The #Focus5 project in Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and Somerset: Working with vulnerable young people

Taken from Tristram Hooley Career guidance for social justice

Last week Oliver Jenkin discussed the Ambitions Project in Cornwall. This week he joins with Nee Bedford to discuss another project working with vulnerable young people in the South West of England.

In the second of a pair of articles focusing on the impact of two projects managed by the social enterprise CSW Group to support vulnerable young people in the South West of England, we want to give you an overview of the ongoing European Social Fund and National Lottery Community Fund backed #Focus5 project, which supports young people across Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and Somerset.

This project is designed to support young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) or who are at risk of becoming so. It empowers them with the skills and resilience to make successful transitions into learning or work.


Funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund, the #Focus5 project provides unique, flexible, one-to-one support to young people across Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and Somerset who may be struggling to make progress with their educational and/or employment goals. We work with 15-18-year-old clients who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) or who are at risk of becoming NEET and build bespoke interventions to provide the support required to help them engage successfully in education, training and/or successful employment.

During their time on #Focus5 a young person will work with a dedicated Key Worker who remains with them throughout their time on the project. The support and activities that participants undertake are bespoke and built around the young person, their aims and challenges. An action plan is gradually built with the involvement of the young person, ensuring that they remain at the centre of planning their journey on #Focus5.

Before starting #Focus5 I didn’t feel very confident in life, I didn’t know how to get a job, I didn’t feel motivated and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  I didn’t feel in control of my life and felt depressed. #Focus5 has helped me gain confidence, direction in my life and I feel fully prepared in seeking work and being ready for interviews.  I hope to start a job soon. I feel in control of my life and where it’s going and am able to make confident decisions.

#Focus5 is built to cope with and respond to the needs of the local geography and communities taking into consideration the specific requirements of successfully working across a rural area, engaging with, and supporting those hardest to reach and those most in need of help.

The project has the flexibility to meet the young person where they are, both geographically and in terms of their personal circumstances; this allows us to engage with those who may struggle to engage with mainstream options. Our methods of engaging with young people can be flexible in response to their needs. We can meet the young person on their own or with a member of their support network and meet in a place that they feel comfortable, including their home. We can speak over the phone, via WhatsApp, text, email, via Zoom meetings etc., whatever will make the process of engaging with someone new that little bit easier.

Key Workers have a multifaceted role. They not only offer support regarding the various challenges faced by our participants within their lives; they also help participants to identify and take positive steps with their career plans and aspirations. In so doing they act as mentors and mediators, signposting and supporting access to other support services as needed.

We have supported 742 young people to date:

  • 255 (34%) have disabilities
  • 439 (59%) lack basic skills

So far, 348 have moved into or re-engaged with education, employment, or training at the point of exit from the project.


Both the #Focus5 project and the Ambitions project seek to address the fact that some young people in our communities face additional difficulties that can make it much harder for them to access opportunities such as college, traineeships, or apprenticeships.

What both Ambitions and #Focus5 have demonstrated is that such young people will often need bespoke, personalised support and career guidance, taking account of their individual circumstances.

Both projects have highlighted effective ways in which this support can be delivered. In the case of Ambitions, joined-up support, underpinned with a strong knowledge of local, training providers, employers and community-based activities ensured that project participants could be signposted the right provision for their specific circumstances and be supported to access this. #Focus5 has underlined the critical value of vulnerable young people forging a good working relationship with a supportive, trusted adult who can help them to set their own personal goals and advocate on their behalf as needed.

Looking forward, it is to be hoped that the lessons learned by the delivery of these projects in terms of what effective support careers and transition support for vulnerable young people looks like is recognised by Government, particularly given the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the employment prospects of young people. Given that the economic impacts of Covid could be lasting for some in this age group, it seems likely that more support of this sort will be needed over the next few years rather than less.