From a small office in the centre of Chipping Norton, Victoria MacFarlane is having a profound effect on young adults’ lives by helping them get into the world of work.
Victoria runs the OX7 project – a two-year scheme funded by the Government with the aim to support 16-24 year-olds with getting a job.
A year into the project and many formerly unemployed people have been given a helping hand to land their first job at places like Soho Farmhouse, the theatre and Aldi.
But Victoria is keen to point out that her work is not just about helping with CVs, but much of her time is spent talking to young adults about their plans and making sure they are ready to work, as many simply are not.
“We’re targeting the most vulnerable in the Chipping Norton community, so it’s quite a slow burn but the young people that we’re reaching are the ones that really need the service,” she said.
“But I think they hear ‘work-based project’ and think, ‘I’m not ready for work,’ but don’t actually think if they came and had a conversation with me, there’s a lot more I can offer.”
Victoria uses a range of other charitable and community schemes to prepare people for work, especially Banbury Young Homelessness Project, which has lots of helpful courses like personal finance and social development.
There are also pots of money for 15 to 21 year-olds to go on training courses which fund much of what Victoria suggests.
“If someone between 15 and 21 walks into my office and I think, ‘you’re not work-ready’ – and it’s quite easy to tell when you’re having the conversation with them from their ideas of work, like if it’s not their perfect job they don’t want to apply,” she said.
“So understanding that we need a foundation or a stepping stone, so let’s get you ready to step onto that stone so you can go onto the role you actually want.”
We’re targeting the most vulnerable in the Chipping Norton community.Victoria MacFarlane
OX7 is ran by not-for-profit community project Experience Chipping Norton so Victoria has access to almost every business in the town and beyond for opportunities for work experience, job trials and more in so many different industries.
But the programme is voluntary so the onus is on the person to do what OX7 recommends, and as Victoria is only employed two days a week, she does not have time to chase up people.
That does not stop her from working as hard as possible to give the young people from all walks of life as many opportunities as she can to find work.
Anyone interested in speaking to Victoria should visit her office in Goddards Lane on Thursdays or Fridays.
Young mum thankful for help
One mother-of-two says she would not be on the cusp of starting work at a care home if OX7 had not helped her.
Leanne, who only wished to give her first name, said she was ready to go back to work now her two children are at school but did not have the belief in herself.
The 24-year-old credits Victoria with showing her more possibilities than the traditional job search.
“I found them more helpful than the Jobcentre, they explained it more and looked into it a lot more, things like how much childcare would cost and how I would be better off in work,” she said.
After being recommended by her child’s primary school, Leanne met with Victoria who helped her with her CV, found her exam results and crucially gave her the courage to apply.
Leanne worked as a carer before having her children so she is looking forward to going back, subject to a DBS check.
“I’m so ready to go back to work now. OX7 made me feel more confident in myself as before I was quite shy and worried about people putting their nose up at me. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she said.
Leanne is just one of many stories from OX7: some have found a job within a fortnight of meeting Victoria while others are still looking for work after six months.
The variety of circumstances shows some of the challenges faced by teenagers in Chipping Norton, which may have a stereotype as a wealthy Cotswold town, but that is not always the case.
John Marshall runs the youth club at St Mary’s Church and is a regular source of referrals for Victoria.
He believes projects like OX7 are vital for rural communities like Chipping Norton.
“It’s not easy for kids in Chipping Norton or the villages surrounding it as there’s a lot of deprivation and a lot kids who have pretty hopeless prospects,” he said.
“So that’s why it’s great to have OX7 here because they can keep going in and talking to Victoria to try to take the next step.
“I’ve known a lot of these kids for a long time and I’m immensely grateful for OX7.”
BYHP partnership essential to success
One of the most successful partnerships OX7 has is with the Banbury Young Homelessness Project – or BYHP for short.
BYHP provides a range of services for vulnerable children and young adults and helping them to find employment is a significant part of that.
So by working with Victoria at OX7, the charity offers 15-21 year-olds who are not ready for work mentoring and coaching for six to nine months funded by The Big Lottery and European Social funds, as well as workshops for life skills or teamwork.
Then once they have been with BYHP, they can go back to Victoria in theory with improved confidence and a better chance at holding down a job.
Connor Southwood, who works with the 15-17 age group at BYHP, and Emma Phillips, who is responsible for 17-21s, meet regularly with Victoria to discuss their work.
“Because of where BYHP operates, we cover a lot of the surrounding villages and we’ve got a lot of young people who access BYHP services from Chipping Norton,” he said.
“So OX7 is a brilliant source for those young people to be identified and then for BYHP to reach out and start working with them.”
Although BYHP is based in Banbury, the funding means they can refund travel costs for group sessions outside Chipping Norton or work experience as well as outfits, equipment and more to allay any of those concerns.
Victoria said without BYHP’s help they would ‘have a list of non-engagers’ as the type of people she works with often need the help the charity can provide to tackle the reasons why they are not in work.
Connor added: “With vulnerable young people, there’s so much that’s gone wrong in different areas of their lives so it’s really important for us to be linking up with agencies like OX7 so we know how we support them as a team.”
Plans to expand careers service
OX7 started from a one-line email from the Government in 2016 saying the funding was in the bank for a ‘community digital hub’ designed to engage, train and refocus young people in the area.
Experience Chipping Norton was the group behind the bid and chairman Shaun Fagan is proud of the project’s success after a year.
“It’s absolutely shocking when you hear the background of some of the people we have helped and the amount of youngsters in unemployment is very surprising,” he said.
The current funding is just for 16-24 year-olds, Shaun hopes to expand the service to anyone who needs a helping hand to find work regardless of age.
He plans to ask businesses in the town to sponsor the project and is optimistic that they will back it.
For more information about OX7, visit www.experiencechippingnorton.com/live/ox7