Young people in the Epping Forest area are to be given the chance of a better future through a new project being launched by the Red Balloon Foundation.

A grant of £4,713 from the independent charitable trust Essex Community Foundation (ECF) has given vital backing to this initiative which will raise the aspirations of young people to achieve successful employment, rather than falling into a life of crime.

The need for the project became clear when, as part of their outreach work during the Covid-19 pandemic, team members from the Red Balloon Foundation (RBF) delivered more than 6,000 parcels containing food and educational materials to local families.

“What we saw among many young people was a real loss of hope,” said Luke Lowrie, director of RBF.

“Their parents had often lost their jobs or were at risk of being out of work due to the pandemic and the young people couldn't see any prospect of a better future.

“Although Epping Forest is seen as an affluent area there are several pockets of deprivation. Young people in these areas are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, as they see the ‘rewards’ offered by those recruiting them into criminal activity as the only way of supporting themselves and their families.

"The parcels we delivered were a help for the families, but we wanted to do something which would have a positive impact in the longer term. The grant we have received from ECF has enabled us to launch a new intervention programme called ‘Employability’ for young people who are at risk of being exploited by criminals due to them living in poverty.

"The aim is to raise their aspirations for their futures and build resilience, giving them practical skills and work experience, to show them that their lives can take a different path.

“The 20-week programme will give them the opportunity of gaining a nationally recognised qualification and will include structured work experience or volunteering and outdoor sessions with our qualified team, to learn problem solving, teamwork and practical skills. Some of the young people will also be allocated a mentor in the community.

“We believe that this focused intervention will be a transformational experience for those who take part, as the project should do much to divert them from anti-social and potentially criminal behaviour in the future.

“In the long term we hope to encourage those who complete the programme to come back as volunteers to allow us to engage with as many young people as possible in the future.”