People in central and south London held back by severe disadvantage will be helped to improve their employability and move towards sustainable employment, thanks to support from the Building Better Opportunities programme, which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and European Social Fund (ESF).

‘Peer Circles’ will offer support to those who are severely and multiply disadvantaged, such as experiencing homelessness and having a criminal record, history of substance misuse and/or mental ill health. They will be supported to overcome their multiple challenges and reduce levels of social exclusion. The service will be delivered by specially trained former service users who have direct experience of these problems themselves. They are able to offer a highly empathetic service which can reach such highly disadvantaged people who may not easily engage with other forms of support.

Over the next three years, Peer Circles will offer a mix of practical and emotional help to over 500 adults. Alongside progressing skills and employment goals, it will also help clients with other issues such as housing, financial problems, substance misuse and engaging with other services. A key feature will be working with people at their own pace and offering ongoing support, through setbacks and after they move into employment. A specialist service for women will also be on offer.

The project will be delivered by a partnership led by St Giles Trust and comprising Evolve Housing + Support; Look Ahead Care, Support & Housing; Shelter; Change Grow Live (CGL); and Warrior Programme.

Rob Owen, Chief Executive of St Giles Trust, said:

“Some of the most disadvantaged people in our society have a lot to offer and are keen to reintegrate into society. We are extremely grateful to the Big Lottery Fund and European Social Fund for enabling us to help them move their lives forward and train those who have ‘been there themselves’ to play a central role in this.”

The Big Lottery Fund is the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It puts people in the lead to improve their lives and communities, often through small, local projects.

It is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. Every year it invests over £650 million and awards around 12,000 grants across the UK for health, education, environment and charitable purposes.

Since June 2004, it has awarded over £8 billion to projects that change the lives of millions of people

Peer Circles has received up to £1,297,500 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund as part of the 2014 – 2020 European Structural and Investment funds Growth Programme in England. The Department for Work and Pensions is the Managing Authority for the England European Social Fund programme. Established by the European Union, the European Social Fund help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support skills development, employment and job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information visit www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.