In the latest part of our look at Blackpool’s ‘Lost Generation’ of young people who are growing up in an era of shrinking life chances, we look at those who believe life-changing opportunities are here in the resort.
‘There is a job for every single person – as long as they want it’.
It might sound like a corny advertising slogan but Gareth Carr means what he says.
The man in charge of Blackpool’s JobCentre Plus knows more about the unemployment situation in the resort than most and he is determined to help as many people as he can.
“Our mantra is nobody leaves with nothing, because every time a young person comes in there should be something we can give them to go away with, whether it be a training course or a job opportunity,” said Gareth.
He says there are approximately 900 18 to 24-year-old’s claiming JobSeekers allowance, but adds: “I would say we’ve got an opportunity for everyone of those people ... if they want it.
“Whether that be apprenticeships, an actual job or training, there is something available.”
That might be so but why do so many of the young people we speak to say they can’t get a job for love nor money?
Often, says Gareth, it’s about more than just a job.
He explained: “I could put somebody in a job tomorrow but if they’ve got issues in the background – if they are not turning up for work because they are kept awake all night by dad’s drinking, or by the younger brother they are looking after – then they are not going to last five minutes.
“If we can get those issues sorted first we can then get that young person into work.”
In an attempt to do that the JobCentre links up with various other agencies to try and ensure youngsters looking for work also get help for the other issues in their life.
This is particularly evident at the Youth Ability Hub, a joint partnership between Blackpool Council and the JobCentre, which takes place every Tuesday at Blackpool Connexions on Market Street.
“We have youth workers and mental health workers there and other professionals, as well as training groups offering apprenticeships,” said Gareth.
“So the lure of getting young people to go to the Youth Ability Hub is that there are jobs there - but on the back of that we say ‘oh while you’re here, is there anyone else you’d like to talk to?’
“It’s about making sure that the services all link up together, get to whatever the root of that young person’s issue or problem is, then deal with that problem first before anything else.”
Gareth accepts there are “massive issues” in Blackpool but insists “we are starting to win the battles”.
A project called Reading Partnership has helped more than 200 troubled families in Blackpool, while Blackpool Build Up – in conjunction with The Blackpool and The Fylde College – finds work for college leavers.
There are quarterly youth events at The Oracle on St Annes Road where advice and help are on offer.
One problem, though, is that certain jobs in Blackpool just aren’t available.
“We might have someone who’s always wanted to work in an office but there might not be much of that about so we have to say ‘have you thought about something else?’” said Gareth.
“We have to change people’s ideas because it’s all very well saying I want to do X, Y and Z but if they aren’t available but A, B, C are, then they have to do that.
“That’s a hard part of the job at the moment I must admit.
“But I’ll say it again, there are opportunities for all our young people and in the main what we’ve got going on is good.
“We are constantly driving to progress that further forward and that is something we are doing on a weekly basis.”
The youngsters who really care
No matter how many tables Blackpool finishes bottom of, it doesn’t tell the full story.
But what isn’t highlighted in the deluge of statistics that condemn and tarnish the resort is how many different local people and organisations are working tirelessly to make the place better.
Take Michelle Smith from the Blackpool Carers Centre. Her group has 3,000 carers on its database.
“That is higher than most other places because we have higher levels of everything else – higher levels of poverty, of deprivation,” she said.
“There are also a lot of hidden carers around substance misuse and mental health who won’t come forward because they are frightened.”
With mental health and addiction a major issue in Blackpool, many of these carers are young people looking after an older family member.
“You tend to think of young carers as having parents with disabilities but actually most of our young people in Blackpool give emotional care for parents with mental ill health or substance misuse,” explained Michelle.
“We’ve got some really active projects, working out of hours, evenings and weekends, that support families.
“The sad thing is that it is a lifestyle for a lot of youngsters in this position.
“It is their life, it’s their normal, and it is only when they go to school that they realise actually other people don’t have to go straight home after school, they can play out and lead a life.”
The Carers Centre is based on Robson Way, near Blackpool Sixth Form College. A town centre drop-in base on Church Street is opening soon.
“The thing about Blackpool is it’s still a great community, so across town there are some fantastic people doing some quite amazing things and it isn’t often shouted about,” added Michelle.
“But they just get on with it and the networks are still there, the people who still want Blackpool not to be at the top of every bad league.
“They want it to be back at the top of the good leagues.
“I don’t think that will ever happen, but there is still a lot to celebrate and there are still a lot of people trying to make it better.”
Read more from The Gazette investigation - The lost generation: