The title of the project sums it up quite simply - "Soup and a bit Mair". No separate room assigned. Soup offered in one part of the church hall, courses offered in the other. In a church hall in Ayr, the homeless and other vulnerable groups are offered a bite to eat and a chance to get into college at the same time.
Care and Share was already established as a drop-in centre in a local church hall and was attended by many of the key target groups. "The idea was to get people engaged in activities. If it had been a back room, it would have been harder to get people involved", says learning development officer Duncan Ainsborough.
Based at Ayr College, Mr Ainsborough works for CALL (Community Access to Lifelong Learning) West where his job is to progress learners from courses in informal settings to courses at university and college. CALL West employs four such officers assigned to targeted areas of deprivation in the west of Scotland.
This year's winner of the Partnership Working category in Scotland's Colleges annual awards, the programme has been attended by approximately 60 people, with more than 20 having already moved on to college. Considering the background of some of the attendees (which includes homelessness, drug addiction etc) this is an impressive hit rate.
"These people lead chaotic lifestyles" says Mr Ainsborough. "I have spent a lot of time with them and have even sat in at college with one. One lady's son just got sent to prison for five years and she has also been burgled. We are staying in contact. If one of the student's attendance drops, the college contacts me. They have been supportive."
The others involved with the project include South Ayrshire Council, the NHS, Turning Point and the Aspire charity. With the client's support, they worked together, keeping each other informed about what was going on in the client's life and on any plans. This, says Mr Ainsborough worked very well. "We made the client very aware of this right from the start. It makes their lives easier, with no need to wait for a referral."
"The partnership has worked brilliantly," he continued. "We are looking for employment agencies to get involved, including Job Centre Plus. The set up has made it easier to introduce the client to other agencies."
Ann Inglis is curriculum leader for supportive education at Ayr College, working with students who have not done so well in school. She is also a former home economics teacher, so is well qualified to run the weekly cookery class.
She says: "It was a bit of a challenge at first - a bit of the unknown. But they are a lovely bunch of folk and they have worked very hard at the class. We discuss in the first class what we will do. They have been keen to make basic dishes, and we have also covered shopping for food and basic food and hygiene."
Cooking was popular and three groups of students have completed the course. Other activities include website design; working on murals in the local area; making a DVD to raise awareness of homelessness and what life is like; and completing the ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence).
Mr Ainsborough's role is to get to know everyone and to encourage them to think about college or other opportunities. He says: "At the start, a lot of people weren't thinking of college but, after a while, people were waiting to speak to me. It has begun to kick off with friends saying `if you can do it, so can I.'"
Duncan helps them apply to college and will contact the relevant agencies, holding their hand throughout the process and being there when they need support once they are accepted. Some are ready for college pretty quickly; for others, it can take six months for them to be ready. The chaotic nature of their lives is accepted and extra help offered when needed.
Ms Inglis describes the target group as people who wouldn't have come into college on their own, but she found them "an absolute delight to teach" asking lots of questions and working well together. She says: "They realise that they all have similar problems and so they support each other. They help each other when working and I never have to say to them to do the washing up."
Like Mr Ainsborough, Ms Inglis keeps in touch with some of them. "The ones who are at college have my phone number" she says, "and I sometimes bump into them in the canteen and ask how they are doing. I get positive vibes. They realise they can achieve something if they work hard and attend and can make something of themselves."
A friend of mine was homeless and I used to go along with her to the Care and Share sessions at the local church. I had my little girl at 17 and hadn't worked since I left school. I started to go along to Ann's sessions on a Friday where we were given a recipe each week to work on.
I met Duncan there, spoke to him about college courses and he managed to get me in. Duncan applied on my behalf. I didn't know where to start.
Ann's sessions were excellent. I really enjoyed them and I am now doing the NC in hospitality. It is a three-year course and I am not sure what I'll do afterwards.
Grace Jackson, 23.