Back in National Co-Production Week 2019, I shared an example of involving people with lived experience of homelessness in how we operate GROW (Getting Real Opportunities of Work) traineeships.
GROW demonstrates one of the ways we aim to shift the power balance towards those who can use their personal history to create effective change in communities. At the same time, GROW traineeships have been incredibly successful at supporting people who have been marginalised into lasting paid employment.
Branching out from Manchester, where we began using the GROW model, we have expanded the programme to London, Sheffield and Preston. We’re soon to expand to Plymouth and into our Stories team. This means we will have a GROW trainee with their own experience of homelessness helping others to share theirs, and support campaigns. We also deliver GROW in partnership with other organisations and are keen to explore more opportunities.
Steve, one of our current GROW trainees, reflects on the impact that GROW is having on his life: ‘Being given the opportunity to work as a GROW has been extremely beneficial, and not simply because of the obvious benefits that come with working such as the financial side. This opportunity has enabled me to take the leap of coming off benefits, something I have not been able to do for decades.
‘That, in turn, has really helped with my self-esteem. Coupled with that is the purpose that working has given me. I cannot state enough how important having a purpose is to someone like myself. It is not just the actual work. It’s the whole shebang of getting up and travelling to work. The whole routine has become important to me, as it allows me to feel like a functioning member of society, and that is something that I never thought I would be able to say.’
Stan adds in some of the impact that being a GROW trainee has when he is supporting people (known as ‘members’ at Inspiring Change Manchester, where he works): ‘Members respond to me, at first I thought because of my lived experience. Yes, that’s part of it, but I like listening. I like to learn and I like to help, and people see/feel that. That’s the difference I make to members. Everyone should be given a second chance in life. I was lucky enough to get one. Watch this space.’
The programme has been very successful, and in 2020, won the Homeless Link Excellence Award for Co-Production. This has highlighted that even during an unprecedented pandemic, we’ve been able to run remote networking opportunities for the national GROW network and for those who have previously completed the programme, to continue support and engagement. We’ve continued to bring on board new GROW trainees throughout and people have moved on from the programme. Currently over 60 people have started GROW traineeships with us, and more than 90% have moved onto further employment or education.
Roxy has moved onto a new role at Shelter as an Involvement Officer: ‘I found that through being a GROW trainee, I have been able to develop skills including building relationships with clients and other professionals. It has also given me a chance to work with different teams across Shelter. I’ve been involved in changes within Shelter, and understand how this is done by going to team meetings and being able to set up my own client involvement group. I now have moved on to a new role within Shelter and I feel it was the opportunity of being a GROW Trainee that helped me.’
GROW continues to have an impact outside of Shelter. Emma, who finished a traineeship in 2020, is currently embarking on a role coordinating Peer Volunteers at another charity. ‘The experiences I gained as a GROW trainee were invaluable in helping me to move on to further employment,’ she says. ‘These experiences helped to improve my CV and helped to boost my confidence and self-esteem dramatically, which enabled me to feel confident in applying for roles that I would previously have considered beyond my reach.’
We’re excited to continue to expand the programme and explore new opportunities for GROW in the future.