First Rung was named as the latest beneficiary of our £1 million campaign in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills.
The charity, which supports disadvantaged young people in developing their skills and finding employment, has seen an increase in demand from people aged 18 and over who have missed out on two years of opportunities due to the pandemic.
First Rung can provide these young people with pre-apprenticeship support that was previously only available to those aged 16 to 18.
They can then go on to secure life-changing apprenticeships which lead to permanent employment. First Rung is the third charity to benefit from out Skill Up Step Up initiative, which will help train unemployed and disadvantaged young Londoners so they can be “work ready”.
The other charities being supported so far are Springboard, which supports young people into jobs in the hospitality industry, and City Gateway, which will get young people work-ready with a 12-week employability programme.
Steve Woolcock, CEO of First Rung, said there is even more demand from young people because of the pandemic.
He said: “Many young people are thinking their future is slipping away, and they have seen other people coming out of school or university taking opportunities that should have been theirs, but were not because they were caught by the pandemic.”
First Rung provides vocational training for young people who may have struggled at school and lack confidence. It helps supports them through apprenticeships which often lead to full-time employment. But it also helps them with skills such as how to write a CV, how to behave in an interview and how to present themselves online.
What makes First Rung stand out is the level of “wrap-around” support staff give to young people, and how dedicated they are to helping smooth out the barriers in the way of their progress. Students are provided with free breakfast and lunch at the training centres in Enfield and Brent, their travel costs are paid for, there is help with housing problems and counselling is available.
Staff never give up on a young person. Mr Woolcock said one young man stands out to him because he was so anxious he could not even walk into the classroom. But he was so well supported by staff that he gained a qualification and is now preparing for job interviews. Mr Woolcock said: “If you had put that young person into an interview he wouldn’t have been able to speak. Making people believe in themselves and encouraging them is powerful.”
Hannah Pullman credits the First Rung team for never giving up on her.
The 18-year-old from Wembley joined First Rung at 15 after being asked to leave her school and was shocked by the amount of support. She said: “They were always checking in on me. They pushed me and even though I got tired of them I knew they did it for a reason. I sometimes thought, ‘Why are they being so irritating?’ but they kept on supporting me until I got it.
“At school, mouthy kids are egged on by other mouthy kids. But here everyone is laid back, and when people act out nobody entertains it — it’s like, ‘Come on, you are grown up now.’”
Hannah was able to gain her functional skills qualification at First Rung which led her to college to study art and design where she is thriving.
For Virginia Aduiar, it was the support from staff in helping her to be more independent that changed her life. The 19-year-old from Queens Park was at a special needs school but felt she had outgrown it before joining First Rung.
With the charity she completed a two-year apprenticeship in childcare and is employed by a childcare agency which is something she had not thought possible. She said: “I am so much more confident than when I arrived. I wanted to try to be independent and do work by myself, and only if I got stuck I wanted to be able to ask for help. They let me do this and I got so confident and independent.”
Leia Ward, 19, from Rickmansworth, calls First Rung her second family. She struggled with her mental health during her A-levels and realised “sit-down studying” was not for her. She also opted instead for an apprenticeship in childcare with First Rung and began to flourish. She said: “I have changed so much. When I came here I was very shy and introverted. But it is a lovely place and I met my best friend here. My mood has lifted. It’s a welcoming place and I wake up wanting to go into college.”
Alex Campbell, 19, also decided that A-levels were not for her. She felt like she was on a conveyor belt that would end with her at university, which was not what she wanted. She is working four days a week with children, which she said leaves her “floating on air”.
Alex said: “At school I wasn’t doing anything that I was passionate about and the workload was too much for my mental health. I can work more at my own pace now and if I need to take a mental health day then I can. Work is my happy place, I love my job.”
Mr Woolcock added: “First Rung gives young people that first opportunity to move into work. But it’s not all about training. It is about confidence building and developing that young person, drawing them out of themselves and selling that to an employer.”