Caroline Voaden MEP visits Active Plus

Sometimes in the European Parliament in Brussels, it can be hard to connect with what the EU actually does on the ground to affect people’s lives back home. But I visited a project in Hayle, Cornwall, where European funding is - literally - changing lives.

I watched the first session of a ‘Who Dares Works’ course run by an organisation called Active Plus. These courses, designed to help people with complex needs gain confidence and help them on a journey back to work, are run by military veterans.

And they don’t just help the course participants - many of the veterans who deliver the training were discharged medically from the forces and have had their own complicated transition to civilian life. By helping others, their recovery is also being supported, so it is a win-win situation.

“We’ve helped over 6,000 people in the South West so far, and indirectly thousands more if you include their families,” said Managing Director Danny Daniell.

80% funded by the European Social Fund (and 20% from National Lottery), Active Plus is reaching a population that is simply not supported by government funds. While these people are receiving unemployment benefit, there is little support available to help them address the complex needs that are hampering their ability to improve their lives.

Daniell said Active Plus had just won another two-year grant from the EU and will operate until early 2022, beyond which its future is unknown.

“We’ll have to change if we are to rely solely on Lottery funding because they don’t do continuation funding. So the projects will have to be different.” It is a well-known issue in the third sector that it is difficult to win funding to continue a project even if it has proven to be hugely successful. Funders like to attach their names to innovative new work.

Course participants regularly say that attending Who Dares Works has changed their life, and after just one session it was clear some of those attending had already seen a transformation after just three hours.

This is not a ‘death by PowerPoint’ type of course. The participants were given practical exercises to do outside, run by veterans John and Dave, and which required them to communicate and work together as a team to find the solution. The lesson? If you don’t know the answer, ask someone for help and together, as a team, you will work it out. Apply that to something you are struggling with in day to day life and it will make a difference.

It’s simple stuff, on the surface, but can offer lightbulb moments to people who have been socially isolated or struggling with confidence or anxiety.

One woman used to be a TV producer and had travelled widely, but had suffered from severe anxiety to the point that she was now agoraphobic and hadn’t left her small town for over three years. By the end of the first session, she was helping another participant with a form, joking with the instructors and keen to come back again the following week. It was clear that the exercises, designed by the veterans to increase confidence, communication and teamwork, had already shifted something in her mindset.

I look forward to returning in February to see the six participants graduate at the end of the course.

This is a great example of how funding from the European Social Fund is directly benefitting people in Cornwall. Brexit will mean an end to this funding and we have yet to see whether the government will come good on its promises to match this money with the Shared Prosperity Fund.

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