Giving our most in need a very valuable hand up

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In the final part of our look at real life in Blackpool on benefits, Katie Upton finds out what is being done to help those in need:

There’s a popular phrase used among those working with society’s most vulnerable – give a hand up, not a hand out.

At The Bridge Project this ideology is put into action every day.

The project, based in the Salvation Army buildings on Raikes Parade, Blackpool, offers support, access to services, and life’s essentials to those in need.

It supports the long-term unemployed to gain the skills needed to get a job and feeds those who have ended up penniless and homeless.

All this is done charitably, with the help of generous donations, but often in the face of scrutiny from others.

Project manager Bev Taylor said: “We’re doing the right thing. We’re supporting people who are genuinely in need.

“There’s a lot of background to why people have these problems, it’s not simple.”

Simplistic attitudes taken by many towards the unemployed, the homeless and those with mental health problems are frustrating, to say the least, for those working at the project.

Programs like Benefits Britain and 999: What’s Your Emergency? have preyed on the chaotic lifestyles of some of the project’s users.

One man was featured on the Channel Five show despite having an addiction.

This, say bosses, cause problems for people with real issues trying to turn their lives around.

Mrs Taylor added: “It bothers me, the attitude some people can have. Whatever happened to giving people a chance? We’re doing God’s work. We’ve got to show these people the good in them.

“Because if we give up on them... then what?”

But the boss is keen to stress they are not a soft touch. She added: “We won’t be taken advantage of.”

Negative attitudes towards benefit claimants have even forced some people the project sees to stop claiming at all, put off by the stereotype and what they feel they are faced with in a job centre.

Mrs Taylor said: “There are some people who have no income at all.”

There is roughly a 50/50 split of people who are originally from Blackpool and those who are new to Blackpool – there are those who remember the joys of the resort so return here.

The project costs £80,000 to run annually, but uncertainty over funding streams means bosses can only forecast 12 months ahead.

They are reliant on donations to keep providing food parcels, bags of toiletries and clothing, and washing facilities for homeless people.

Every new person visiting the project is assessed for their needs and, when they’re ready, set goals.

Personal plans help people to gain certificates, achieve goals and eventually secure employment.

Many of those who have benefitted from the project’s support now give up their time to volunteer there, between paid work.

The project serves up a three-course meal for visitors every day, at a cost of £1, (“no-one has to go hungry”) as well as offering a free breakfast for those attending the morning education sessions.

Just like the council serving up free breakfasts to ensure children are ‘work-ready’ in school, the project takes the same view with adult 
learners.

The project offers a range of accredited courses for people to take up, from food hygiene to land them jobs working in kitchens, to more practical courses in first aid and computing, to art courses to boost self esteem, and maths and English courses to improve basic skills.

“People are desperate to work, they wouldn’t come to the classes otherwise,” she said.

“Benefits aren’t forever, they’re a support.”

With the new change to benefit payments affecting a number of people visiting the project, bosses are putting on a four-week program on budgeting in January, to help people with the leap from getting payments fortnightly to monthly.

Mrs Taylor said: “We’re helping to prepare people.

“I understand why they’ve changed the payments to monthly – you and I are paid monthly – but some of these people are living chaotic lifestyles, so having all that money coming can be problematic.”

The project’s new year ambition is to set up a job club, to build on the current provision of three computers to be used by job seekers.

“We’ve got so many people who we’ve managed to get off benefits and into work,” Mrs Taylor said.

“We believe in these people – nothing is impossible.”