The Bestwood Partnership

9 February 18 words: Lucy Manning
illustrations: Emmy Smith

Travel north from the city centre and eventually you’ll find your way to Bestwood; a council estate on the outer edge of Nottingham. You won’t be surprised to know that, like many other similar outer estates, Bestwood has, in the past, experienced periods of crime and low levels of employment. But it’s often in times of strife that community activity comes to the fore and currently working to change the landscape of the town, and improve the lives of Bestwood’s citizens, is The Bestwood Partnership...

In the early nineties, The Bestwood Partnership was formed by various existing community groups in the old Bestwood Estate – the Bestwood Care Group and the Bestwood InterAgency Group – to bring people who care about their community together. They helped to support local projects by accessing funding pots that would help to regenerate the area and improve conditions for those living there. Kicking off with a youth group, the organisation has since branched out to provide support, services and adult education to around 850 citizens in Bestwood each year.

As well as providing stained-glass craft sessions, a gardening group, and the chance to gain GCSE and ESOL qualifications, The Bestwood Partnership liaises with community organisations, employers and colleges to help citizens in Bestwood get back into work. Known locally as Bestwood Directions, the scheme – run by Donna, Nicola and Michelle, aka The Employment Team – helps folk who may never have worked on their CV feel confident in interview situations, and gain necessary training to progress into the world of employment.

For many who approach the Partnership, the thought of losing the benefits that support their families in favour, often, of working part-time on minimum wage is daunting. That’s why the team work with clients to assess incomings and outgoings, working out what a family is still entitled to, and offering courses that specialise in things like cooking on a budget and finance management. There’s also a lot of reassurance that the only way is up. “The first job is not the last,” Donna says. “It’s the first rung on a ladder that leads upwards to better pay, options and job satisfaction; you just need to start.”

Charmaine, a mother of five boys and life-long Bestwood resident, had never been in employment when she first approached Bestwood Directions. “My CV was my name,” she says. “I was a carer for my grandma and I’ve always just been a mum. I know that’s a big job, but I had no confidence in myself to get into work.” When her grandmother passed and she decided to leave her husband at the start of 2017, she thought it was time to get back into work and provide for her family both financially and as a working role model.

“If mum, dad or older siblings didn’t work, for whatever reason – especially when the family has split and the lone parent has had to depend on state benefits while the children were young – there is no habit of going to work. No role model for it, and not much expectation of hope,” explains Donna.

After a couple of one-to-one sessions, Charmaine’s experience in cooking for her family led to Donna enrolling her on a number of food safety and hygiene courses. Within four weeks, she’d passed each course, and was employed at a cob shop in Basford. Sadly, the shop closed after a matter of weeks, but Charmaine’s boss offered her a position at a new sandwich shop in Chilwell, where she now works. “I get a bus to Bulwell to drop my youngest at the childminder’s, and then I get another one to work. I leave my house at 6.45am and get to work at 8.45am, but it’s worth it. I love my job.”

Donna puts the success of the scheme down to listening to what her clients need, particularly when they’re looking for employment. “You have to listen to how their lives have been, and take into account the reasons for their lack of employment. There are so many barriers: housing issues, family problems, debt, mental and physical health issues and so on. They need to be addressed early on.”

Donna reckons the Partnership sees around 350 people per year who need help getting into employment or finding relevant training. “Much of our work is training based,” she says. “It’s not our practice to push people towards jobs they’re not educationally ready for, and we’d rather people develop their skills and confidence before starting a job, which they then have a greater chance of holding on to, and therefore be more successful at.”

“If it weren’t for Donna and Bestwood Directions, I’d still be stuck in my rut,” says Charmaine. “This place helps people all the way, and not just with work. If you need someone to talk to, or you need help sorting out a bill payment, they’re always on the other end of the phone.”

The Bestwood Partnership, Bestwood Directions, Padstow Road, NG5 5GH.

Check out our video interview with Charmaine.

Bestwood Partnership website

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