A few years before I joined Say It With Your Chest, I was involved with a project that gave a chance of employment to young people who had behavioural problems and generally had been either temporarily or permanently excluded from mainstream education. To qualify for the programme the candidates needed to achieve basic literacy and numeracy skills. To help encourage attendance on the prorgramme the programme was registered as an educational course which therefore entitled the candidates to a free Oyster travel card.
The programme ran in three stages;
- Aspiration and aptitude workshops and training to confirm the best work objective for the candidate. This included basic skills such as timekeeping, appropriate clothing for work and acceptable standards of behaviour at work This stage ran for eight weeks and candidates that met the standards of basic skills and suitable aptitude were able to move to stage two.
- The second stage was vocational training in the discipline that they had chosen in stage 1. This programme was sponsored by the Construction Industry and as such the disciplines available were all based around building and maintenance. The most popular courses were; bricklaying, painting and decorating, carpentry and roofing. All the workstreams were available to all genders, ethnicity and cultures. Depending on the skill chosen there were different targets that had to be met in the twelve-week duration of stage 2. If this was completed successfully the candidate had the opportunity to move to stage 3.
- The final stage was a formal apprenticeship with the guarantee of a job at the end of the training period.
One of the candidates who was on the programme I will call Malcom for confidentiality purposes. Malcom had a history of disruptive behaviour at school and had narrowly avoided a criminal record following several interactions with the police for a range of minor offences. . Anyway, Malcom was given a place on the programme by his Case Officer at social services as It was seen as his last chance.
Malcolm began well – he was on time, clean and tidy and after a few false starts he began to moderate his behaviour and soon became quite a favourite on the course as his natural cheeky demeanour which had been hidden under a layer of aggression began to shine through.
Suddenly in week three it all went wrong. Malcom was late by half an hour on Monday, on Tuesday it was nearly two hours and he was looking quite dishevelled. The course administrator had begun the process of excluding Malcolm from the programme. Nobody had tried to find out why there had been this change in behaviour so I asked the administrator to pause the exclusion process until I had had a chance to talk to him.
Initially, Malcolm was reluctant to talk but I persisted and after a while he began to open up and finally, he came out with a flood of words as he explained his current situation. He had lived with his mother in one of the local tower blocks, he was not forthcoming as to what she did for a living other than she worked late hours and slept late in the morning. After two weeks of Malcolm’s alarm clock going off at 06 30am she had thrown him out and he was now living in a squat with some of his former associates with no running water or other facilities. It was no wonder that his attendance had become unreliable. I managed to contact the case officer that had recommended Malcolm in the first place and asked what could be done to help. Well, the truth is that in the modern world, help is a lot harder to come by than probably should be the case.
But for once, Malcolm had a stroke of luck. When putting together his file, the case officer had asked about other relatives to which Malcolm’s answer was “got none!” In fact, this was not quite true, as Malcolm had a grandmother who had been seriously estranged from her daughter since before, he had been born. Unbeknown to Malcolm, his grandmother had made a number of attempts at reconciliation which had been rebuffed on some occasions this had involved some violence on the part of Malcolm’s mother.
The Case Officer made a call, and after many discussions, I took Malcolm to his grandmother’s house. I remember her as a huge personality and I remember her greeting to her grandson “Boy – you need a bath and a decent meal! In you go!”
That was the beginning of a new life for Malcolm. The following day he turned up for work on time, incredibly well scrubbed and in markedly washed and ironed clothes “man, she put creases in my jeans” he said to me. Malcom successfully completed the programme, sailed through stage 2 and went on to successfully complete an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator. I went to his presentation when he accepted his credentials and he was so excited about the new job that he was due to start.
“You’re putting on weight!” I said. “She makes dumplings, four times a week!” he explained patting his stomach. That was four years ago and he is still working, although he is now settled in his own place with his partner – who he must see as a lifelong partner as she has been entrusted with his grandmother’s dumpling recipe.
The story of Malcom had a happy ending and that doesn’t always happen but having a few people who thought it was worth bothering made a difference to him and that is what really matters.