Jobs, Friends and Houses at the Grand Theatre

Thursday 5 May saw the culmination of Jobs, Friends and Houses amazing progress, held at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre. It was busy; the atmosphere tangible with hope, laughter, friendship, some tears but best of all a supportive unity of people who fully embraced each other and their hopes for the future.

Jobs, Friends and Houses is an amazing scheme and the day saw a number of endorsements and recommendations. JFH, if you are unaware, train their employees; the individuals on their programme commit to abstinence-based recovery and are given  the opportunity to invest in themselves through development of  skills and trades to create property rentals and building conversions – working towards a sustainable  social enterprise business. 

The event at the beautiful Grand Theatre Blackpool  was a celebration and a time to visit the progress. Last time I had seen the team there were around seven-ten members, the team today has almost quadrupled!

I had initially got involved with JFH through a serendipitous opportunity: At the very first Golden Section (the monthly creative talks organised by LeftCoast) I heard Len Grant talk, a Photographer from Manchester. I was pretty astounded as I listened and viewed the projects that he had created and worked on. With a background in photographing social change his work covers documenting regeneration and other “hard hitting” subjects, such as  a teenage pregnancy, a young individual who had been brought to the UK on what she thought was a holiday but ended up being kept as a domestic slave  and a hard hitting photographic journal documenting a young man and his heroin addiction.

Len’s background in documentary through photography coupled with his philanthropic approach to subject-matter with stigma rang true to me; his work hit me like a bombshell and feeling a strong connection to his approach, I was tearful. In attendance at the same session was Steve Hodkins the founder of Jobs, Friends and Houses and a serving police officer now on full time secondment from Lancashire Constabulary; he realised that Len would be a powerful collaborator.

That collaboration led to an initial project that I was delighted to volunteer with; assisting Len with three participants from Jobs, Friends and Houses who were interested in learning the fundamentals of photography. I spent five sessions offering support and encouragement about technique as well as how to approach strangers to photograph them. Photography is a form of communication, it’s so versatile; you can hide behind a camera, use it as camouflage, it gives you a subtle power, it has even been said that photography is even a super power “freezing time”, it allows the picture-taker a new way to see things. I bloody loved being involved with it for those five weeks.

Len Grant’s book, presentation and thoughts on the project highlighted how personal friendships, hope and community is being developed through Jobs, Friends and Houses. That by challenging old-fashioned stigma attached to individuals, this project offers a chance of renewed hope and social identity.

Len’s use of photography digs deep and the accompanying book Rock Bottom documents something that is game changing. In the book, we get a chance to peer into another world, to see a true representation of how great a community can be.

At the event, organisers also shared proven statistics from their first year of operation that were astounding, hopeful and joyful. Speaker Professor David Best left the audience in no doubt about the impact of JFH’s work, citing a 94.1% reduction in crime by its cohort and a more than £800,000 saving to the public purse by engaging the most marginalised groups in society. During an uplifting presentation, he explained to attendees the context of addiction, desistance and offending, and how JFH is one of the “most exciting” recovery projects he has seen.”

If you are still in any doubt as to how successful the project is, audiences at the event also witnessed four of the JFH apprentices being awarded the Divisional Commander’s Commendation from Lancashire Constabulary; a commendation usually reserved for police staff only: Their actions saved the life of a young woman who was being brutally attacked by a man last summer in Blackpool.

The sense of community is certainly amplified for anyone that comes into close proximity with JFH: The participants’ experience has created a hugely supportive, open and positive network which is inspiring, joyous and so strong that the results feel tangible.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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