Keep Wales Tidy are known for protecting our environment. However you might not know that they work in other ways to make our communities better places to live. For this post, Ena Lloyd talked to Jake Castle about the Gurnos Men’s Project.
I hadn’t realised until recently that the Keep Wales Tidy office was across the road from our Cathedral Road Offices in Cardiff. I caught up with their CEO Lesley Jones, as I wanted to know more about the Gurnos project, which is about supporting men into employment. Were there also some health and social care benefits? Lesley said that it would be helpful if Jake Castle, the Senior Project Officer blogged about this really rewarding project that he is leading on.
Here is what Jake shared about the project:
I am the Project Officer for Keep Wales Tidy in Merthyr Tydfil. I work with community groups, schools and individuals to carry out practical environmental projects. One of the most rewarding (and often entertaining) of these groups has been the Gurnos Men’s Project.
The Project was formed two years ago to give a group of long-term unemployed men on the Gurnos Estate the opportunity to get together and take part in a range of activities to help improve the community and develop their own skills and learning. It merged new and existing Keep Wales Tidy volunteers and links to Communities First. At that time, over 90% of the people that were engaged with the local Communities First cluster were women and so there was a clear lack in provision and support for men.
The group soon became dedicated to their work and carried out regular clean-ups, gardening and school grounds improvements. They also take part in basic reading and writing, horticulture and countryside skills courses. I meet with them every fortnight to help plan and deliver local projects and with the help of Communities First we regularly review their activities to ensure their own needs are being met while serving the wider community. I was pleased when I recently secured funding to organise formal training for the group; the combination of their ongoing dedication, hard work and this training has had such positive results.
As no one in the group had taken part in any accredited training for many years, they were all anxious about being tested. It was important that I support them and select appropriate training, six men have now successfully achieved NPTC Level 2 in Safe Use of Brush Cutter and Trimmer Operations. This formal qualification is hugely valuable as it doesn’t expire and the skills gained have helped to improve the confidence of the group and the standard of the work in the community.
All six participants (shown in above photo) are keen to pursue grounds maintenance work as a form of employment;
This has been great for me. I’ve been out of work for a few months now and this is the kind of work I’d like to get back in to. I know this ticket will be needed for loads of jobs and it shows I’ve been active and trying to better myself.
Antony Dunn, volunteer (shown second from the right in the above photo)
The group have been visited by elected representatives and were hugely grateful for the chance to talk about how the work and training had boosted their self-esteem, helped them manage mental health problems and alcoholism, provided them with lots of skills and helped the wider community. The wife of one of the group who is suffering from dementia also spoke of how the group had been a huge help to the both of them, easing the burden on the health and care systems.
It was acknowledged that there’s a real value in the provision for these individuals. Supporting people into employment is, of course, the goal and we are all aware that this may be a long-term process. This model suggests that the interim period (before finding work) can also prove valuable in several other ways.
It seems to me that success for this group has involved a healthy mixture of skills that benefit the individuals, and activities that benefit the community – not forgetting the occasional structured activity for routine and enjoyment! The community benefit is hard to measure; it goes well beyond litter picks as it brings a reduced demand on our health and care services.
In my opinion, the Men’s Project can help increase employment levels and improve Valleys communities. The focus for us all now is to quantify that wide-ranging contribution.