A combination of physical and classroom activities is helping young people in Wales to take more control of their lives. Peter Watts learns how masonic funding is making this possible
Former Welsh rugby international Philippa Tuttiett watches with pride as a group of 16 young people encourage each other to tackle a climbing wall. ‘I never thought anything would get close to the feeling of playing for my country, but the last few days of this course are up there,’ she says.
The course in question is Get On Track, which is organised by the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and invites former athletes to provide mentoring and training for some of the 848,000 young people in England and Wales currently not in education, training or employment.
‘Some are really quite lost, with no confidence, and need some kind of goal or plan that will lift them back into society,’ says Tuttiett. ‘We give a lot of control back to young people. It’s a big step for them to come here and an amazing transition that they go through. When you see them come out the other side, with renewed confidence and able to get a job or a qualification, it’s incredibly rewarding.’
In 2015 the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust received more than £16,000 through a Community Support and Research grant from the Masonic Charitable Fund. The grant partly funded the delivery of a 14-month programme in Bridgend, the first Get On Track course to take place in Wales. This began in March and was spearheaded by Tuttiett and fellow mentor Christian Roberts, a former footballer for Cardiff and Swindon.
Using their sports backgrounds, Tuttiett and Roberts have helped young people such as 21-year-old Natasha, who has been out of work for two years. ‘I went to college and got a job, but the company I worked for went bankrupt,’ says Natasha. ‘That knocked my confidence a lot, and that’s what Get On Track is helping with. I wanted to feel more confident about myself. It’s been difficult without work. Also when you’re in work you need to be a team player and a problem solver. Philippa and Christian are very inspiring; they push you in a good way to get more out of yourself and not to be scared of doing something different.’
‘We turn lives around. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We see an incredible change in the directions lives are going.’ Philippa Tuttiett
Getting on track
The course enables the mentors to work alongside local corporate volunteers to teach employability skills such as CV-writing, interview techniques and filling in application forms. Qualifications in subjects such as first aid, food hygiene and sports leadership are also available. The results are impressive, with 72 per cent of young people who have taken part in Get On Track moving into employment, education or training within eight months.
Tuttiett first heard about the Trust’s work when she was still playing rugby, but was only able to take a more active involvement upon retirement. ‘I did my first course last year and this is my second,’ she says, adding that the course not only helps young people in need of support, but also gives a fresh start to sports professionals as they face retirement, allowing them to use the skills they have developed in their sporting careers and transfer them to a new role.
‘You develop so many skills that allow you to achieve your sporting goals, and these are perfect for the workplace or just everyday life,’ says Tuttiett. ‘I didn’t understand I was doing all these things; it was only when I trained to be a mentor that I realised.’
Get On Track draws on the skills learnt by athletes that enabled them to successfully manage their careers, from medal triumphs to sustaining an injury or loss of form, all while balancing family and work life. Whether it is communication, goal setting or time management, Tuttiett believes anybody can use these skills to develop a career or simply be a better person. ‘It’s not a sports course – although if they want to play football in the break, we can do that.’
The course encompasses numerous methods, all designed to boost confidence. ‘It’s a social and personal development course,’ says Tuttiett. ‘We build skills in a variety of ways. Every young person who comes on the course will have a different goal – some will want a job and others will want to return to education. Some will be doing their first CVs, while others need help to create a new CV that will present them in the best light.’
Tuttiett particularly appreciates that mentors can stay in touch with the participants. ‘We remain in contact and are available for a year after the course,’ she says. ‘We can find out how they are getting on and if there’s anything else we can do to help with their development. The young people also get to catch up with others on their course, so they can see how they are all getting on. As an add-on, they get a bursary of £80, which can be claimed at any point for 12 months after the course. Some spend it on clothes for interviews or on further training.’
Making it possible
Tuttiett is quick to acknowledge the role of masonic donations. ‘It’s fantastic,’ she says. ‘This would not happen without the support of organisations like the masons backing us. We turn lives around. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We see an incredible change in the directions lives are going. We get young people who are excluded from their families, from society, who are incredibly low, and after a couple of weeks they are motivated and confident and start to believe that they deserve to have a good life.’
Roberts, like Tuttiett, relishes the chance to help to make a difference. ‘I love this work more than playing. You can win a game of football and feel good for 24 hours but this has an impact on people’s lives and it’s an honour to be involved.
The change in all of them from day one is amazing. We almost have to hold the reins in on them as they develop that swagger. Now we want to make sure they use that in the right way.’
The value of the Get On Track course, developed by the charity founded by Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, was apparent to the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). ‘This is an innovative project that trains world-class athletes to become mentors for young people,’ says Les Hutchinson, the MCF’s Chief Operating Officer. ‘Athletes use their experiences to teach young people how to overcome adversity, stay focused and have the confidence, as well as the resilience, to deal with the highs and lows in their future careers.’
As Les highlights, the UK has a growing problem with young people who have left school and are struggling to find direction. Over the past five years, more than £17.4 million of masonic funding has been awarded to hundreds of local and national charities, many of which have improved the lives of thousands of children and young people by removing barriers to education and employment.
For Les, these causes reflect Freemasonry’s central tenets. ‘At the heart of Freemasonry is a concern for people and a responsibility to help those in need. Mentoring has been embraced by the Craft to help new brethren grasp the main principles of Freemasonry and become involved in their lodges. These core values are clearly reflected in the mission of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.’