Finding work after 20 years 



A woman who was unemployed for more than 20 years is one of 51 people across the Tees Valley helped back into work so far by an innovative project.

Step Forward Tees Valley offers support to people across the Tees Valley facing barriers that are stopping them from moving forward in their life. These barriers can include mental ill health, low confidence, lengthy gaps of unemployment, addiction, convictions or financial problems.


A group of 28 organisations and charities offer the bespoke help each person needs to overcome their barriers and start making changes to their lives. For some people this can mean taking up volunteering or joining a community group whilst others are able to return to work for the first time in years.

Karen had been out of work for 20 years when her local job center introduced her to Step Forward Tees Valley, which is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund. Karen had cared for her mother in their family home up until her recent loss. Her carers allowance had stopped and with mounting bills she was facing eviction.

Step Forward Tees Valley worked closely with Karen to help her sort her finances and keep her home. As she had been out of work for so long she didn’t know where to start looking for a job but with support she was able to build her confidence, create a CV and practice interview techniques. Her work paid off when Karen got a job at a supermarket.


Karen said “Step Forward Tees Valley supported me to get my life back on track. I have gone from being low to being happy again.”


Since Step Forward Tees Valley started in December 2016, the project has supported more than 1,000 people with a range of complex issues and has helped 51 of these people find work.

Of those now in employment, 14% had been out of work for more than ten years.


Helen Collins, programme manager for Step Forward Tees Valley said: “These figures show how much a project like ours is needed. We treat everyone as an individual creating a bespoke package of support to help them deal with the things they feel are holding them back.

“If you have been unable to find work for decades, because of ill health, abuse, debt or a conviction, it must feel impossible but these results show that with the right support people can achieve so much.

“Being on the project doesn’t impact your benefits and we can even help with things like childcare so you are free to get the support you need.”


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