Baroness pops in for a chat with the young people at Wealden Works, Heathfield

30th January

Baroness Stedman-Scott surrounded by the young people she met during her visit

As part of a whistle stop tour of the South East, Lord’s Minister, Baroness Stedman-Scott, Department for Work and Pensions, popped in to Wealden Works, Heathfield, East Sussex. There she met a group of young people, who are either currently being helped by the initiative or have benefitted from help in the past. Councillor, Rupert Simmons (ESCC) and Peter Bailey of The Heathfield Partnership, were also there to lend their support.

Wealden Works has been in existence for ten years and supports young people 16-24, who are not in employment or education, by matching them with training opportunities and vacancies that suit their interests and improve their chances of finding work. The charity works with young people who often have complex needs, by supporting them and helping build their confidence and self-esteem throughout the programme. In a clear sign of their impact, 96% of young people who complete their programmes progress into employment, training, apprenticeships or education.

The Baroness explained that getting young people into rewarding work is very close to her heart, and she quickly engaged in lots of animated chat with the group, putting everyone at ease with her down to earth manner. Everyone was keen to talk to her, and to recount their hopes and experiences. One young woman, 17 year old, Ellyn from Heathfield, impressed her with her dream of becoming a rugby coach, and given that she is already at the Centre of Excellence at Richmond, her ambition to succeed looks very likely. Another, 22 year old, David, explained his passion for politics which piqued the Baroness’s interest, and resulted in an invitation for him and anyone else who is interested, to visit the Houses of Parliament.

As part of a free and frank exchange between the young people and the Baroness, some raised their concerns over the lack of, and costs of rural transport, the lack of job centre services in Heathfield (withdrawn in January 2020, and previously offered via the Parish Council premises) and the difficulty in obtaining support for mental health issues.

The Baroness seemed to enjoy her visit, she was very supportive and encouraging with her comments, and confirmed she would:

“Like to see more projects like this. Wealden Works is exactly this kind of organisation that our jobcentres should be working with – with buckets of credibility in their community, they’re helping change people’s lives by supporting them to find jobs they love.”

She finished off the visit, by saying that she would keep in touch with the project and feed back on some of the points raised. Presumably, the absence of the job centre service in Heathfield will be top of her list.

Baroness Stedman-Scott with rugby hopeful Ellyn (left)