All hands on deck

13 February 2019 | West and South West England

Young Bristol

Youth charity helps youngsters find employment, training them on historic steamship.

A youth charity in the south west is helping disadvantaged youngsters find employment through an innovative scheme using outdoor pursuits. Young Bristol runs a free Instructor Training Scheme in activities including kayaking, canoeing and rock climbing to enable them to gain essential skills for a new career. They have also partnered with the SS Great Britain, a museum ship and former passenger steamship, to train and then employ students to work on the ‘high ropes’ on the rigging of the ship. 

Called ‘Go Aloft’, this activity gives people the chance to discover what it is really like to be a member of the SS Great Britain’s crew by climbing rigging to over 30 metres above ground level.

Students aged between 16 and 24 can join the instructor programme, that aims to fit around existing work and college commitments. As a general rule, trainees who enrol and attend regular sessions find work within the industry after a year of training.

Phil Harris, Instructor Training Coordinator for Young Bristol, has been with the scheme since its inception six years ago. "We believe every young person has the right to discover what they're capable of. Between 70-80 per cent come from disadvantaged backgrounds while the rest of the places are open to all. Students are often referred from schools or from charities like the Prince’s Trust. Places are heavily oversubscribed and while we look to take on and receive funding for around 24 students we usually accept around 50.”

Students can choose to take qualifications in any or all of the following: kayaking, canoeing, raft building, rock climbing, a power boat license, a national first aid qualification or a lifeguard qualification. Phil says: “The aim isn’t always getting the qualifications, but in building confidence and skills.”

Young Bristol boasts a high success rate. More than 80% of their students go on to further education or employment including working in the outdoor industry. SS Great Britain alone takes on 8 -10 students. And they are also very proud they pay their staff a living wage. 

“It is important so that they feel valued and independent,” says Phil. “Once they are on the scheme, they never have to leave. They can stay with us until they want to try something else or have found a job. I have had some stay with me for up to five years! Conversely, they may just want to get a Lifeguard qualification, and that can take just a week.

“The great thing is that all the qualifications are delivered by outside partners who are all potential employers. It immediately gives them a step up. The most rewarding part of my job is working with these young people and seeing them blossom. I get a real buzz from seeing them grow and develop. They are all there because they want to be there and I think that is fantastic.

“Some of the stories you hear are really tragic, we have had kids here with terrible mental health problems or others who have already been in trouble with the law and have criminal backgrounds.

“But by being on the course, they are put in front of a wide audience and it teaches them to be confident in any setting. They might be working delivering sessions to a group of bankers or primary school children. They need and learn to adapt.”

Dan Baines is one of the original ITS and Young Bristol Successes. He began as a Trainee in 2014 and was quickly trained on the high ropes. He then began as a casual instructor. Two years ago he took on the management of the whole of Go Aloft.

“I have always been a fan of adrenaline based activities so this was a fantastic opportunity for me that has paid off in a doing a job that I love. This scheme is doing a lot of good for young people across Bristol. “There are some youngsters out there doing not very much at all, and have no hobbies. The fact they can come here and train in an activity and sport can only be a positive."

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