To raise the aspirations of disadvantaged 16- to 24-year-olds and help them reach their full potential
Funded between July 2013 and July 2016 by HSBC's Opportunity Partnership. Now delivered in Leeds and London for around £450,000 a year, from a mix of funders including HSBC, European Social Fund, Big Lottery Fund and the Skills Funding Agency
Choices grew out of a small project run by St Giles Trust in Southwark in 2012, funded by the Minton Charitable Trust. It involved a caseworker helping disadvantaged young people progress into education, employment or training, by helping them overcome multiple barriers such as homelessness, offending, substance misuse, or mental health issues. The charity applied for funding from HSBC to build on this work, leading to Choices spreading across south and east London, and expanding to Leeds and Cardiff from July 2013.
Participants are currently supported by six caseworkers; two in Leeds and four in London, where Choices mainly operates in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Young people not in education, employment or training, or at risk of dropping out, are referred by organisations including youth offending teams, probation services, housing associations or youth services. They can also self-refer. Their one-to-one caseworker assesses their short- and long-term goals and aspirations, past experiences and support needs, before agreeing a plan. Caseworkers may have backgrounds in specialist areas such as housing or mental health and can signpost clients to a network of local specialist support services if necessary.
"A large proportion of young men coming to our London office express an interest in construction; they think it's all they can do," explains programme manager, Daniel Chapman.
"It's important we match their short-term goals with their long-term dreams and aspirations. If those with an offending history aren't earning money quite quickly, that can increase their risk of re-offending. So they might work on a construction site initially, but we ensure we continue to raise their long-term aspirations." Chapman also cites the importance of "quick wins", such as week-long taster courses, giving clients the self-belief needed to pursue longer courses and employment. This happened for 20-year-old Martin, who felt "written-off" after release from prison, but was re-motivated after participating in a Tall Ships sailing challenge Choices was involved in. Soon afterwards, he gained employment in a warehouse, where he has been promoted and described as "exemplary".
Participants typically meet their caseworker for around an hour, at least once a fortnight and sometimes as often as four times a week, depending on need. Caseworkers may engage them through outreach initially; building the motivation, independence and timekeeping skills they need for meetings at St Giles' premises. Chapman says staff take the same approach in helping them build other skills such as CV writing, gradually reducing their "handholding" to build self-sufficiency.
Caseworkers help participants acquire the identification, clothing, equipment or certification required for employment, helping them access financial support where needed. They also facilitate group employability sessions, teaching skills such as interview techniques, sometimes involving volunteers from partner organisations such as HSBC.
Choices' clients typically engage with caseworkers for between seven and 15 months.
Of 3,248 young people engaged with Choices between July 2013 and July 2016, 1,760 moved into education and training and 817 gained employment.
A 2016 report by Pro Bono Economics, based on 1,132 young people registering with Choices in 2014, shows 543 achieving at least one positive outcome such as getting into training, gaining employment, getting a volunteering placement or achieving qualifications, with 907 positive outcomes between them.
The report estimates the programme making between £3.50 and £4 of savings to the public purse, for every £1 spent on employment support.Of 3,248 Choices participants from July 2013 to July 2016
1,760 moved into education and training
817 went on to gain employment
Source St Giles Trust