Minding the Gap by Laura Columbine

When I was faced with the first group of young women, I knew I was going to do everything in my power to help them make the changes they wanted to see in their lives.  What I didn’t know was quite how much those 26 weeks would change my own life.  In the project I am known as a “Big Sister” and that is more than just a title.

My first job is to convince the young women that I really do care about them. This has meant me helping someone move house on a weekend, going over to get someone else out of bed for work placements when they were struggling and answering crisis calls at five in the morning from another. I have never minded (well once I am up anyway!) because I know that the girls have never been given a reason to trust anyone before, particularly not to trust someone in authority. My second job is to show the group a different way of living: this can include anything from taking them to the Dentist for the first time to book an appointment to taking them to a restaurant for the first time. We help them deal with everything from personal hygiene and first aid, to literacy and numeracy. Then we push them right out of their comfort zones – we send them on the trip on the train by themselves and we take them to London. On the way there they look absolutely terrified but on the way back they are buzzing.

But of course my relationship with them doesn’t end when they graduate – after all you don’t stop being a sister do you? I am still in touch with most of them. One of our graduates rang to tell me that she had called someone to get a job interview – I cannot tell you how proud that made me and what a massive step forward that is for her. In fact 90% of our graduates are in work or full time education – what a great statistic. Other people here at Moneypenny love being involved in the traineeship too. When one of our graduates moved into a brand new, very empty house last month I put out a call for furniture and I think we might have to hire storage to keep it all in we got so much.

So what qualifies me for the role? When I went to University I studied Social Sciences and worked with youth offenders. I worked in a bank for a bit but that definitely wasn’t for me, then I found this role and I love it. I have been so impressed with the first steps the group have taken into independent lives, with new jobs, new friendships and new aspirations, they spurred me on to start an adventure of my own and last year I spent five months gallivanting around South East Asia. I am now back in my role here and looking forward to meeting the new group this autumn and helping to expand what we do here in Wrexham to two new areas: Flintshire and Liverpool.

Laura works for WeMindTheGap – the charity bridges the gap between the public and private sector to secure meaningful work experience, mentors and experienced coaches. The Charity was originally known as the Moneypenny Foundation, set up in 2014, as the charitable arm of private company Moneypenny, to bring new opportunities in life and work to unemployed young women who are currently limited by choice and circumstance.

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