Santa’s helpers in good elf

Former criminals and addicts have set up a business wrapping Christmas presents dressed as elves.

Former criminals and addicts have set up a business wrapping Christmas presents dressed as elves.

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From the shelves to elves – shoppers in Blackpool are being given a helping hand this Christmas with their gifts.

Customers at the Houndshill Shopping Centre can get their presents wrapped by Santa’s little helpers this year.

The elves all come from disadvantaged backgrounds– some are former addicts or and criminals and some have lived on the streets.

They are taking part in the new scheme, run by Blackpool Fulfilling Lives and Camerados, aimed at helping them get their lives back on track.

Maff Potts founded Camerados, a community interest company, which helped set up the ‘Take 5’ gift wrapping business in the resort.

He said: “The gift wrap service is in demand but punters don’t realise that the helpful elves had previously been shoplifting in the centre, using heroin and were well-known to police and prisons.

“Camerados is based on the belief that isolation underpins and exacerbates all problems.

“The solution to long-lasting positive change in homelessness, addiction, mental health and other social ills is ‘friends and purpose’.”

The scheme is already producung results in Blackpool.One man taking part was formerly a prolific shoplifter and banned from every hostel in town. He has now secured a place in a hostel and has higher levels of confidence than ever,organisers say.

Another had lost custody of his daughter but was able to bring her to the shopping centre and is now on a path to be reunited with her long-term.

The gift-wrapping business was set up in just four weeks and based out of a disused car showroom that was donated for the purpose.

Mr Potts added: “The speed and urgency builds ownership and trust and shows fast results for people who are often distrustful of the system’s ability to deliver for them. It also allows and embraces failure and quick learning.

“Failure has often defined participants in health, drug or alcohol services, whereas here it’s just part of the process, it is part of building a better business model.”“The group owns the business and if successful they get shares in Camerados and become part of a co-operative movement helping the next group set up.

“Blackpool will help Lincolnshire who will help Sheffield who will help Oxford and so it goes.”