A North East-based not-for-profit has received a £10,000 grant from the Reece Foundation to help towards further development of a vocational training programme.

Blyth Star Enterprises, which provides living support, rehabilitation and day services for people living with mental health issues and or learning disabilities, has received the funding to put towards the expansion of its popular training programme at its Woodfuel Centre in South East Northumberland.

Training programme developed by mental health charity receives five-figure boost
Neil Hedley and Gordon Moore from Blyth Star Enterprises with Eric Morgan and Faye Dent from the Reece Foundation

Originally established as a two-year scheme in June 2017, the programme was designed to give the charity’s service users who help run The Woodfuel Centre the opportunity to acquire higher level skills and qualifications while they work, covering topics such as machinery operation, health and safety, forklift truck driving, practical DIY and warehousing processes.

Following the launch and development of the new on-site woodwork department in the grounds of the Centre, Blyth Star Enterprises is now looking to expand the training programme to include the full range of skills that people can acquire at The Woodfuel Centre, such as woodturning, bench joinery, product assembly and practical DIY.

Training programme developed by mental health charity receives five-figure boost
Woodfuel Centre Manager Neil Hedley with Faye Dent and Eric Morgan from the Reece Foundation with Gordon Moore Chief Executive at Blyth Star Enterprises

Neil Hedley, manager at The Woodfuel Centre said: 

“We have enjoyed fantastic success so far with the woodwork training programme.

“Over 50 per cent of our service users on the programme have now completed all of the level one modules, with the remaining groups due to finish in March ready for the start of level two.

“We have four people in particular who have really excelled on the programme and we are now looking to put them through their official forklift truck driving tests. The programme has had major benefits and has really helped our service users to expand their horizons.”

Based on a modular framework similar to an NVQ qualification, the course is delivered in-house by a professional trainer. Each participant’s progress is monitored through a personal training portfolio and takes into consideration the development of key skills such as communication and confidence as they advance through the different modules.

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 recreate real working environments to give our service users a sense of purpose and belonging and enable them to develop valuable work and life skills.

“Many of those in our sheltered work projects will be unable to ever enter full-time employment, with 66 per cent of them aged under 40. If we are to support these people long-term, the work experiences we provide need to be interesting, challenging and sustainable.

“Combining our Woodfuel Centre together with our new fully-equipped woodwork department has created a number of new training opportunities for our service users and we wanted our training programme to adapt to reflect this.

“Thanks to the support of organisations like the Reece Foundation, we now have the funds available to develop our new programme to cover a period of another two years so on behalf of the staff and service users at Blyth Star, I would like to extend my thanks to the Reece Foundation for their incredible generosity.”

Founded by the late engineer and entrepreneur Dr Alan Reece, the Reece Foundation aims to improve the long-term sustainability of the North East economy through supporting organisations that encourage the further study of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Since launching in 2007, it has donated over £11m to organisations, schools and charities across the North East and beyond.

It continues to be supported by the Reece Group family of engineering companies, which includes Blyth-based Rapid Manufacturing Services (RMS).

Training programme developed by mental health charity receives five-figure boost
Chief Executive at Blyth Star Enterprises, Gordon Moore with Eric Morgan and Faye Dent from the Reece Foundation

Eric Morgan, a trustee of the Reece Foundation, said:

“We are delighted to support this fantastic project from Blyth Star Enterprises, which is equipping participants with new skills that they can then put to practical use in a real working environment that contributes to the local community.

“The Foundation is committed to widening access to the study of STEM subjects and it is great to hear that taking part in the woodwork training programme is bringing rewards and enjoyment to Blyth Star’s service users.”

Established in 1987 by a group of parents and carers, Blyth Star Enterprises supports over 300 vulnerable people living with severe and enduring mental ill health and learning disabilities across the North East.

For more information, visit www.blythstar.org.uk or to find out more about the Reece Foundation, visit www.reece-foundation.org.