Amid talk of Britain’s lost generation, Sarah Freeman meets a trio of young people who fought back and are now role models for the Prince’s Trust.
At 16-years-old Dan Hallet knew exactly where his life was heading.
With no intention of staying on to do A-Levels, he left school and headed straight for the Army recruiting office to fulfil his childhood dream of being a soldier.
However, for Dan the reality of a life served on the frontline in both Bosnia and Iraq hit hard and left him feeling disillusioned with Army life.
“There was one point when I was working 100 hours a week,” says Dan, now 26. “It’s really tough out there, it’s nothing like the footage they show on the television. I’d always wanted to be in the Army, but everything came crashing down. I signed up with my eyes open. I knew that I was going to be in some pretty awful situations, but when we got to Iraq it just felt like we were completely out of our depth.”
Returning home to Hull five years ago following the birth of his second child, Dan was mentally and physically exhausted. Suffering from flashbacks, he felt there was no other option but to leave the Army. Like many former soldiers, who unexpectedly find themselves back on civvy street, he drifted from low-paid job to low-paid job and when his relationship with the mother of his children ended he also found himself as a single parent responsible for his young son and daughter.
“Everything came to a head,” he says. “I’d worked in a factory, I’d done a bit of taxi driving, but I was struggling to pay the bills. I was awarded sole custody of the children and I knew I had to make something of myself for their sake.”
Still bruised from his experience in the Army, Dan admits he suffered from periods of depression and was lacking self-confidence. He’d previously had the idea of starting his own gardening business, but, unsure about how to go it alone he joined the Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme.
“That was really the turning the point,” he says. “They made me realise that anything was possible if I just worked hard. I was starting from nothing, but the grant they gave me allowed me to buy some second hand tools – it basically gave me a leg up.”
Eighteen-months on, Gardens R Us is flourishing and Dan, who is now based in Goole, has taken on his first apprentice.
“My whole life has changed for the better,” he says. “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance and I’m not going to waste it. I feel a completely different person to the one who came out of the Army. My son is seven, my daughter has just turned five and I really feel that we have a future together as a family.
“All I ever wanted to do was to provide for them and for the first time in a long time the future looks really positive.”
Dan is one of three finalists in the Yorkshire Post Flying Start Award, which will be presented as part of The Prince’s Trust and Samsung Celebrate Success Awards next week.
The award was launched to recognise the efforts of young people who have overcome significant hurdles to find employment.
Nominee Farren Medlock admits that he was hardly a model pupil. Diagnosed with ADHD, as a youngster he was regularly in trouble with teachers and a familiar face to local police officers. Eventually excluded from school and sent to a pupil referral unit, it seemed he was destined to join the growing number of teenagers without any meaningful qualifications or employment prospects.
“Growing up had been pretty tough, but when I was 13 I knew that I didn’t want to end up like the lads I was hanging out with,” says the 17-year-old, from Rotherham. “It felt like there was a lot of things outside of my control, but the one thing I knew I could do was to step away from them.
“I’d always been interested in youth work, but for a long time I thought that my past would be held against me.”
His fears were confirmed when an initial application to enrol on a youth work course was turned down. However, Farren was later encouraged to apply for a place on the Prince’s Trust Team programme, a scheme set up with the aim of improving young people’s employment prospects.
Accepted onto the programme, Farren learnt to manage his temper and crucially has been able to distance himself from situations which in the past would have proved incendiary.
Having returned to college to improve his literacy and numeracy skills, Farren has since secured an apprenticeship with Rotherham Council’s youth work department.
“The centre I work for doesn’t have many male youth workers, so I do feel like I can make a difference,” he says. “Whatever situation the lads who come here find themselves in, chances are I will have been there too. I know I’m still very young, but I have done a lot of growing up in the last few years.
“When I look back at my life there are a few things I wish I could have done differently, but you can’t spend your life regretting the past.
“Everything I’ve done, good or bad, has made me the person I am today and I hope I’m proof that given the right help and support people can change.”
Like Farren, Lauren Wilson’s early years was marred by family troubles and missed opportunities. Relations with her single-parent mum were often strained and her unstable home life soon began to impact on her performance at school.
Often skipping lessons, Lauren, from Wakefield, resented any attempts to address the causes of her truancy. While she sat her GCSEs, Lauren knew the results would not be good, but hoped moving in with her grandparents would be the fresh start she needed.
It didn’t work out that way.
“Everything had spiralled out of control,” she says. “I went back to college twice, but each time I dropped out. I couldn’t keep up with the work and the problems I’d had at school didn’t just magically disappear.
“My confidence and motivation just evaporated. I’d always wanted to be a paramedic, but in the space of a few years all the dreams I had vanished. I couldn’t hold down a job and I was really depressed.”
At one of her lowest moments Lauren heard about the Prince’s Trust’s Get Into Health and Social Care programme. Set up to provide young people with intensive training and experience within the care industry, she knew this may well be a final chance to make good her aspirations.
“I was pretty apprehensive,” says the 20-year-old. “But one of the great things about the course was it made me realise I wasn’t alone.
“At school I had never been able to concentrate, but I’m in a different place now and I really love learning new skills.”
After completing the course, Lauren secured a full-time job in a care home. She is currently studying for an NVQ Level 2 in health and social care and had recently applied for a related position in the Army.
“If I had not taken the chance to get involved with the Prince’s Trust I would no doubt still be unemployed, depressed and claiming benefits. Now I have a regular wage, freedom and I feel like I’m actually going somewhere with my life.”
The winner of the award will be announced at a ceremony in Leeds next week.
The event will have added resonance following research by the Prince’s Trust which showed the number of young people out of work for longer than two years has more than doubled since 2008.
Yorkshire and the Humber has seen the biggest increase in those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for six months or longer, with some parts of the region hit by a 12-fold rise.
Martina Milburn, chief executive of The Prince’s Trust, said: “Long-term unemployment can lead to a downward spiral of poverty, homelessness, depression.
“However, the Trust has always believed that with the right support it is possible to help more young people, like these, into work, which will give our economy a much-needed boost.”
Prince’s Trust changes lives
The Prince’s Trust was launched in 1976 with 21 pilot projects. In that first year grants were given to two ex-offenders to set up a fishing club and a bicycle repair scheme.
In the last 12 months the organisation has supported 4,832 young people in Yorkshire and the Humber alone, including more than 200 business start-ups and 350 community projects.
The number of 18 to 24-year-olds who have been claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance for at least six months has rocketed by 315 per cent in the recession to 167,580 now.
One hotspot is Craven in North Yorkshire which has witnessed a 1,200 per cent jump in the past four years.