Catch22 transforms the lives of unemployed young people by training them as auto mechanics and boosting their confidence, as Sophie Radice discovers
It is easy to understand why an eighteen-year-old would look forward to coming to Catch22 in Gravesend. The bright, welcoming space has a fully functioning garage, a learning suite on the upstairs mezzanine and is buzzing with activity.
A group of young men in overalls are being put through their paces by project manager Rob Barlow in the garage workshop. Another group is working on the computers upstairs, honing their CVs with the help of senior tutor John White. The functional but warm atmosphere is mirrored next door at Auto22, a social enterprise garage, which has a reputation with Gravesend locals for being efficient and friendly, as it ploughs all its profit into Catch22.
Catch22 is a local charity with a national reach, working with young people and others who find themselves in seemingly impossible situations. The charity offers services that help young people develop the confidence and skills to find solutions that are right for them – whether it's getting back into education or training, choosing to stay out of trouble, finding a safe home or living independently after leaving care or custody. Catch22 believes that as young people become more positive, productive and independent, the whole community benefits.
The local Freemasons first started supporting Catch22 in Gravesend because of a chance meeting between John White, whose father was a member of the Peace and Unity Lodge, and a friend of his father's, also a Freemason. John invited him to the workshop and showed him how they introduce young people into the working environment of a fully equipped motor garage, as well as improving their numeracy and literacy. Martin Ransom was so impressed with what he saw that the Macartney Lodge at Gravesend donated £1,500 from its Lodge of Instruction funds to the local young people's charity.
The Freemasons' Grand Charity has been a regular funder of Catch22 over the years, and has donated £60,000 towards the funding of Auto22 since 2008. The Council of The Freemasons' Grand Charity believes that the grants for disadvantaged young people are among the most important awards it makes, particularly as youth unemployment is at an all-time high, with one in five 16 to 24 year-olds now out of work, full-time education or training.
The Personal Touch
Eighteen-year-old Catch22 student George Burman is proud that he has landed a job in Auto22, starting in the next few weeks. George is training for his Level 1 Diploma in Auto Mechanics, having already successfully gained an ABC Level 1 Award in Motor Vehicle Studies (Mechanics). He tried learning carpentry at his local college, but found it difficult to focus and dropped out. George heard about Catch22 from Connexions, the government information, advice and support service for 13 to 19 year-olds, and says that as soon as he walked in and met tutors John White and Robert Barlow, he knew that this course was going to be different.
'It is so easy to get lost in a big college but here you feel that Rob and John really want you to do well. They're interested in helping you and making sure that you're on the straight and narrow,' he says. George and his father wrote a moving letter to express how pleased they were with George's place at Auto22. He calls Catch22 a 'life-changing experience'.
Robert Barlow worked in youth opportunities training for seven years and was delighted when the chance to teach young people auto mechanics came up, as this used to be his profession. 'Some of these young people have either come from very difficult circumstances or seem to have lost their direction. But I find that if I treat them with respect then they treat me with respect. If I expect a lot of them and give them the right support they come up to my level and – more often than not – do me proud.'
John White, a qualified engineer, worked in a pupil referral unit and a secure training centre before being offered the job at Catch22. 'You see their confidence go right up when they have applied themselves and successfully completed a course. This is not a quick-fix solution – many of these young people need considerable help in their life skills, such as reading, writing and how to present themselves. We are proud that many of those that have come here go on to get work.'
John recounts a recent Catch22 success story – a student landed a well-paid job as a mechanic on the Sainsbury's fleet of lorries. 'He came back to tell us the good news,' says John. 'Even if they don't immediately get a job, the fact that they have applied themselves here seems to stand them in good stead. It improves their circumstances and self-esteem, and teaches them how to deal with regular employment.'
The Freemasons' involvement does not end with handing over cheques. Both Adrian White and Roger Hammond are among a number of local Freemasons who regularly visit Catch22 to offer their support. Adrian's wife has recently become a volunteer and learning mentor at the centre – Catch22 Gravesend is hoping to attract more female students to auto mechanics. Local businessman and Freemason David King MBE has also been offering financial advice and planning to Catch22, so that 'they can concentrate on what they do best – and that is training and mentoring these young people'.
As you drive away from Catch22, you are left with a real sense that here, at least, young people feel that there are adults who can see their potential and are prepared to take them seriously. As John White says: 'We give them a second chance, which not many people do. It would be so unfair to write them off at such a young age. Our students have shown what a bit of self-esteem can do.'
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The Grand Charity has donated over £4 million to fund projects that provide opportunities for disadvantaged young people across the UK, the aim of which is to help them achieve a better