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by Jean Bryant; Pictures by Robin Bryant
Every cab horse in London has three things: shelter for the night, food for its stomach and work allotted to it by which it can earn its corn,’ stated William Booth in 1890. He was revealing the desperate state of the urban poor in his book In Darkest England and the Way Out – a book which is still required reading in educational courses. From this observation he set out a ‘cab horse charter’ for the one tenth of the population who did not have those three basics: shelter, food and work.
His visionary scheme to fight the social and criminal evils, which he observed came from this deprivation, included helping people to ‘get back into the regular ranks of industry’.
Part of his scheme included buying a parcel of land, made up from three adjacent farms, in Hadleigh, Essex, around 50 miles east of London, with the aim that ‘by the establishment of this Farm Colony we should create a great school of technical agricultural education. Every man who goes to our Farm Colony does so to… obtain knowledge of an occupation and that mastery of his tools which will enable him to play his part in the battle of life.’
While not expressed in Victorian terms or culture, 113 years later – on the site of William Booth’s daring Farm Colony scheme – The Salvation Army is still training people to ‘obtain knowledge of an occupation’ which will help them into employment.
With the industrialisation of agriculture that took place in the mid 1900s, the need for labour on the land was much reduced, and the Army farm in Hadleigh is now a commercial venture putting money into the Social Fund.
However, the Employment Training Centre is sited in the former Farm Colony dining hall. In 1990, the centenary of the publication of In Darkest England and the Way Out, the Catherine Booth Memorial Fund (set up after the promotion to Glory of the Founder’s eldest granddaughter) backed the setting up of the employment training centre. The training – offered to those who had learning disabilities or were long-term unemployed – was in carpentry, catering and office skills with computing, with life skills running alongside all three for those who would benefit.
Thirteen years on, the training centre is a busy, buzzing community which not only fulfils its purpose of training people for employment but also is extending its links with the local community. Much of its success is due to the vision and enthusiasm of manager Beverley Egan – her persistence to get things achieved was once likened to a steamroller by former Salvation Army head, General John Gowans! – and her 11 full-time and 25 part-time staff, together with 30 volunteers. Training is now also on offer in estates management, horticulture, retail and graphics.
The 75 trainees are referred to the centre through a variety of agencies. Some attend for a four-day-a-week, six-week course funded through the UK Government scheme Job Centre-Plus – although as the course was orginally 12 weeks, most trainees need more than just six weeks, so they continue with their training unfunded. Others may be referred through social services. A European social-funded programme specifically helps adults with learning difficulties towards employment.
Trainees can include those who have lost their confidence due to long-term unemployment; people with medical problems needing to change employment; women returning to work after raising a family; young people with low literacy skills who lack direction, or who have been through the care system and have taken knocks in life.
John Swann had his own mechanics business and a comfortable income. An industrial accident left him in severe pain and eventually he lost his business. ‘There’s nothing left for me,’ he felt, which led to severe depression. It was suggested that he went to the training centre for a 12-week course to retrain in another area. ‘What gave me encouragement and growth were the people here,’ he says. ‘I began to open up and discovered what I was capable of.’
Just as he was finishing the course, an opening as a tutor came at the centre. John was encouraged to apply for it. He started to write his CV and as he did he realised he had valuable skills to offer. He was interviewed on the same playing fields as other applicants and was thrilled to get the job on his own merits.
He is now an enthusiastic, dedicated estates management tutor – giving training in hard and soft landscaping, general maintenance and do-it-yourself, painting and decorating. ‘I want to give back to the trainees what was given me,’ John says.
Paul Outten had had many part-time jobs but had never settled. Bouts of depression eventually left him registered disabled. A local disability employment advisor suggested the training centre to him. ‘I was so nervous I missed the first interview at the centre, but I got to the second and Beverley [Egan] made me feel so comfortable,’ he explains.
Paul became a trainee on a 12-week course, then was offered a six-month extension. During this time he won a BP-sponsored ‘Endeavour Award’.
By the end of his training the centre had become an important part of Paul’s life and so he stayed on voluntarily, helping with administration. When a European Social Fund contract meant six new members of staff could be employed, Paul applied and was offered a relief post in IT. He now teaches trainees to use Microsoft Office. The two-year office skills course leads to an NVQ2 – a nationally-recognised qualification – in Administration.
His hope for the future is that he will be able to get a full-time post at the centre. ‘I like working here,’ he explains, ‘I enjoy the atmosphere. People with special needs are a genuine, nice bunch. And I’ve got improved confidence, my depression’s gone and the centre’s made me realise I have something to give.’
Because trainees come from a variety of circumstances there is no ‘one-size fits all’ training course. Each person has a course tailor-made for his or her needs and abilities.
Whereas one trainee might benefit from a four-days-a-week course over a matter of weeks or months, another might only be able to cope with one day a week over a couple of years.
Exciting new developments, some funded by the UK Territory’s Millennium Project, are under way, giving extra training opportunities and creating links with the local community and the farm.
One such development is the tea rooms, built on the back of the centre and overlooking panoramic views of farmland and the Thames estuary. Open seven days a week, it is popular with walkers in the adjacent country park and local people, and gives trainees opportunities to learn skills in waiting on tables and relating to the public.
The Home Farm Nursery grows organic fruit and vegetables for sale to the local community. A large flock of Rhode Island Red free-range hens is kept near the tea rooms with help from farm staff. The speckled eggs are eagerly bought by tea room visitors, while the hens scurrying about their field provide a source of interest to those who just want to ‘stand and stare’!
A Job Squad gives trainees the opportunity to practise estate caretaking and maintenance tasks, while HTC [Hadleigh Training centre] Graphics has begun its services by providing printed stationery for the centre, tea rooms and farm.
The newest enterprise is the monthly Farmers’ Market, run jointly by the training centre and farm. Attracting record crowds, both to the market and the nearby tea rooms, not only is quality produce made available but also important links are being formed with the local community.
Importantly, running alongside and integral to the centre’s work, is providing for the staff’s and trainees’ spiritual needs. The centre has its own chaplain, while ‘Lifelines’ meetings for both staff and trainees give a spiritual dimension to work, training and living.
A popular ‘Busy Bee’ gathering is held for children at the tea rooms once a month on Sunday afternoons, when games, craft and Christian teaching are the order of the day. On Sundays, suitable music with Christian overtones is played in the tea rooms and Christian books are set out for those who want to read them, while once a month local Salvation Army centres provide small groups of musicians for a low-key spiritual input including a ‘pause for thought’. And a well-used prayer board hangs in the tea room, with prayer requests posted by trainees, staff and members of the public.
In In Darkest England and the Way Out, William Booth wrote of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed his proposed scheme might help. But he was not only a visionary, he was also a realist. In a chapter headed ‘The Essentials to Success’ he stated, ‘The supreme test of any scheme for benefiting humanity lies in the answer to the question, “What does it make of the individual?”’
Today, at the Hadleigh Employment Training Centre, the emphasis is on the individual, aiming to benefit him or her by building up confidence and skills, and introducing him or her to the spiritual dimension of living.
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The Salvation Army International
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Tell a Friend
© 2013 The Salvation Army