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It is 10am in a busy creative studio in north London and two design trainees are perched in front of their computers, hard at work. Under instruction from art director Chris Govias, the pair are concentrating on applying Photoshop techniques to a series of web banner ads. Meanwhile, one writing trainee is putting the finishing touches on a case study for the NHS Jobs service, while the other is rewriting the content for a charity website. Given their personal histories, it’s remarkable that any of them are here at all. They have overcome drug problems, severe alcoholism, disability, depression, and difficult family issues, to take part in training and work experience with new social enterprise Poached Creative. Poached Creative, launched in April 2009, specialises in quality writing, editing and design services for the third and public sectors. Alongside this, it provides training and work experience to long-term unemployed people. The trainees find it hard to believe that they’re being trusted to work on materials for small upcoming charities, let alone for top UK websites like NHS Jobs. Director, Jessica Smith, explains, “One of the main things about Poached Creative is that we want to make the training and work experience meaningful and valuable.

“Rather than doing made-up exercises, trainees get to take part in the work we do, which not only gives them experience and team working skills, but it means they end up with published work to show in their portfolios.” Just six months ago, Poached Creative was little more than a good idea. Jessica’s search for funding led her to UnLtd, which funds social entrepreneurs, where she was encouraged to gather evidence of a need for the service. She spent two days stamping her feet outside the Hackney Jobcentre in the bitter January cold, stopping people on their way out to ask if they’d be interested in training and work experience in writing or design. There was clearly a demand and UnLtd agreed to fund her. “When the idea was conceived, about a year before we got funding, the economic situation and the employment market were very different,” she says. “Once the recession kicked in the jobs started to disappear and we had to reconsider Poached’s remit. But someone who has been unemployed for six months is far more likely than someone newly unemployed to remain on benefits for years. We were determined to help break that cycle.” By the time its six-month pilot project finishes in October, Poached Creative will have helped between seven and 10 people. The lessons learnt during the pilot will then be used to inform business development. Meanwhile, Poached has secured the services of art director Chris Govias; advisers with human resources, finance, mental health, business and charity backgrounds; and several high-profile guest trainers. All have worked as volunteers to help get the business off the ground.

One of them is Saba Salman, a commissioning editor for The Guardian’s Society pages. She said, “I did some freelance writing for Jess a few years ago, when she was managing editor at housing charity Shelter. When she asked me if I’d be willing to do some training on feature writing I was happy to get involved. First, because I thought it was such a good idea and second, because I thought there might be a good feature in it. I still think it’s a great story.” Jessica is clear about what the next six months entails. The social enterprise needs to build up its paying customer base, while seeking further funding to expand its training and work experience programmes. She expects to be

employing at least two staff by December and sees the business growing to number about six paid staff by the end of 2010. “It’s not about size for me, it’s about quality and influence. I want to see my current trainees go on to placements and jobs with charities, councils, NHS trusts, media and arts organisations, and this is already starting to happen,” she explains. “I’m also keen to share Poached’s experience with other organisations so that the model of meaningful training and experience – in an area the trainees are passionate about – can be rolled out more widely.”

Real life stories Angela Williams, writing and communications trainee

Daniel Harding, design and communications trainee

“I became interested in writing in my teens as I really enjoyed English classes and writing short stories. Getting into the media industry was tough, so I worked in admin to support myself. I really hoped that my last job as a PA in an advertising agency would offer me an opportunity to progress. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with depression and became disillusioned with my job. I went on sick leave and never returned. I wasn’t ready to go back into fulltime work so I thought about volunteering. I saw an advert for Poached Creative offering training in writing and communications for the long-term unemployed. A few weeks later I had started the course and was learning so much! I was tasked with writing web copy for a London-based charity and the fact that I was entrusted with the project made me feel incredibly empowered. I’m still struggling with depression but I love writing and I know this is what I am meant to do for a living.”

“Since a young age, my main interests in life have been music and art. In the past few years, these hobbies have been on hold because of my problems with drugs. Since completing a rehab course and finding a new home in Brixton in November, I’ve turned my attention back to my real interests. I saw a flyer offering local DJs the chance to play live for an organisation called Camden Calling and they also needed someone to design stage backdrops, so I jumped at the chance. In July, the director put me in contact with Poached Creative, where I am currently doing a six-week traineeship in design. I’m learning new things about print and interactive design, and how to use Photoshop. This gives me the skills and experience to improve my Camden Calling work, and will help with my future direction. The best thing now is that I have job options – I feel more prepared for working life.”

Poached Creative - the story so far  

Find out how several unemployed people in London are gaining valuable communications training and experience through Poached Creative.