THE Word Forest Organisation is a small, international reforestation charity based at St Michael’s Business Centre in Lyme Regis.
They’re on a mission to mitigate climate chaos by planting trees in the tropics, where they grow up to ten times faster than anywhere else on the planet.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, nearly half of the UK’s small charities working with the world’s poorest people expect to close within the next 12 months due to lack of financial support.
The charity moved into office premises in January as they were bursting out of a spare room in the flat of co-founders, Tracey and Simon West. But during lockdown, the charity lost many of their income streams from face to face encounters at market stalls, community screenings of their documentary ‘#TreesAreTheKey’ narrated by Kate Winslet.
Additionally, many supporters have had to cancel regular donations because they’re worried about their own financial security.
The Word Forest Organisation is determined not only to stay afloat through the COVID-era, but to expand, and they are hoping to use the government’s Kickstart Scheme and possibly apprenticeships, to do it.
However, the charity has hit a stumbling block with the application process for the Kickstart Scheme and is now calling on other local employers to join forces to help create new jobs for young people.
Tracey commented: “We absolutely understand why this pandemic has made everyone take a closer look at their finances and we’ve had to roll with it. The problem is, we were gearing up to move Word Forest up a notch by increasing our volunteer base and with additional funding, take on some staff.
“Our plans for creating employment in Lyme Regis had to go on the back burner. The workload has gone through the roof and our resources are stretched to capacity and our funding is currently supporting 1,500 people from the tree planting communities we work with, helping them keep starvation at bay.”
Desperately needed for young people
The charity’s education trustee Helen Roberts added: “This is desperately needed for the young people in our area and the government haven’t made it easy for employers to offer jobs.
“If 30 local employers could take on just one person, what a huge difference it would make to the youngsters of our town.”
Helen had been investigating apprenticeships to help with the charities wide variety of tasks, which would give somebody a good grounding for working in the Third Sector, but COVID put an end to those plans because the Word Forest couldn’t afford to commit to paying even a nominal salary.
News of the government’s Kickstart Scheme rekindled the idea of taking on staff. It will create new, six-month job placements for young people who are currently on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.
The job placements should support the participants to develop the skills and experience they need to find work after completing the scheme.
Funding is available for 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
There is also £1,500 per job placement available for setup costs, support and training.
Kickstart is not an apprenticeship, but participants may move on to an apprenticeship at any time during, or after their job placement.
Tracey started the application process this week and was stopped in her tracks when she found out the restrictive terms and conditions.
If you are applying for 30 or more job placements, you can apply directly. However, if you’re applying for less than 30, you must go through a representative of a group of employers who can submit an application on your behalf, using other employers to create 30 or more job placements in one application.
Unimaginably stressful for school leavers
Chairman of trustees Simon commented: “Everyone is clinging onto their jobs right now and it must be unimaginably stressful for school and college leavers too, trying to find anything, let alone a job they’ve studied hard for.
“We certainly can’t employ 30 people and I doubt many employers around here could create that many new roles either.
“We want to help a few young, environmentally-minded people who want to get their foot on the ladder. We’ve got loads of ideas to help the charity get back on its feet but unless we can find other employers who want to work together to take on 30 between us – plus a lead representative who can champion the cause – we’re stuck!”
Details of how you can take on a young person can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-a-grant-through-the-kickstart-scheme
If a single employer cannot provide 30 job placements, they can:
- Join a group of other employers, nominating a representative for the group to submit the application.
- Register their interest with existing representatives, such as local authorities, chambers of commerce or trade bodies. The representative will check that your job placements are eligible for the Kickstart Scheme, and submit the application for funding on your behalf.
Tracey, who was interviewed on BBC Radio Solent about the Kickstart scheme this week, concluded: “Come on all you employers of Lyme Regis and the surrounding area, can we make this happen together? Can we find a way to help at least 30 youngsters in our town who desperately need our help, guidance and patience to teach and support them as they learn?
“We can offer two placements right now and if they’re able to help us increase our income, we’ll take more in the future with a view to making them staff. That’s 28 left to find. Are you in?
“I’ve made an online form for local employers to get in touch and express their interest to have a Zoom to discuss it.”
Lyme Regis employers can register their interest in the Kickstart scheme by clicking here and filling out the form.