Rochdale today is a far cry from the textile and manufacturing boomtown it used to be. The birthplace of the Co-operative Movement and the Cotton thoroughfare of the Industrial Revolution now boasts more ‘to let’ signs than signposts of thriving industry.
It reflects the employment challenges facing the Greater Manchester area. 82,000 people claim Jobseekers Allowance in the region, and, whilst unemployment has fallen in the UK by 3.3% on an annual basis, and by 2.4% in the North-West, it has remained relatively stagnant here.
It is in such places that The Salvation Army has always made its home. On Newgate, Rochdale Corps’ Employment Plus programme attempts to break the cycle of long-term unemployment and get people back to work.
[Find out more: Visit our Work For All website]
The key feature of the programme is a walk-in jobs Clinic, open Mondays 10 - 12 am and 2 - 4 pm led by Roy Briggs, a member of the corps. In a friendly and warm environment, jobseekers can walk into the corps and have access to laptops, the internet, and one-to-one advice on anything from how to lay out a CV to preparing for an interview.
Vinny, who has only recently started visiting the Jobs Clinic, says that, for him, “it has helped immensely.” Vinny, a HGV Driver, has been out of work since losing his partner to alcoholism 18 months ago. Isolated and grieving, when it was time to re-approach the job market, Vinny struggled.
“It was just really difficult,” He says. “I didn’t know how to do anything with my CV and couldn’t get online, which you have to do now to search for work. The Job Centre try to help, but they have to see so many people to deal with that it becomes really tough to get the advice you need.”
Vinny felt a distinct change when it came to the first time he visited the Job Clinic at Rochdale Corps. “It was unbelievable. They sat me down, made me feel welcome – even offered me a cup of tea.” He proudly thumps his CV, newly printed, updated, and ready for respective employers, which lies on the table. “Two days ago, I couldn’t do that. But Roy’s really helped me with my CV and my computer skills, as well as getting online.”
In fact, Roy was currently sat at the very same desk, patiently pouring over an application form Vinny had filled in the previous evening. “It’s everything for me,” Vinny enthuses. “I’ve been trying to get this sort of help for months.”
So what’s in it for Roy? A former Adult Educator, he gets a real buzz out of the work. Roy used to run the Corps’ youth programme alongside the Job Clinic, but is increasingly seeing the latter as a priority in his community so now focuses on it exclusively. “Sometimes it is really rewarding, when you see people making progress in their lives, and sometimes it can be a bit of a long haul,” he admits.
But despite the challenges – economic deprivation, limited opportunities and the slow ebbing of hope that infuses the job search of those who are repeatedly told ‘no’ – when asked what it is that drives him on with his work, Roy answers simply, “It’s an expression of my faith." Not just his faith as a Salvationist – but the belief that he can make a real difference to people’s lives – if he can but spare them a few hours of his time.
He describes somebody who used the service a couple of weeks ago – a forklift truck driver, all they needed was a little help with their CV. So Roy sat down with him, went through it, and in a week he had returned, asking for help with an interview he’d landed. Roy went through mock interviews and practice with him, and a few days ago received a phone call telling him he’d got the job.
“Seeing people in desperate situations – you feel for them, you really do,” He explains, “But when you work with them, as an individual, one-to-one, you can see people getting something out of it.”