A Final Farewell to the LIFT OFF Project and to Norfolk County Council – By Ella Meecham, LIFT OFF Project Delivery Officer.

With the LIFT OFF Project coming to an end and the doom and gloom in the media, I thought it would be a nice idea to recap on some of the key moments I really enjoyed during the project.

Since the project began in spring last year, I have met and worked with so many new and interesting people. It has been a challenging project as It was something unlike anything I had delivered previously. I spent a lot of time working closely with the participants and they have taught me so much over the past months. Many of the participants that were referred to the project had faced barriers to gaining employment because of lack of confidence, a disability, mental health issues or lack of experience. Working with these people has totally changed and opened up my perceptions on the challenges both employers and prospective employees face. Many of the participants thought they had not been successful in gaining employment because of how they were perceived on paper by their CV’s or by their lack of previous experience. It can be a catch-22 for many, as without a job, they cannot receive the training they require. This is how volunteering programmes like this one can help.

In total, 36 work trial days were carried out and some of the tasks carried out by the participants included access auditing a range of sites around Norfolk.  As well as making this information available to the public through access booklets, the exercise helped encourage the participants to come out, meet new people, learn new skills and be out in some of the most idyllic locations around Norfolk, including historic sites and nature reserves. It was about taking that big step to come along and to develop some of their team working and communications skills with others in the same position as themselves. Upon completion of the work trial, the participants received certificates at our end of project celebration in February 2020. As well as this, all participants were offered the opportunity to take part in First Aid training as well as the chance to take part in workshops, such as tree planting and interview skills. The aim of the work trials and training workshops was to boost their confidence, to change their mindset into a more positive one and to feel a part of something whilst contributing to help their community.

A nice shot of LIFT OFF participants carrying out some auditing techniques.

I have worked with some of the most hardworking and enthusiastic individuals over the duration of the project. We had many laughs and the participants got used to being stuck in a car with me whilst travelling to and from sites. Here are some of my favourite comments from the participants upon completion of the work trials.

“I applied for the lift off course to help gain some confidence and some skills. I also struggle with anxiety so it was a step towards helping that too.”

“The reason I applied to the Lift Off project was because I was unemployed and my life was not really going anywhere. The Lift Off project gave me the opportunity to gain some new knowledge to help me eventually get into work. It was also a good way of seeing nature and local places of interest.”

“The work trials have given me a more positive mindset of working outdoors, especially in natural surroundings and historic sites.”

A couple of the participants joined Andy Brazil, County Butterfly Recorder on a talk around Burgh Castle, a Norfolk Archaeological Trust site, who gave us a fascinating tour around the roman fort. Both myself and the participants were fascinated by the things Andy explained to us and hopefully it has inspired some of them enough to take part in some wildlife recording themselves in the future.

Andy Brazil and the project team on a cold January day at Burgh Castle.

Another highlight of the project was helping to carry out some access improvements at Salhouse Broad, one of our host business partners, who kindly allowed us to work on their site. The work was done with project volunteers with the help of the staff and volunteers of the broad.

Some shots of the aggregate before it was laid

Another highlight for me was working alongside the volunteer coordinator, Seamus, at one of our host sites, Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve, who had kindly led some sessions for us there. Many of the participants commented that the favourite site they worked on was Sculthorpe Moor. Here the participants helped audit the site and helped with some path maintenance and habitat management. They commented that they really enjoyed the beauty and tranquillity of the site and one of the participants will hopefully continue to volunteer there on a regular basis as he lives in close proximity.

I would also like to say a big thank you to the other host businesses that kindly let us work on their sites and were excellent hosts when we visited, including Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Norfolk Archaeological Trust, Ringsfield Hall and Salle Moor Farm. I have made some great relationships with the staff at many sites and hopefully I will work with them again in the future. Some of the host businesses undertook training workshops, which will hopefully have set them up to apply for funding for future projects.

I would also like to say a huge thank you to the organisations I worked with who referred the participants to the project. Many of the staff at these organisations such as On Track, The Wellbeing Service, NSFT and the SHAW Trust were so helpful in the initial stages of the project and were very keen to get involved and began to refer their clients right away. Many stated that it was just what their clients needed to gain experience before applying for full time jobs. Some of the feedback from them was positive to hear and made everything I had done with the participants valued and extremely satisfying.

“This project was excellent for people lacking in confidence as it gave such a gentle easing back into dealing with people and entering the workplace. Thank you very much – clients have since moved on to further training projects and it is this first step that gave them the confidence to move on.” Wellbeing Service, Employment Service

“I know it gave hope to some of our service users to have something to be a part of in the community.”  – NSFT

Staff at Fakenham Job centre also commented that one of their clients had an increase in confidence, motivation, skills, communication and general outlook.

This kind of positive feedback from the referral organisations and from the participants themselves really gave me a sense of achievement that the project had helped the participants and their general outlook on life and made everything we did on the project so worthwhile. Hopefully we will have set some of the participants up to become much more confident and positive minded individuals who will achieve so well in whatever they put their brilliant minds to!

I am also embarking on a new adventure and I will be leaving Norfolk County Council after three fantastic years to work on another exciting project called Water, Mills and Marshes at the Broads Authority. I would like to say a final farewell to all the amazing people I have worked with over the years and I have learnt so much from all of you. Thanks and farewell!

A few of the LIFT OFF Project Team at our celebration event.