Don't forget to pause: reflecting on the Poached pilot

Six months. Difficult to believe it really. On 9 April I was still hastily trying to secure office space with the Careers Development Group (CDG) at Wood Green and on 16 April I began my first day of the pilot with two trainees - both very different from eachother - in a temporary set up at Wood Green library.

It wasn't until the following week that I finally managed to move in to the Wood Green office and this was only because I took the Tuesday off work to go and sit outside the office manager's door until he had a chance to see me and approve the move. All this served to teach me that partnership working is difficult and other people have different priorities to you. It works when you manage to bring them into alignment.

It's about people, stupid
But Poached wouldn't be where it is without partnerships. CDG has been fantastic to us. I maintain that we had the best room in the (rather rabbit-warren-like) building. We had natural light and windows we could open. We had use of desks, chairs and a flip chart holder, and our own kitchen. They were always enthusiastic about the Poached idea and were a great source of people who wanted to take part in my programme. Brij was a CDG recruit, for example, and so was Chris I.

Over the six months I've built up good relationships with the two placement managers I've worked alongside and other office staff who would go out of their way to help me get things set up and sorted out. On my final day of Poached last week I said farewell to the CDG offices with a hint of sadness, but knowing that the personal relationships I've made there will continue to work to both our benefit.

Camden Calling has been the other very productive partnership that sprung up over the six months. They received some UnLtd funding in the same round as Poached and I immediately warmed to Alex and her vision of giving vulnerable people access to the mainstream gig scene in London. I suggested that Poached could help with some of the communication - their newsletter for example - and Alex sent me Chris W who took to the programme like a (poached) duck to water. They also sent us Dan, their illustrator, who soaked up the design training Chris G provided with palpable energy and enthusiasm.

Our connection with a Hackney-based youth information website couldn't have come at a better time. Chris W was coming to the end of his second six-week stint and in need of a new challenge. His interest in music and journalism and his upbeat, characterful writing style made me think that a youth website where he'd get to interview top performers and enthuse others would be right up his street. A mutual ally, Sally from vInvolved, introduced me to Lucy from What's Up Information and we immediately knew wanted to work together. Chris is now happily volunteering for What's Up and Poached will be moving into their creative office space in Hackney in a few weeks.

I can't finish this part of the post without a mention of my first trainee, Angela, who is now doing a three-month internship with Save the Children. She has been with Poached since that first day in Wood Green library and each week we'd have lunch together, discussing life, business and everything inbetween. She's been a fantastic support for me and enthusiast for Poached and I'm absolutely thrilled that she's landed the Save the Children opportunity in an extremely competitive market.

Change is the only constant
Which reminds me that Poached was conceived in a very different economic climate. When I first had the idea back in December 2007, the recession wasn't on anyone's horizon. Jobs in charity and public sector communications were rising and tackling long-term unemployment was a high Government priority because everyone else was looking alright. Fast forward to almost two years later and we've got the highest unemployment figures in 14 years, with the rise in youth unemployment the most worrying trend. On beginning the Poached pilot a year on from its conception, I realised that I needed to prepare people for work, but this might mean volunteering or part-time work rather than a stable full-time job. The focus had to change from employment to skills and getting people engaged in rewarding activities.

Funnily enough, this was no problem for some of my trainees. Chris W and Angela, in particular, wanted to ease their way back into work after severe personal breakdown. Being able to try a few different things, build their skills and confidence, and begin thinking about their future was more valuable for them than being forced into full-time work. Brij, too, was keen on volunteering and was surprised to learn that there were paid jobs in the charity sector that might suit him.

For others, it was work that they needed. Chris I and Rokeya were both very focused on teaching roles, which would be rewarding and offer a stable income. So their Poached programme focussed on improving their communication and writing skills in ways that will be useful to them in a classroom environment. We looked at different styles of communication, ways of structuring writing, and how to put your audience first. Chris I went straight from Poached into a teaching assistant role - all his own doing - and insists he'll use what he learnt in the classroom as well as in his spare time. He's writing a novel!

The ability to tailor what Poached does to help the individual turned out to be very powerful and I intend to keep this flexible, personal model in the next stage of Poached's development.

Keeping it real
Real work that mattered was also a theme that kept coming up throughout the evaluation. The trainees worked on case studies for NHS Jobs, web copy for Room2Heal, blogs, web and promotional materials for Poached and newsletters for Camden Calling as part of their training. They learnt how to change their tone and style to fit the client and the audience. They got to practice writing for a range of different mediums and channels. And they got to see the value of their work to others. What's more, they will all end up with a published piece of work to put in their portfolios.

Poached trainees produced work they could be proud of because we insisted on quality. Constant feedback, explanations and revisions meant that the learning, and the improvement, was tangible. But yes, this takes time. What I've learnt is that time really does equal money and I need to find a way of funding the training time so that we can keep the costs of our commercial work competitive. Looking at the models for doing this, and finding new funding streams, is going to be my next task.

New growth
So Poached is entering a new phase that feels a little like starting all over again, but armed with the knowledge and evidence to propel us to the next level. I know I need to pause and reflect on everything we've learnt so far to inform our development over the next few months. It feels a bit uncomfortable, because my natural tendency is to forge ahead, but I'm taking a couple of weeks to get my thoughts together and renew my energy before ploughing on. Sensible huh? Stay tuned for more adventures and keep in touch.

Jess at

No comments:

Post a Comment