Friday, 22 July 2011

The London Training Consortium (College) Story

The London Training Consortium (College) Story
In 2005 Phoenix Community Care formed a new company called London Training Consortium.  The reason we formed the company was due to misinformation from an accountant.  We were told that we needed  to take this action in order to register for VAT purposes,  in the end  turned out to be incorrect, but by this time, the company was already up and running.  
PCC was already addressing some of the needs of the young people for example, looking after unaccompanied minors, foster children, vulnerable adults and young people who had been through the care system and were moving on to independence.
We quickly understood that many of those we were seeking to help needed to be able to speak English to progress in the UK and so English Speaking for Other Languages (ESOL) classes were born.  During the seven years since the inception of the London Training Consortium (LTC) we have seen many young people helped by these classes.
We have run the classes and somehow found the money to pay the staff, although most of the time I have no idea how, (probably God knows).  At other times we were fortunate enough to receive grants from the European Social Fund via the London Development agencies.  Each year we  wonder how we will  find money to train  the next batch of students.
 In spite of the challenge of ongoing funding, the college has expanded its services and now helps those young people, who the government euphemistically calls NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training).  We have helped many to access further education, enter into employment, and often most importantly, change their attitude to life, success and progress.  I remember the whole office applauding one young man on achieving his Oxford Cambridge Royal Society of Arts (OCR) certification in Literacy and Numeracy; which is equivalent to a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).  He was full of delight by the fruits of his hard work.
LTC is registered as an examining body for various courses leading to qualifications such as OCR, ASDAN, City and Guilds and ICCE, and there is an enduring thrill observing young people, who thought they could never achieve such qualifications, smile confidently as they receive their certificates.
We are still talking to the people who offer grants, and filling in their application forms.  Each year, in excess of fifty students undertake the various courses offered by LTC.  The courses are tailored to get the best for the individual concerned.  I don’t know about you but I am fascinated by statistics and thought perhaps you would like to see some, and even if you don’t,  I am going to show you them anyway.
First of all  here are  the various nationalities that have gone through our college, it reads a bit like United Nations doesn’t it?  The interesting thing is;  you can often tell where the wars are by looking at our statistics:















Iran (Kurdistan)



Ivory Coast








Sierra Leone








Here are all the qualifications that the students gained.  Almost all students leave  LTC with some certification.

Finally we seem to be more than just a training college, helping many of the students to fill in forms, find housing, offering help and support with the many challenges that life brings.   Many of the students are without family or relatives to help them with these issues.  As one staff member commented recently, “ I often feel less like their tutor and more like their Mother,” she went on to say,  “what most of these young people are looking for, what they really need to progress is  someone to sit and listen to them.”  And that’s what we do; it’s called going the extra mile.  The reward for us is their success.
One of the most special elements of being involved in LTC is that some young people who commenced as students ended up as long term friends.
Adrian Hawkes
For Adrian Blog spot
W. 735
Edit: Technicolour Text

Big oaks from little acorns, Phoenix expands into education

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bureaucracy and Pendants

The Phoenix Community Care story - Chapter two 
Bureaucracy and Pedants
Someone said they liked the   first chapter of the story and asked, “When is chapter two coming?”  I thought, ‘Sounds like an interesting idea, I’ll give that a go.’
PCC was originally formed as a ‘not for Profit’ company, in June 1999; During those first few months, after Pauline’s conversation with the local authorities, making connections  and moving forward were not at all easy.  As I have already mentioned,  our youngest daughter had donated her flat for the first clients, once she and her family move out  we then took on the mortgage, this was in October.  The local authorities kept telling us, “There are lots of young girls we will want to place with you.”  But then we began to encounter the vast and sometimes overwhelming bureaucracy.  And one of the top priorities was an inspection of the house, to ensure it was safe.  Pauline kept me from contact with the inspector, due to his pedantic approach; I am not a violent man, but she feared I might thump him!   I nicked-named him ‘Mr Sniffy’ because every time we felt we had met their requirements, he would say, with a sniff, “not good enough!” 
Although the house was supposed to be homely, and feel just like an ordinary, normal home, the list of requirements was long.  For example door closers should be fixed to every door in all rooms, just like everyone has in their home? I think not! The way Mr Sniffy tested the doors was to place  a piece of thin paper between the door jamb and the top of the door and then close the door, if it paper slid down Mr Sniffy would sniff and say,’ failed’ with a subtle hint of glee.
Just imagine the cost of doing the work, secondary lighting, door closers, interactive fire alarm system, and the list went on and on.  Mr Sniffy had a field day.  Finally after much expense and many sniffy failures, we finally got our certificate.  It was now late November, we were rather swamped with bills and the monthly mortgage repayments, but at least we were ready to help. 
We contacted the local authority and said,   “Okay, we are ready!”
 Their response was,   “It’s nearly December and we don’t do much in December.”
“Are there no refugees in need?”  We asked.    
“Well yes there are, but it’s the processing,” they said, “and December is a holiday month.”
 Finally January came, but apparently the December holiday continued well into January.  No one in the department answered the phones, or responded to us at all.  Eventually,  towards the end of January we had a phone call and the department asked us to take  the first young lady, the one that I  told you about in chapter one.  The placement was on 1st February 2000.
Pauline said,   “I don’t know how we will pay the bills, the mortgage is due and the bank account is bare.  It’s great we are helping, but how do we survive financially?”   The department would be paying us for the work with the young lady, but we had no idea when, and thereby we discovered the next hurdle. 
We contacted the department and they explained the system for payment, “You will give us an invoice at the end of February for the people we place in that month, however you will have to give us thirty days credit, so we will pay you on the last day of March As it happened, we were not paid until the second week of April.  We survived, but I still am not sure how.
Momentum began to pick up, and soon we received a call for the placement of a sixteen year old young lady, she came to us as a frightened and confused teenager.  But several years on, she has a degree in modern languages, speaking four of them fluently and is still our friend; her husband and baby are an integral part of our community.
The process continued, until the house was full and we saw the urgent need for another house.  My daughter purchased a house, renovated it and then moved her and the family to another home, and as before, we took over,   ready to expand and help more people.  
One of the things that sticks in my mind was Mr Sniffy’s attitude The first house was full and the second one had not yet passed the expensive inspection process.  However the department called up and said, “We have a young lady, she is sleeping on a park bench and is very vulnerable, can you help us?  We cannot find any other accommodation.”
We explained our position,    “The problem is we only have a box room left in the house and it does not meet your inspection standards for size.  We have a bed in it, a chest of draws, a TV, and bedside cabinet, but I think its six inches smaller than Mr Sniffy’s regulations.”  (I hasten to inform you that didn’t call him Mr Sniffy to the department.)
“But this is an emergency!” They said.  Hence we agreed to get the room ready to receive the new placement.  
The young lady was pleased to have her own room, with a bed, TV, and a place to  eat which was out of  danger and away from  the park bench.  But Mr. Sniffy had other ideas
He did a spot check in the middle of the second week she was there.  He phoned us straight away, “Get that girl out of that illegal room or I will close you down!”  He sniffed, “I will be back at the end of next week to check you have moved her.”
We got people working like mad on house number two and managed to re-accommodate the young lady in a regulation sized room, but it still strikes me that in these situations the bullying bureaucratic regime has no compassion, no common sense, and takes no account of a very real and urgent need. 
I am reminded of what the Bible says in Galatians chapter 5 verse 22, ‘…that there is no law against kindness, goodness (benevolence)… (Amplified Bible) and I to wonder to myself if Paul, the writer, ever met a first century version of Mr Sniffy!
Adrian Hawkes
Edit:  Technicolour Texta
W 1071
Phoenix Community Care, the story continues……

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What Were We Made For?

What were we made for?
When I was a little boy, not so long ago, I regularly visited my Grandparents house with my sisters and cousins; the house was big and so was the garden.
There were many trees in the large garden and in the spring lots of birds made their nests in them. Occasionally there would be a family tragedy in one of the feathered families.  A small bird would fall out of a tree and could not get back to its nest, or a bird would end up with a damaged wing and be unable to fly.
My cousins, siblings and I loved this situation, we would rescue such a bird and take it to my Grandfather, he knew about these things He would disappear into his Tardis like garage, and reappear with an old cage into which he gently placed the lost or wounded bird. We would then add some water to the cage and find some way of feeding the bird, usually with bread soaked in milk, the occasional worm, and they also seemed to like cat food! We kids learned to feed the bird with a match stick with tiny morsels of food on the end.
Obviously we got very attached to the bird in the cage, it became a family pet.  We enjoyed watching it grow, and get stronger, and loved feeding it. Often the bird would become quite tame and sit on our hand and take food from us. We carried out similar bird rescues  many times; the trouble was it always ended the same way.  There would come a day when my Grandfather would say,
“OK this bird is now strong and well and it’s time to set it free.”
And as usual us kids would also cry out, “No Grandpa, this bird likes us it wants to stay with us, it doesn’t want to be free!
Grandfather never listened, he would take the cage to the top of the garden with a bunch of kids in tow and putting the cage down on the grass he would then open the cage door.  Often at this stage a funny thing would happen, the bird would hop out of the cage, as it had done before on many occasions, onto our hands; then the bird would hop around the lawn and to our surprise, go back into the cage.  Its funny how we are drawn back to familiar things, even a prison or a cage.
Grandfather would then give us a lecture on what birds were made for, “Birds are made to fly, birds are made to be free, and birds are not made to be in a cage,” and so on. 
We kids of course responded with ,“but this bird likes us, this bird wants to stay with us, please let us keep it Grandpa.”
As I remember those birds it does set me thinking about what we humans are here for?  What are we made for?  What things we should be free from? What should be leaving behind but find that we still go back too?  What is the environment that we should fly in?
Grandfather would then do something that would make us kids cringe and cry out, “No Grandpa! That’s too cruel!

He would cup the bird gently in his very big hands, move to the centre of the garden, swing his arms low, then as hard as he could he would swing his arms forward and up into the air, releasing his hands at the highest point and throwing the little bird as high into the air as possible.  The little bird would often flutter down, catch the air in its wings, and then begin to fly. Sometime it would fly around the garden a couple of times, perhaps sitting for a few moments on one of the branches in our apple tree, then to our dismay it would fly off to join the other birds;  gone, as far as we kids were concerned, for ever.
Grandfather would console us by saying, “It’s where it should, be free to fly, free to be a bird, and birds are not meant for cages.”  And neither are we!

For Adrian’s Blog
Edited by: Technicolor Text
13th May 2011
W. 711
Birds were meant to fly, and so are you, or perhaps you like your cage...