Case Studies

Worklessness Collaborative Programme – Overview

The Worklessness Collaborative Programme, funded through the Working Neighbourhoods Fund and managed locally by North East Lincolnshire Council, aimed to reduce overall levels of unemployment in two deprived areas of Grimsby.

The programme centred on the development of community teams of local residents and service providers to:

  • Inspire individuals to achieve personal changes
  • Enable them to access appropriate work
  • Reduce dependence on benefits and increase overall profitability in South and East Marsh wards

A social advertising campaign was also developed to help:

  • Raise awareness of the available support for unemployed people
  • ‘Nudge’ people to access this support
  • Increase number of people accessing help

The programme was piloted between April 2009 and September 2010 and extended until November 2010. A range of key performance indicators were used to measure success. Initial targets were predominantly achieved or surpassed, with an overwhelming increase in engagement with the programme by 2,098 participants by November 2010.

Although significant industry employment still exists in North East Lincolnshire (NEL), the area has suffered from a decline in manufacturing and fishing activity. Worklessness rates have remained relatively constant, continuing to exceed national and regional rates overall and significantly in its most deprived communities. Overall worklessness levels stand at 17.5 per cent of the population, compared to 13.2 per cent in England as a whole.

In 2008, NEL Council (NELC) was awarded £13.2 million under the Working Neighbourhoods Fund (WNF) to address the problems faced by people in getting into full-time sustainable work. In January 2009, NEL Local Strategic Partnership launched the 10-year Economic Wellbeing Strategy to address deprivation across the borough. Branded ‘Change’, the strategy focuses on creating jobs and strengthening opportunities for all in NEL to access employment through the creation of the Change Programme.

The Change Programme is built on an evidence base of need, gained from consultation and factual analysis. The programme has two sides: one which supports people to address challenges faced by being out of work for over six months; the other is about creating opportunities for work through apprenticeships, training and job creation.

In April 2009 the Change Board (previously the Economic Wellbeing Board of the Council) commissioned Unique Improvements, a social enterprise, to develop a 14-month worklessness collaborative pilot programme.

With an initial budget of £46,600, the pilot was planned for development in two areas of Grimsby – South and East Marsh wards. These areas had the highest levels of deprivation and claimants receiving incapacity benefit and Job Seeker Allowance, and highest child poverty rates in the region (48 per cent and 44 per cent respectively, compared to 25 per cent in NEL).

Aim and objectives

The aims of the pilot programme were to reduce child poverty, improve worklessness statistics and increase economic wellbeing and profitability of the participating wards. It was proposed that this could be achieved by increasing benefit uptake where appropriate and increasing economic activity and pre-work readiness.

Initial scoping work carried out in September 2008 had identified that over 200 organisations were providing unemployment support, but these were extremely underused.

The programme therefore aimed to:

  • Raise awareness of what help was already available for people to access (not create more provision, to ensure no duplication took place)
  • Help people access this support
  • Increase the number of people accessing help

Process-related objectives were to increase by June 2010:

  • Community engagement and interaction with the programme by at least 1,100 people
  • The number in regular volunteering roles by at least five people
  • The availability of new jobs by adding three full-time job placements
  • Publicity for the programme (utilising media opportunities in a proactive manner) by at least 12 media placements in one year
  • Utilisation of other framework programmes by 15 referrals

Target audiences and behavioural goals

Primary audiences

Economically inactive residents within the priority wards were selected as the primary target audience, with a specific focus on carers (parents, grandparents and others) and lone parents. The desired behaviour was for them to access existing services with a view to entering employment, education or training.

Additional segmentation across motivation was conducted, via a questionnaire, according to readiness and motivation to change, and a person’s point on the pathway to work.

Segments included:

  • Out of work, but keen to re-engage: Required some assistance with skills and the application process
  • Out of work, but potentially keen to re-engage: Barriers included childcare and numeracy skills
  • Out of work and lacking motivation: Required support with skills building and overcoming barriers such as childcare
  • Out of work for some time: Had significant support needs and possible health difficulties
Secondary audiences
  • Local service providers across the Change Programme delivering interventions to support the primary audiences – The desired behaviour was for these providers to be more receptive, approachable, open and flexible
  • Children of the primary audience – The hope was to engage parents and carers through a subtle use of ‘pester power’ and by encouraging them to be strong role models to their children

Building on the success of the ‘Falls’, ‘Early Presentation of Cancer Symptoms’ and ‘Older People’s Health and Wellbeing’ programmes in NEL, the Worklessness Collaborative programme centred on the development of community teams to help gather insight and develop and deliver suitable interventions.

There were four stages to the programme

  1. Mapping and scoping stage – A resource pack of local and national good practice was developed to help identify key stakeholders, good practice, the evidence base and networks
  2. Experts on the Ground Event – Held in July 2009, where local experts agreed and refined assumptions
  3. Developing community teams – South and East Marsh teams were developed in November 2009, comprising of both residents and agency staff, such as local link workers, employment advisers, voluntary sector workers, church organisations, health workers and Sure Start staff
  4. Moving into mainstream – Anything that worked was planned to be extended throughout the rest of Grimsby

Community team research and training

The community teams progressed through a capacity building programme with the aim of using their new skills to inspire motivation in other individuals to achieve personal changes, enabling them to access appropriate work, reduce dependence on benefits and increase the overall profitability of the two wards.

The residents and service providers in the community teams attended three one-day residential learning events, where they were presented with best practice from across the country to stimulate thinking and intervention propositions. The first was held in October 2009, with subsequent events in January and June 2010 (and an interim event in April 2010).

As well as monthly team meetings, a series of half-day workshops was supported by Unique Improvements, who provided training in research skills as requested by the teams, such as in mapping services and conducting focus groups and surveys. The teams used these skills to gather insight from residents in their area, through surveying nearly 2,000 individuals across the 2 wards and conducting focus groups.


Through the scoping work and insight gathering activities, a number of barriers were identified which prevented members of the target audience from interacting with services to gain employment.

  • Perceived time and effort job searching To overcome this, the benefits of obtaining a job would be highlighted, including receiving a wage, being a positive role model for children, developing skills, gaining opportunities to socialise, and improving physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Social standing – both positive and negative Peer groups were commonly cited as important places for support and opinion and wielded considerable influence over the target audiences. In relation to job seeking and associated behaviours, there was a significant opportunity to reframe social norms and engage local people in delivering messages to peers to positively influence the attitudes and behaviours of target audiences.
  • Time away from children Children and their needs carried significant influence with the target audiences. Parents reported deferring serious job hunting until their children reached at least five years old, with school age being the significant transition point. A view almost universally held was that it was better for a mother to be at home or close at hand during a child’s formative years. Any divergence from that opinion was strongly challenged by peers in the group discussions.
  • Benefits and support Even when Benefit Advisers demonstrated that people would be financially better off in employment, there was a reluctance to give up the range of benefit and support packages (largely financial, such as housing benefit and council tax rebate) that would be withdrawn on returning to work. To address this perception, the target groups would be linked up with a range of sources of financial advice.


  • Child dependence Children provided a significant draw away from work, learning, volunteering and work preparedness. Whilst childcare was valued, it was regarded as a second best option and often unaffordable. This was one of the most significant sources of competition for the target groups.
  • Economic downturn Given the worsening economic environment, the programme had to compete with a range of information delivered through national and local media. This was often pessimistic and largely negative, with the effect of reinforcing existing fatalistic attitudes and compounding low self-esteem among the target audiences.

Perceptions of services

There was a mixed view of the value of existing services:

  • Inflexibility – The most significant and often mentioned issue with existing services was that they could not respond quickly or flexibly to individuals’ circumstances
  • Inappropriateness – There was a perception that none of the existing services really suited individuals’ needs
  • Poor customer service – Services were described as being ‘lecturing’ or ‘judgemental’, unfriendly and disrespectful. Despite being a service that almost every unemployed person of working age should access regularly, few positive experiences of Jobcentre Plus were noted. Audiences (particularly women and mothers) described the physical building as an unpleasant place to visit and they found the groups of people hanging around outside the building intimidating. Once inside, because they regularly saw different advisors, they described poor customer care and low understanding of personal needs. Beliefs included that information was skewed, incorrect and given to encourage people into work at any cost
  • Influence of peers – Positive and negative accounts of others’ experiences of using a particular service had a huge influence over whether people were inclined to access a service
  • Low motivation – If general motivation and confidence was low, then the likelihood of audiences accessing services was low, irrespective of its locality
  • Lack of trust – Many of the audience members exhibited a general distrust of ‘official’ sources information, unless they had had a specific positive experience of them. This was especially true of those parents who had been out of work for some time, and job agencies in particular elicited low opinions

In terms of how services should be delivered, the research suggested that people would value:

  • Using the talents and resources of local people, including peer-to-peer approaches
  • Flexible points of access, which allowed participation in non-threatening ways and at convenient times
  • Distance from official bureaucracy and social security services, so that people would not feel ‘at risk’ of changes to their benefits when accessing services
  • Receiving prompt and clear feedback
  • Support in exploring what is on offer and signposting to other relevant resources

Given the variety of audiences and possible behaviours that comprise job seeking, there was recognition that one size does not fit all, particularly with the strong desire for flexible and tailored services amongst the target audiences.

Target audiences were able to list a range of existing services, but with varying degrees of accuracy. It was therefore evident that increasing awareness of offers and correcting misconceptions already in place would be beneficial.

Target audiences were clear that any campaign should use channels like personal and community networks and service hubs (both online and physical services), as well as traditional media channels.

Developing the community teams

People were mobilised into two community teams, based around priority neighbourhood areas. Teams comprised at least 50 per cent local people who were either unemployed young parents or older unemployed people, supported by a range of professionals who contributed their service expertise. There were roughly 10 core members per team as well as numerous additional community members who would attend ad hoc and the number of volunteers increased as word spread. Retention of some community members was difficult due to competing priorities, namely childcare as many were single parents.

Implicit and explicit rewards were offered to community team members in exchange for participating. These included:

  • Acquiring new skills, such as training for community members around research skills
  • Developing confidence in their ability to influence change within their communities
  • Participating in residential learning events

In between the workshops for community teams were action periods, where changes were tried and tested. The teams were trained in the Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) approach (Deming, 1993), which encouraged them to anticipate problems or barriers, break down their causes and then suggest intervention ideas. These had to be easily testable and achievable within eight days. Results would then feed into the ongoing activities and engagement work. These ‘rapid change cycles’ enabled the teams to observe the direct link between activities and outcomes and to reinforce those that delivered required results, testing and shaping as they went.

First Things First branding

Insight from the focus groups and surveys of local residents and unemployed young parents identified children as a motivator to engaging with employment services.  Parents related to the message about doing ‘anything for their children’.

All target audiences reported that the message strategy for engagement into services should be reassuring, supportive, promote a sense of immediacy and build beliefs that ‘this is possible’ and ‘I can make a change’, while supporting people to end negative and habitual behaviour and challenge social norms, such as ‘there are no jobs out there’ and ’I can’t do that’.

This led to the development of a creative concept called ‘First Things First’. This more positive, inspiring and proactive brand replaced the ‘Worklessness’ project title, which had strong negative associations. It appealed to parents and carers by drawing on their emotional relationships with children by encouraging them to ‘be a superhero’ and good role models.


The community teams conducted a mapping exercise of local service provision, which identified the various agencies in the two wards where unemployed people could get help entering employment or education. The mapping exercise involved splitting the ward up into smaller sections and each team member walked around the area identifying both the obvious and less obvious venues for support. These were then plotted onto a large map so all relevant provision could be seen.

This information was developed into a resource pack provided at six venues across the two wards. The resource pack consisted of a foolscap folder that contained paper copies of the prospectuses for local services, along with model CVs and application form hints. The information was replicated on a USB stick as a high percentage of people in the focus groups said they used the computer and internet to find work.

How2 campaign and resource pack

A social advertising campaign ‘How2’ was developed after the second community team workshop in December 2009, which aimed to get parents to make a step towards working – whether it be training, careers advice, or job seeking – with a view of being able to help their children later. Launched in March 2010, the How2 campaign included a series of humorous postcards and posters that encouraged people to go to local distribution points, such as children’s centres, to pick up the resource pack. The teams promoted the resources at their roadshows and events in community fairs and retail outlets, as well as in betting shops, the job centre, pubs, clubs and bingo halls. Advertisements also featured on local television and radio.

To overcome attitudinal barriers to employment, a series of audience specific messages were developed. For example, some addressed the difficulty audience’s feared balancing work and caring responsibilities. Some acknowledged and used the transition point of children reaching school age to motivate parents to prepare for work. Others implicitly drew on parents as role models. The exact messages and look were pretested with target audiences. Illustration was used to reinforce the look and feel of the resource and fridge magnets, postcards, stickers and flash cards were included to create a child-focused feel.

The proposition was not ’Get a job’ – it was wider than this, in acknowledgement of the multiple steps people sometimes must take before they actually get a job. The proposition was ‘Plan for your child’s future by getting ready for work now’.

Community champions

Drawing on the insight of using the talents and resources of local people, as well as providing flexible and non-threatening points of access for existing services, new key worker roles were set up within the community teams.

These people provided support to the teams and acted as an entry point for the unemployed and unengaged, providing them with support, information, direction and purpose, and putting together a plan of action that moved participants towards employment and beyond. This was achieved through:

  • Referral and signposting into services through community events and peer-to-peer interaction across community networks
  • Providing new volunteering opportunities and promoting existing opportunities
  • Attending interviews with participants if required
  • Peer-to-peer coaching

The workers supported individuals during their initial employment and monitored their journey to gainful activity.

The community champion role was particularly effective in the South ward. Tracey Greetham was well known in the community and suffered from long-term depression, unable to work or sometimes go out, which had lasted for some years. Subsequently she joined the Collaborative team in the South ward.

“When I first joined the Collaborative I was lacking in confidence. I had suffered with depression for a number of years and had just started to attend the children’s centre. Being part of the Collaborative has boosted my confidence.”

During her membership, she participated in a number of training days and was supported to learn outreach work skills. This led to her being employed as a part-time community champion and in her first four weeks in the role she helped seven people into further education and one person into a training place with a permanent job. She is now in great demand and is developing initiatives to help other people with depression to be more active within their communities.

“I have heard so many people say that they just did not know where to start with getting back into employment, and what a difference our help has made not only financially but also to their own wellbeing.”

Programme management

Day-to-day management was provided by a local project manager employed by the Council and supported by the Unique Improvements team. This involved:

  • Developing and monitoring the project plan to ensure objectives were being met
  • Developing agendas for steering group meetings and team meetings
  • Measuring impacts on a monthly basis using various data streams

Reception to the programme

Local people were initially wary of the programme as unemployment is a contentious topic in the two target areas. Both communities are particularly deprived and very suspicious of service providers. However they do respond to peer-to-peer engagement, which meant personal networks were strongly utilised. Local relationships acted as ‘passports’ and identified a range of networks to use, many of which were closed to professionals.

Local services saw the programme as a threat and expected to have to compete for the same group of clients. This changed over the course of the programme as services realised that working in collaboration maximised their efforts. Jobcentre Plus was initially keen to get involved, but their reputation amongst the local unemployed caused a barrier to engagement.

How2 launch

The campaign was launched in April 2010 at an open event held at Tukes Conference Centre in Grimsby. Personal invitations were sent to a wide range of stakeholders and service providers from a ‘hit list’ generated by the teams of people they considered useful to their cause. Local people were also invited via local community networks and a free lunch was provided. In addition to launching the campaign, the event was used to energise the teams, promote the programme and recruitment more team members. The campaign is ongoing with the team members taking it in turns to place the ‘Superwoman’ banner in local venues to promote the resource packs.

South team: Example activities

South ward team initially focused on young fathers, as they felt there were a lot of resources already in place to support young mothers. They set out by surveying a small number of young fathers using their own existing personal networks, with the intention of finding places where this group assemble and that could be used for targeting. However, this approach was unsuccessful, as the men were reticent and suspicious when they were asked about where they gathered. The team had to use an existing event at the Children’s Centre instead and identified that a children’s party could be a ‘hook’ for fathers. They subsequently ran a children’s Christmas party, where they were able to engage 96 parents, of whom 36 per cent were fathers.

From this the team developed a range of activities attractive to fathers, such as rope walks, football penalty shoot outs and days out. With the help of these parents, the South team put together a questionnaire to assess attitudes to worklessness in the wider community. The questionnaire was trialled a number of times until it was considered successful. The questionnaire was delivered to 2,098 people between July 2009 and November 2010, predominantly in public venues such as post offices, local shops and libraries.

East Marsh team: Example activities

The East Marsh team set up the Children’s Centre Worklessness Coffee Mornings, where people who attended the Children’s Centre were invited to attend, get a sausage butty and receive advice about getting back to work or study. These coffee mornings provided existing services within a ‘safe’ and acceptable venue to deliver their assistance to people who would not visit independent services. The community team members attended these coffee mornings, acting as facilitators and introducing individuals to the services. Seeing the services out of context helped the target audiences change their perceptions about the services.

As a result of the first workshop, the team also organised a coach trip from East Marsh Children’s Centre to Scarborough as a means of engaging and recruiting 400 families who were out of work but who used the local Children’s Centre. While on the coach, team members surveyed the families about their attitudes to work and what would help or hinder them in searching for employment. Where necessary, they signposted people to services and invited them to the next coffee morning.

In June 2010, one parent from the East Marsh team set up a healthy burger van as a means of engaging people outside of the Jobcentre, which is still operating at the Co-op car park across the road. In addition to offering healthy food options, the van service helps the team raise money, creates a job, and acts as an outlet for the team to distribute materials and engage target audience members in meaningful conversations about other employment services.

SWOT analysis

During the third and final learning workshop in June 2010, a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis was used to analyse whether to expand the programme elsewhere.

  • Strengths: Included the mobilisation of a team of residents in a social marketing programme to reduce child poverty
  • Weaknesses: Inability to gain acceptance from some of the existing Change providers who saw the programme as a competitor. Plans were made to do some PR with the most difficult providers to try and overcome this
  • Opportunities: Acknowledgement of the success of the programme by other areas. Overall, the community teams felt empowered and inspired to initiate and support social change
  • Threat: Absence of any future funding due to budget cuts within the Council. The teams started to plan how they would gain further funding.

Evaluation planning

An evaluation plan was developed from the outset, which included the use of key performance indicators (KPIs) to demonstrate achievement of the outcomes on a monthly basis. To track activities and demonstrate that the community teams were addressing the joint aims, a number of measures was developed to link back to the KPIs. These included: attendance lists of events; logging the number of meaningful conversations had with individuals; number of resource packs collected by individuals and a signposting referral form.

Key findings

The approach used to achieve improved economic activity in NEL was to raise awareness of the services already in place to assist the unemployed back into work and to ‘nudge’ them to use these services. Initial targets were predominantly achieved or surpassed.

The table below shows the progress towards achieving the necessary targets in the first phase (October 2009 to June 2010).

Description Phase One target Total to June 2010
Increasing engagement/ interaction with the programme 1100 1140
Increasing the availability of new jobs 3 2
Demonstrating partnership working by working with other agencies to develop new employment opportunities 3 11
Increasing referral to the key workers programme 4 20
Increasing utilisation of other framework programmes 15 435
Increasing confidence in individuals to access what is already in existence for them 5 0
Increasing the number in regular volunteering roles 5 21
Increasing publicity for the programme by utilising media opportunities in a proactive manner. 12 29

The table below includes results for the second phase (September to November 2010). Data was not collected in July and August 2010 because of holidays and changes in the project management arrangements.

Description Phase One  


Phase Two  


Overall total
Increasing engagement/ interaction with the programme 1140 958 2098
Increasing utilisation of other framework programmes 435 34 469
Increasing the number in regular volunteering roles 21 3 24
Increasing publicity for the programme by utilising media opportunities in a proactive manner 29 1 30

Unique Improvements conducted a pre- and post-programme confidence questionnaire with the team members and evaluated each of the three workshops to see how confidence improved over time. All team members reported an increase in confidence and over the 12 months there was a notable increase in reported confidence to discuss worklessness issues amongst the community members and local service providers. Normalising the discussion around worklessness has potentially helped to counter the generational negativity previously identified in the wards.

Involvement in the community teams has also prompted members from long-term unemployed backgrounds to think more creatively about their own situations and become more active in their employment searches, with success. They have also been able to lead change in their immediate areas. For example, one community champion had been unemployed for a number of years and among his wider family there was a real concern about coming off benefits to get a job. His attempts had been half-hearted and unsuccessful, but as a result of the Collaborative he volunteered as a community champion and is now paid for his role.

The number of people coming forward to join the teams increased as word spread. Existing community team members individually reported increased confidence when dealing with all services, not just those related to worklessness. This confidence is having an obvious effect on their willingness to engage with other programmes, as many of the people who expressed a desire to join the Collaborative have gone on to become volunteers for public service organisations and voluntary groups, such as lunch clubs and older people’s social clubs.

Phase Two

£20,000 was made available by NELC in September 2010 to extend the programme.

From September to November 2010 a limited number of evaluation measures were used, as the priority for that period was developing expansion and sustainability plans for the programme. Some of the community team members who had joined in the first year of the pilot left to allow the Collaborative to reshape itself with a different set of objectives. The teams had been predominantly made up of residents of the communities, rather than professional service providers. However, the reduction in the number of team members did not have a detrimental effect on outputs, as the measure ‘Increasing engagement/interaction with the programme’ still showed significant results, with 958 people engaged in just three months, increasing from an average of 127 per month to 319 per month. This demonstrates that the methodology has been embedded and adopted by the community team members.

The community teams progressed from just seeking opinions and gaining insight to refining their activities and developing community-led responses to the issues that arose. This included developing plans to start new businesses to support employment activities, working with others to create new posts and planning to improve their communities for unemployed families.

Ongoing community engagement

Funding for the programme has now ceased as a result of budget cuts within the public sector. Nevertheless, elements of the programme are being sustained within the community. For example, the community champion posts have been sustained as result of a partnership between the Care Trust Plus, Contract Lincs and the Children’s Centres.

The remaining members of the community teams continue to run and develop local interventions beyond the funding of the programme and have spread their involvement into additional community activity, like implementing a voucher system for the resource packs to log interest (those who collect a pack receive a voucher for a free tea or coffee at a local cafe).

The legacy of the Worklessness Collaborative can also be seen in a greater acceptance of partnership working in South and East Marsh wards. This is evident in the number of new initiatives originating from the Collaborative, which have been shared across a numerous agencies and led by the community teams.

Lessons Learned

Increases in levels of confidence have been difficult to measure

Originally the programme planned to develop its own confidence measuring tool, but this was discarded to enable consistency within the Change Programme by adopting the Rickter Tool. However, training was not organised within the Change Programme, preventing the community teams from accessing the tool and recording people’s confidence in accessing existing services. Instead, the teams decided to demonstrate confidence by recording case studies and testimonials.

Difficulty engaging with Jobcentre Plus

Despite a lot of effort, the inclusion of key services within the programme, such as Jobcentre Plus, was difficult and may have related to their ability to agree involvement at a local level or conflicting priorities. Typically, strategic involvement is at a level too high to properly allow services to get involved in a local initiative. An understanding of this arrangement may have helped engage more local managers who might have been better levers for change.

Managing complexity

There are significant advantages of adopting co-production approaches within social marketing projects, but it brings added complexity and project management demands, which stakeholders need to plan for. Specific and dedicated project management is essential, as is an organisational culture that can respond quickly and flexibly to meet community member’s needs. This includes, for example, practical considerations, such as meeting at times and places to suit community members, and adopting values that champion communities as assets and equal partners.

Developing stakeholder and partner assets

The number and variety of local stakeholders presented specific challenges, which were compounded by the variety in confidence, skill and value attached to engaging communities. The importance of developing a clear stakeholder and partner development and management plan is an important tactic when developing effective coalitions.

What worked well:

  • Face-to-face contact via personal and community networks
  • Peer based messages
  • Working with young mothers as a group distinct from parents
  • Community retail venues
  • Coffee mornings with free food
  • Interventions that recognised parents’ decisions to defer working until their children started school

What worked less well:

  • Targeting fathers as a distinct group
  • Service directed messages
  • Interventions that involved the Jobcentre


Follow us on twitter

Get our e-newsletter