Helping people to find a new start in their lives

It is the New Year and for many of us, January is the perfect time to think about new beginnings and a fresh start.

And in Norwich one organisation is working hard to help people facing barriers getting back into work, gain the confidence to find employment.

Based in St Benedicts Street in Norwich Meridian East, which is part of the Broadland Housing Group, helps people back into work who might need support overcoming a range of issues from health problems or anxiety, to lack of confidence, or simply because they have been out of work for a long time and do not know the best way to go about finding a job.

The 30-strong team has a range of specialist staff, including trainers, consultants, and employment activity workers, who are on hand to provide support and advice.

Dave Gooda, group director of training and employment support services at Broadland Housing, said Meridian East was set up to help people facing barriers to getting back into work from those with health problems to single mums who have not worked for a while.

This can range from help putting together a CV to finding a job or getting detailed help on choosing a new career path through specially tailored informa-tion, guidance and advice.

'We try to find the correct solution as a very bespoke tailored service – it's certainly not one size fits all,' Mr Gooda said. 'We work with clients for some time. If it's as simple as getting somebody out of their house for a day, that can be quite an achievement for some people.

Most Read

'In essence we have groups of people that will either be suffering from some kind of mental health disorder of physical disability or they have been out of work for a very long time and it's a lack of confidence,' Mr Gooda said. 'We either work with a client one-to-one with quite intensive support or we work in partnership with other people.

'When we get people back to work, we don't just leave them there,' he added. 'We talk to employers as well. It's about confidence, it's about building people's self-esteem and sense of value and worth. We often work with people who are third generation unemployed. We've had situations where we have worked with people and they can be the first in that family where their parents and grandparents haven't worked and they have gone out there and got a job.'

Meridian East also runs a digital inclusion programme called 'UK Online' which teaches people how to use the internet, or learn skills such as how to shop online.

Totally grant funded, the organisation, which is due to celebrate the first anniversary of its move into new purpose-built premises at St Benedicts, is also looking carefully at the outcome of Norfolk County Council's Big Conversation both to see how funding streams could be affected, but also to gauge if there are opportunities to deliver more services on behalf of local government.

'We are waiting to see what the reduction is going to be,' Mr Gooda said. 'We have funding through the Department for Work and Pensions, they fund a number of employment programmes.'

Roger Steele, an occupational therapist at Meridian East, who works with clients to help them get back into work, said the key was to offer a supportive environment to help build people's confidence and then try to find the best match for them, whether it's going straight into paid employment, doing voluntary work, or taking a training course.

Employers vary from supermarket chains such as Asda and Morrisons to local firms such as Norse and Jarrolds, but Mr Steele said specialist advisers can help find a match.

'We do a vocational profile of what people are interested in and what they hope to accomplish in terms of training and employment, and then we will make the first approach to the company, where hopefully they can work in or do voluntary work and we will set up an appointment for the client to come along,' Mr Steele said.

'It's very informal there's no interview process, which keeps the anxiety levels low. We have a lot of clients, who want to go straight into paid work and we will concentrate on that. But for those whose confidence and self-esteem is low or who are anxious, then training is a great way to start.

'We have to gain people's trust very quickly and give them a real sense that they can move on. We certainly have a very supportive environment right through the organisation.

'Some people come to us thinking they are never going to work again. But that's not the case. It's very difficult with the recession, but there are still people coming to us and we are still finding people jobs.'

Are you hoping to make a fresh start in life this year? Contact reporter Shaun Lowthorpe on 01603 772471 or email