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Charity helps the excluded

A scheme to stop disaffected school-leavers heading for the dole queue has had good results, reports Neil Munro

Tomorrow's Glaswegians may flourish thanks to Tomorrow's People - but the employment charity says it needs more money.

It has begun the formidable task of trying to turn around the fortunes of young people in the city, based on what it believes has been a successful pilot in London's East End, which worked with disadvantaged 15 to 25-year-olds who are or were excluded from school.

Glasgow City Council says it remains one of its top priorities to reduce the number of school- leavers going into unemployment - 19 per cent, according to Careers Scotland figures for 2002.

Tomorrow's People believes its project, Working it Out, can change both the experiences and outlook of this group of hard-to-reach young people, aiming to take them on a journey "from dependency to self-sufficiency".

The 15 youngsters who volunteered to join the London pilot, run in conjunction with the Tower Hamlets pupil referral unit, had an unpromising start in their lives: 43 per cent had a criminal conviction, only 21 per cent had any educational qualifications, and 43 per cent said they had used drugs more than 11 times a month.

All but one group member completed the 16-week programme: an achievement in itself, the charity points out.

At the end of the pilot, 12 out of the 15 were either actively looking for work, in further education or training, or were in employment. Follow-up four months later showed that 80 per cent were continuing to undertake positive activity towards their chosen careers by either studying, training or job-seeking with Tomorrow's People help.

The pilot project was evaluated by the independent think-tank nef (the New Economics Foundation), which has developed its own model for measuring the social return on investment.

This found that, for every pound;1 invested in Working it Out, the return to society was trebled to pound;3, as a result of reduced welfare costs, increased tax take and reduced costs for the criminal justice system. The project is now being replicated in Glasgow, with signs of similar success.

It brings together disadvantaged young people aged 16 and over in small groups to take part in specific challenges over a 16-week period.

Supported by a leader and co-ordinator, the groups undertake local projects that benefit the community and improve the environment. These include renovating community centres and cleaning up graffiti in public areas.

Members of the group learn to work as a team, organise plans of action and experience a structured working environment - often for the first time.

This is backed up with specialist, one-to-one guidance and help from a trained personal mentor and by working with employers to overcome direct and indirect discrimination.

The project aims to have helped 70 per cent of the young people back into employment, education or training after 12 months. So far, it has had a success rate of 99 per cent of the young people finishing the programme and entering jobs, education and training.

But to continue its work, Tomorrow's People requires funding. The charity is hoping to find a sponsor to help continue the success of the programme and to extend it to other youngsters from across Glasgow for the next 12 months and beyond.

Jeremy Nicholls, nef associate, said: "What gets measured gets valued - and in many cases, we're simply measuring the wrong things.

"The traditional view of projects like Working it Out is to see any expenditure as a drain on the public purse. But, as nef's social return on investment shows, for every pound;1 invested in improving the future of young people in Glasgow, the return to society is pound;3."

Brian Gibson, the Tomorrow's People operations manager for Glasgow, added:

"So many of Glasgow's disadvantaged young people leave school with no qualifications and no idea what they want do with their lives. And some are likely to have very troubled histories, suffering from physical mistreatment, drug or alcohol abuse, low basic skills or mild learning disabilities.

"The cycle of exclusion continues so that many do not know how to shape a productive future by entering employment or further education or training, and the majority become welfare-dependent and many turn to crime.

"At Tomorrow's People, we are trying to break this cycle by opening doors for young people that otherwise would remain closed, making them aware of their abilities and personal qualities, and providing them with the support and guidance to identify and achieve personal goals and succeed in their own terms.

"We honestly hope to be able to continue this much-needed project. As research recently found, Glasgow is one of the most deprived areas in the UK. There's a lot more we could achieve if we could secure the funding."

The Glasgow initiative is already being supported by drinks company Diageo, the European Social Fund, the Greater Pollok Development Company, and the Laidlaw Youth Project.

Working it Out was one of the first initiatives to receive funding from the Laidlaw project, set up by Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay to help vulnerable young people in Scotland and endorsed by Jack McConnell, the First Minister.

Lord Laidlaw, who has bankrolled the Conservative Party in Scotland, donated pound;1 million for a variety of schemes and the Scottish Executive has contributed pound;250,000.

We can work it out...

Robert McNaught, Gavin Sloan and Tam Daly are among some of the young Glaswegians attempting to write a new chapter by "working it out," pictured right taking a break from repainting a primary school playground in Pollok.

Mr McNaught, aged 20, who comes from Pollok, left school at 15, dropped out of a college course after just four months and hasbeen unemployed ever since.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "I used to lie around in bed all day, but this has given me a reason to get out of the house and meet new people.

"Now I know I want to go back to college and study sports and fitness to be an instructor. This has sorted my head out."

Mr Sloan, aged 22, of Nitshill, agrees: "I have really enjoyed working as part of a team here; it's been a real laugh. I really want a job now.

"I'm determined that I want to work on a building site and use some of the skills that I learned here."

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