Growing wellbeing, connections and new skills - An employment project that believes 'You...

Four in five non-disabled people are in work, but the figures are dramatically different for those with mental illness. A report published by the TUC last year stated that just one in four people suffering from a long term mental illness are in work. And less than half of people suffering from depression or anxiety lasting more than 12 months are in work, the mental health and employment study also showed.

When people experience barriers to work and vocation it can cause them to feel isolated and contribute to lack of confidence. But by providing connections and support – engagement in work and learning new skills is possible. Livability is one of the partners in a Dorset project called UCan, which supports people grow in confidence and new vocational skills. On World Mental Health Day we share why the work is important and the difference it makes.

Joe’s story – a participant on the UCan project

I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a kid. I’ve lived on my own for 27 years. Last year my brother died and a relationship broke down, so I was on the edge, really.

What happened at UCan?

I need social contact and I want to feel part of things again. I’m very gregarious. I wondered if I could get some help with my CV and job search. I came along and met Vicky, UCAN’s Personal Champion, and Emma, Flourish Manager (a horticultural therapy programme) at Livability Holton Lee (wellbeing discovery centre in Dorset).

They suggested I started with a mindfulness walk, on a Wednesday morning. It was a short walk where we focused on our breathing and on beautiful things around us, like a leaf. Emma helped us to not worry about negative thoughts but just trying to enjoy the surroundings. It was brilliant.

How did things develop?

A few months ago, I met with Jane who’s a UCan mentor, and we talked about job opportunities. She was fantastic and very supportive. I’m hoping I might be able to volunteer at Livability Holton Lee one day a week – I’ve done a lot of voluntary work in the past. Physical, practical work appeals to me, like Flourish.

What do you feel you’ve gained so far?

It gives me hope and stops me being isolated. I feel worthwhile after I have been here – you can give something back. They’ve given me so much here.

What is special about UCAN at Livability Holton Lee?

The setting of the place is amazing – just driving in here, seeing the horses. I love animals. I’m not religious but it’s got a spiritual element to it, which I had lost through where I’ve been mentally.

About Livability’s UCan Project

Livability is working to create better-connected communities in the south-west as the charity has taken up a key role in an employment support project. Called UCAN, this two-year initiative is focused on enabling people get closer to being work-ready, into training or into work across Dorset.

‘Participants receive up to 12 months’ of tailored support which will mean they are better prepared to enter the job market,’ explains Livability’s Alice Morris, Head of Livability Enterprise, part of the charity’s learning and vocation stream. ‘The scheme is flexible and unusual because it’s designed to work around the client’s needs.’

Livability was selected to be part of UCAN ‘because of our proven track record nationally, and our strong presence in the south-west,’ says Alice. ‘I’m very excited about this work because UCAN’s aims are so closely aligned with Livability’s mission – the whole point is to break down barriers to work that can create social isolation.’

As part of UCAN’s offer, expert support is also available to clients from horticultural therapy programme Flourish at Livability Holton Lee, with its strong record of inclusion, skill creation and confidence-building.

‘There are aspects of rural living in Dorset that make it harder to be part of community, such as physical distance from others and from the activities you might want to access,’ says Neil Stevens, from Livability. ‘This is contrast to the homeless and urban challenges found in Poole and Bournemouth, on our doorstep.’

Out of Dorset’s population of around 770,000, the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 shows that over 23,900 residents live in the top 15 per cent most income deprived areas. This increases to 46,300 for areas of health deprivation, 77,500 for a deprived living environment and over 100,000 for deprivation in relation to housing and access to services. UCAN is part of a wider £9m Dorset regeneration programme – Building Better Opportunities -funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.

Livability will provide access to a wide range of work-related skills, including CV writing and interview experience. For some, gaining IT skills will be a key component, Alice says, ‘because as well as the obvious applications in the workplace, being online can offer so much in terms of connecting with others and beating social isolation, especially if you live in a rural setting’.

Through working with hundreds of clients with Livability Enterprise, Alice knows how confidence gained by participants on a programme like UCAN can play a vital role in getting back to work. ‘Working one-to-one really helps with confidence. Having a Livability “personal champion” with UCAN means individuals can build a mentoring relationship with their champion, who can consistently help and support them – there’ll be no feeling of being pushed from pillar to post.’

Livability is working alongside local partners, including agencies such as counselling service Relate or housing organisations, who can assist with issues which may be a barrier to employment.

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