Chorlton arts centre has novel and holistic approach to getting people back into work

By Kate Banks

In light of the cuts, talk of a ‘lost generation’ of university graduates and ever-escalating unemployment, it is easy to get disheartened about the lack of job opportunities in the UK right now.

With that in mind, an arts centre in Chorlton-cum-Hardy is taking a novel approach to the situation.

JUMP! at The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre is a weekly initiative catering for people currently out of work and provides creative activities or simply just a reason to get out of the house.

The scheme, which takes place at the centre on Manchester Road, is a combination of participation and social inclusion according to artistic director, Janine Waters and offers an impressive choice of activities, ranging from singing to sculpting.

Janine said: “It’s a holistic approach to getting people back into employment, this isn’t the only answer but it will certainly contribute to it.”

The project aims to help people regain their confidence after periods of short or long-term unemployment and equip them with skills that may help them find work.

“We don’t pretend to be an X Factor dream factory which will make all your wishes come true,” said Janine. “But we do encourage people to set challenging yet achievable goals.”

She added that achieving a target after a period of unemployment can be hugely beneficial, as people can develop low self-esteem very quickly after a series of set-backs.

Marcela Hervia, a graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University and JUMP! attendee, is adamant about the scheme’s benefits.

“I was a mature student and I thought I was going to get a job straight away and I didn’t,” said Marcela. “So I have taken the opportunity to do more creative stuff and have really enjoyed it.”

While Janine is clear that JUMP! is no dream factory and some members set themselves targets as small as learning to play two songs on the piano by Christmas, Marcela has set her sights high.

She said: “My personal goal is to do as many creative things as humanly possible. I’ve acted and written before and JUMP! has introduced me to singing, I eventually want to get an acting job.”

This year’s JUMP!, which began on 13 October, aims to build on the success of the pilot last year, which worked with 19 unemployed adults over 12 weeks culminating in a small live performance.

“But not everyone wanted to write or sing, so we’ve decided to open it up to all different forms,” said Janine.

The range of opportunities offered by JUMP! is central to its focus on inclusiveness, as the project aims to cater for the needs of all its attendees.

For example, one member is a self taught sculptor and he simply comes to the weekly sessions to use the centre’s available space to practice his art. Another is a trained art teacher and shares her skills with others, as well as acquiring new ones herself, such as singing.

These confidence building exercises are very important when surviving in the jobs market, said Geoff Brown, Secretary of the Manchester Trade Union Council (TUC).

However, while Geoff is fully supportive of initiatives such as JUMP!, he does not believe they can be the only remedy to public-sector employment cuts.

“The fact is there aren’t enough jobs, so no matter how fantastic these projects are and how much they do to boost people’s confidence, there are still a very small number of vacancies,” Geoff said.

Geoff believes one of the main reasons why there are so little jobs currently is the Government’s austerity programme, which aims to reduce the UK’s economic deficit by cutting spending, benefits and public sector jobs.

However, Geoff does not think austerity is working and that job cuts simply result in less money being spent on the high street.

 “I would argue there are now more than two and a half million people out of work,” he said. “It seems unbelievable, but twenty thousand jobs are being cut from within job centres themselves.

“Manchester City Council has reduced its work force by 2,000 and there will be cuts in adult services in the next 12 months. We’re only beginning to see the effects of the cuts in Manchester.”

But despite this somewhat gloomy picture, Geoff did emphasise that projects like JUMP! make all the difference to people coping with all the knocks associated with unemployment.

Moreover, JUMP! already has its own success stories, as the vast majority of those involved last year now in work and Chorlton Job Centre is now recommending it to its clients.

JUMP!’s marketing Officer, Dan Jones, 23, said; “It’s great to know that we are making a difference and it’s really good to give something back. It’s inspiring.”

Dan himself was unemployed for quite a period and attained his position at JUMP! Through the now extinct Future Jobs Fund, which was one of the coalition government’s first and most high profile spending cuts.

Dan said: “It’s such a shame that the Future Jobs Fund doesn’t exist anymore because I met so many talented people through it.”

While JUMP! does not claim to be even nearly as far-reaching as the Future Jobs Fund, Janine believes it will help Chorlton’s unemployed in its own small way.

Chorlton Councillor Victor Chamberlain said: “Manchester has always had problems with unemployment and at the current time it is a very big concern, particularly amongst young people.

“I think this initiative will help the participants to gain real skills and improve confidence and self esteem, which will be really helpful with their job hunt.”

As the Edge is a new organisation JUMP! is not core funded, but receives contributions from Manchester City Council and W O Street Charitable Foundation.

Zoe Higgens, Team Leader for Regeneration at Manchester City Council, said while it is difficult to the measure the success of JUMP! the council has had positive feedback from Chrolton Job Centre and hopes to continue its partnership with the initiative.

“Anything we do depends on funding,” said Janine. “It isn’t regular at the moment and we’re funded project by project so we’re constantly writing funding bids.

Funding is by nature dependent on recruitment and participation, so Janine emphasises that anyone is welcome at JUMP!  which takes place 12-3pm every Thursday.

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