When I found out that our charity, Education Futures Trust, had been chosen as a winner of the Skills & Opportunities Fund in 2015, it felt fantastic. Gaining the award had a real impact on the credibility of the organisation, and the fact that NatWest shared our ambitions gave the whole staff a boost.

Education Futures Trust strives to improve the life chances of deprived children, families and vulnerable adults in Hastings and Rye and the surrounding area, through educational, emotional, social and economic growth. Underpinning all our activities is the belief that education can change outcomes for all; allowing the realisation of potential, despite the barriers faced.

Working Without Walls

The £34,570 grant we received from NatWest as part of the Skills & Opportunities Fund was used to support our then new ‘Working Without Walls’ project. Located within 25 acres of magnificent, ancient woodland in the heart of Sussex, the project aimed to improve the life chances of young people through intensive outdoor learning and transformative immersion in nature. We believe this helps improve self-esteem, confidence, resilience and independence, giving young people a chance to escape negative cycles of behaviour, offering opportunities to move onto work or volunteer placements, and having the tools to start their own small business. Completing the programme also results in participants achieving the John Muir Explorer Award, a nationally recognised conservation qualification.

How the grant has helped

There have been so many benefits of receiving the funding from NatWest, particularly for the community. Local young people have been involved in positive activity, and many of the trained and motivated participants have gone on to gain employment, start a business or go into education or training. The positive impact on our organisation’s reputation in being awarded the grant should not be underestimated; we’ve benefitted from the publicity and the fact that we had been chosen by a national company to receive the award.

But funding wasn’t the only way NatWest have helped us. NatWest employees got involved as mentors to support the participants on the courses. This was an incredible morale boost for the participants; the fact that NatWest staff gave up their time to spend with the group was valued by the young people – they felt privileged that they were worth the investment.

As well as the valuable mentoring, an unexpected benefit was the confidence that the young people gained in teaching NatWest’s volunteers about the woodland and sharing the skills that they had learned up to this point. This resulted in increased self-assurance, enhanced communication skills and improvement in the ability to develop relationships.

We also got to benefit from NatWest’s expertise from a business point of view; some of their advisors supported us with challenges we had in meeting targets and looking at new ways of working. Following the success of the Working Without Walls project which NatWest funded, our local college commissioned a similar course for students which kicked off this summer.

For other charities and community programmes who are thinking of applying for the Skills & Opportunities Fund – I encourage them to go for it! If you’re successful in winning a grant, it will give you the opportunity to fund a project which can really help people and the community. A participant from our Working Without Walls project said this, and I feel it’s a perfect testimonial on how programmes like this make a difference:

‘To me this course was more than learning about the woods, it was about the effect that it all had on me. It gave me a purpose, a path forward in life, it taught me what I wanted to do once those precious 10 weeks were up.’

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