Heathfield is getting ready to welcome the 100th graduate in its groundbreaking Heathfield Works! scheme.
The latest group of ten young people have just embarked on a ten week course aimed at fitting them into a carefully tailored programme of employment or full-time education.
By the end of February the scheme will have piloted 100 youngsters from the town and nearby villages through preparation and ultimate introduction to jobs or courses best suited to their temperament and skills.
County councillor and local scheme founder Rupert Simmons said: “It’s been an amazing success. The great thing is that they are mentored throughout. Many become really close to their mentors and they are not abandoned once they enter work - mentoring goes on as long as necessary.
“Lots of youngsters had lost their way - there were problems at home or with school and very few of them had any self-esteem. We take account of their personalities and ability - we don’t just point them at any job or college. It’s vital that they enjoy what they do.”
Young people are introduced gradually to the world of work, thanks to numerous local firms such as landscape specialists, lawyers, design houses in hi fi, art or fashion - there’s even one teenager who has gone into Formula 1. In some cases they enrol in carefully chosen courses at local colleges.
It is run in conjunction with Tomorrow’s People, a national employment charity that works with long-term unemployed people to help them get and keep a job.
Rupert said: “Young people in rural areas face a complex set of problems - such as poor public transport - and are largely ignored by Government and policy makers. There’s no post-school support and they lose their confidence, feeling written off and labelled.”
He points out Heathfield is lucky in that there is a strong community infrastructure and business network that supports the scheme.