About First Step Trust (FST)
FST is an innovative charity with over 25 years experience of providing opportunities for people excluded from working life because of mental health conditions, learning disabilities, drug or alcohol and other disadvantages.
FST provides within the various social enterprises it runs, work experience, on the job training and salaried employment to some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded members of our community. A number of our salaried staff team have been recruited from the shop floor.
More than 95% of those we work with have been unemployed for one or more years, 50% up to 10 years and 17% have never worked at all.
Our approach is about supporting workforce members to utilise the skills and experience they have to hand whist learning new ones. They are encouraged to share their experience and coping strategies with their colleagues.
FST is not a soft or ‘sheltered’ option. Our role is to support workforce members to deal with the pressures and responsibilities of real work in a range of commercial settings. We deliver this opportunity through our social enterprise model (SMaRT).
We recognise that there are many factors affecting the decision to look for paid employment. Some workforce members are concerned about the loss of security provided by the welfare benefits system. Others are concerned that the issues they have to deal with in their daily lives will confound their efforts to hold down a job. For others it is a combination of these and other factors.
FST does not provide clinical support. We believe that statutory agencies (e.g. NHS, Councils) and other voluntary organisations are better placed to deliver this support when required.
We are currently developing new ways of enabling workforce members to demonstrate their skills and on the job experience to potential employers. The long-term aim here is to support more workforce members to move on to open employment when they feel ready to do so.
What we do
In addition to working directly with statutory agencies FST has established a number of social enterprises to provide access to a range of work areas. For example, we have garages selling MOTs and vehicle servicing in Woolwich, Bexley, Lambeth and Salford. We also have a restaurant (Abbevilles) in Clapham.
We are also developing other initiatives aimed at creating a number of flexible employment opportunities to meet the needs of the workforce. For example, we are in the process of refurbishing a classic vehicle (see Owen’s story) with a view to hiring it out to generate new income streams.
We have also developed Driving Ambition™ a bespoke training programme aimed at assisting workforce members to gain a UK driving licence.
FST offers workforce members:
• Personalised work placements in the automotive trades, catering, finance, administration, marketing & promotions, customer service, and gardening
• On the job training guidance leading to accredited qualifications.
• Access to our Driving Ambition™ programme
• Involvement in developing the organisation at various levels from the shop floor as a work colleague through to membership of the FST board.
Bob came to FST as a volunteer initially working in our gardening project after struggling with mental health problems and self medicating with drugs and alcohol. Having been in the garage trade repairing, servicing and MOT testing vehicles for more than 34 years, when FST opened SMaRT garages in Woolwich in early 2011, Bob took the lead in setting it up. His role included securing and locating ramps, MOT bays and equipment, tools, designing the garage layout to make the best possible use of the available resources. Bob was also directly accountable to the Chief Executive of First Step Trust (FST) Ronnie Wilson throughout this process. This lead to him being employed by FST and picking up his first salary check in October 2011 after 10 years on welfare benefits.
Fast forward to 2017-2018 Bob is a senior technician at SMaRT garages as well as working on the vehicles in the garage he trains other workforce on motor mechanics and recently collected an Outstanding Achievement of the Year award at the 2017 Workshop Magazine awards
Tegan joined FST after spending a long time in a medium secure unit. She started off working in the garage a few hours a week and (after a shaky start) with FST’s support she went on to do her Level 1 and 2 IMI Motor Vehicle Technician qualifications at the local college. She then left FST to take up a job with London Hire a large minibus and van hire company who put her through her Level 3 qualification. She then went to Aviva Bus Company where Tegan qualified for the IMI’s IRTEC license as a Bus and Coach Service Maintenance Technician.