers, Sovereign and Abri are valuable partners to the ESF – SSE project, reaching significant volumes of people with diverse needs; by offering support and opportunities toward employment. Our communities have been massively impacted by the pandemic and the grants that they have received will help increase employment prospects and outlook for vulnerable local people. The access to individuals within larger diverse communities provides major opportunities for housing associations to have impact with scale. Dedicated, experienced and resourced teams operating under the auspices of larger organisations provides sustainability for core programs and outcomes, not always available to smaller non-profit organisations”.

The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Foundation (HIWCF) is an independent charitable trust established to inspire local giving for local need. HIWCF is part of UK Community Foundations – a national network of 47 foundations and one of the fastest growing philanthropic movements in the UK.

Contact HIWCF:

CEO, Jacqui Scott, ceo@hiwcf.com

ESF Contract Manager: Rob Armstrong, rob@hiwcf.com Contact UKCF: info@ukcommunityfoundations.org

*ESF – European Social Fund. The Government has announced that post-Brexit, ESF-type funding will be replaced by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, although details are yet to be announced (due in April 2022). More at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8527/

With thanks to Communities that Work for permission to publish