Kevin Curley on samosas, googlies and learning to be British

A Derby charity is helping people in deprived communities to develop the skills needed for work; but it is struggling to find the long-term funding it needs to continue, writes our columnist

Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley

I always like an excuse to go down Normanton Road in my home town of Derby. It's the only place in the city to eat good jerk chicken and it's a chance to stock up on the best potato samosas. The neighbouring ward of Arboretum boasts the first public park to be opened in England.

Behind the parade of Polish shops and Pakistani and Caribbean restaurants there is a different reality. Normanton and Arboretum both fall within the top 10 per cent of most-deprived wards in England. Derby's black and minority ethnic population grew from 13 per cent in 2001 to 24.7 per cent in 2011. Those in the largest group describe themselves as Pakistani and are concentrated in these two wards.

Mohammed Sharief is a voluntary sector activist turned social entrepreneur who established Jobs, Education & Training in 2000, initially to tackle underachievement by Pakistani and Bangladeshi schoolchildren. JET now offers training and mentoring programmes to Normanton's diverse population, all focused on equipping people to get jobs and improve their skills. The charity has an income of £437,000 and employs 20 paid staff and many more volunteers.

On the day of my visit, JET's shop front offices were buzzing. Three front-line advice staff were busy helping Slovakian clients to deal with Jobcentre Plus's job search requirements, while in the training room a group of eight women were being prepared for the Life in the UK Test. Sharief invited me to look through the handbook for this test of readiness to become a British citizen. Past test papers show that you need to know what a googly is (something to do with cricket, it seems) and to understand the politics of Queen Anne's reign. I felt relieved that I got my passport without needing this knowledge.

Sharief has to juggle at least 20 income streams this year. Seven months into the financial year, it's impossible for Sharief to put together a budget for 2015. "Of the £400,000 I need next year, only £120,000 has been identified so far," he tells me. JET faces the familiar problems with public sector commissioning: many contracts are too big to bid for and others are dominated by private sector primes, which, according to Sharief, "screw organisations by offering too little money to do a decent job".

Clearly JET needs long-term funding, but that is easily said and impossible to deliver. I asked what else would make a difference. Ejaz Sarwar, JET's operations director, put it succinctly: "The government should recognise that we have proved our worth to this community over 14 years. We are committed here. Unlike outsiders, we won't be leaving when a funding programme ends. Find a way to fund us that enables us to plan with confidence for the future." That seems sensible to me.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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