A Northumberland-based charity has helped over 60 people living with severe mental health issues and or learning disabilities to achieve professional-level qualifications as part of an innovative in-house training scheme.

Delivered by qualified trainers, service users from Blyth Star Enterprises have had the opportunity to participate in two different vocational courses as an extension of the charity’s day services at its Woodfuel Centre and Stakeford Nurseries.

Taught in modules with a range of additional units to choose from, the courses replicate that of traditional NVQ qualifications and enable service users to expand their knowledge at the same time as developing their social and interpersonal skills.

Gordon Moore, chief executive at Blyth Star Enterprises said:

“Research has proven that vocational placements and training can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health.

“Blyth Star Enterprises has always aimed to provide innovative day services which challenge our service users and give them a sense of purpose and belonging. The introduction of our training programmes at The Woodfuel Centre and Stakeford Nurseries have enabled us to take this one step further.”

Designed around the sites at which they are delivered, the training programmes are entirely bespoke to Blyth Star Enterprises.

Comprising 11 modules across two different departments, the woodfuel/woodwork programme delivered at The Woodfuel Centre covers topics such as machine operation, health and safety, forklift truck driving, practical DIY and warehousing processes to provide service users with all of the knowledge they need to assist the factory’s employees with the production of kiln-dried kindling and logs for wood-burning stoves, as well as commercial carpentry and joinery projects and commissions.

The horticultural training programme delivered at Stakeford Nurseries, by comparison, teaches service users how to grow and cultivate different types of plant, fruit and vegetables and care for the environment around them. With three different modules comprising up to 18 units each, the comprehensive scheme was Blyth Star’s pilot run at vocational training before rolling the concept out to The Woodfuel Centre.

Gordon added:

“We are absolutely delighted at how the training programmes have been received.

“Our service users are all really engaged, so much so, that once they have completed one programme, they ask to move on to the next, creating opportunities for them to become multi-skilled and a fluidity through our day services which we could never have anticipated when we first launched the training schemes.”

One such multi-skilled individual is Darren Wrightson. Darren, who has learning disabilities, started working with Blyth Star Enterprises around four years ago and is now ‘dual-trained’, having completed both the horticultural and Woodfuel/woodwork training programmes.

Darren was among the graduates who recently attended a special ceremony held at Stakeford and Bomarsund Sports and Welfare Centre where participants from all of the different training programmes came together to be presented with certificates for the work they have completed over the past two years.

Gordon concluded:

“The graduation ceremony was the culmination of a fantastic joint effort between our staff and service users.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the service users who have graduated from their respective courses and thank all of the trainers, service managers and volunteers who have helped to make this possible.”

Blyth Star Enterprises is a registered charity which supports over 350 people living with learning disabilities and/or enduring mental health problems across Northumberland.

To find out more about their work, visit www.blythstar.org.uk.