Today, during Small Charities Week, we’re shining a spotlight on Helm’s Chief Executive, Ally Calder. 

Tell us about yourself Ally.

As someone who left school and went onto a Youth Training Scheme (showing my age!) I have both experience and understanding of the value of employment support at a young age. I am incredibly proud of the work of the team at Helm and all that young people overcome and achieve while they are with us.

This week we’re celebrating Small Charities Week, can you tell us about Helm?

Helm’s aim is to support young people who are furthest away from employment, those who have perhaps found it difficult to engage with mainstream education and they’ve left school without the qualifications or work experience they need to find a job. We support them first and foremost by listening to their needs. These may include gaining qualifications, work experience, housing and ultimately gaining employment and building a strong career.   

We have 26 fantastic team members who work both directly supporting young people and behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly.  We work with approximately 250 – 300 young people per year.  Our support ranges from young people who are 15 years old who are still in education but need a focus for the future or may not be attending school, right through to young people of 25 who are perhaps with their second employer and are struggling to settle in or want to change careers.

What makes Helm different to other organisations in Tayside?

Our approach makes us different.  We blend youth work, supporting young people with barriers that they may encounter when entering employment, alongside gaining qualifications, vocational training and work experience to meet young people where they are as individuals and give them the support they need.

We are constantly listening to young people and employers to ensure that what we deliver will give young people the best possible opportunities.   

We have a gym, kitchen and allotment so we offer various hands-on environments that young people can immerse themselves in. This provides an informal environment that’s not a classroom. Cooking a sticky toffee pudding contributes to numeracy, team building and customer service qualifications, plus the puddings taste great.

Our Spick and Spanners garage, Lavish Lounge beauty salon and trades unit all give young people the experience of working in a supported environment. They also gain the qualifications and confidence to go out, interview well and gain a job.

We work with approximately 85 employers in Dundee and Angus who offer placements to young people as the next stage of their journey with Helm. This give them the opportunity to see what their chosen career is like and see if they enjoy it and it’s what they expect.  Some young people can go on to do four or five different placements because knowing what you want to do at the age of 16 is a very big ask!

The final stage is then getting young people either into full time employment or depending on what they want to do, they may want to go to college first.

What makes Helm different is all the of the different elements that we offer which we pride ourselves on, as a small charity. 

Why do young people need Helm and who do you support?

Historically, young people who came to Helm would be young people who were furthest from employment – maybe they had not engaged in school, been expelled or chosen not to attend themselves – so they’d left without the qualifications and the work experience they needed.  They’d often be disengaged with having a positive future. They might not have had support at home, had caring responsibilities or they might have found that mainstream education didn’t meet their needs.

What we’ve found over the past two years, through the pandemic, is that the group of young people that we’re supporting have become increasingly diverse.  We’re still engaging with the same group of young people as before but we’re increasingly supporting young people who might be struggling with mental health issues like anxiety and depression or suffering from social isolation.

We’re seeing more young people who would have previously gone straight into college or employment now coming through Helm’s doors because they’ve disengaged during the pandemic and they’re struggling to re-engage.

This is a national reflection of the impact of Covid on young people.

We are already thinking about how we plan for the future. Young people who were in primary school when the pandemic hit are now in secondary school and we want to be able to support those young people appropriately too. As a small charity we’re constantly looking at who needs our services and how we can support them.

It’s Helm’s 40th birthday this year.  Over the past 40 years, how has Helm changed?

Historically we were funded through the local and national government and NHS to support people with disabilities, predominantly learning disabilities in Dundee.  

As a small charity, Helm is very adaptive and responsive.  As the needs of people in Dundee have changed, along with funding changes, we’ve focused on the needs of young people and supporting them into employment.  We’ve also started working further afield and supported people in Angus and other surrounding areas.

We have also adapted in response to the barrier that young people face in unstable housing situations. Having worked with young people who not been able to sustain education or employment due to family breakdown and homelessness, we are now working with Hillcrest Housing Association to offer supported housing, through our ‘Hame’ project. This provides the stability of a home that is required before young people take their next steps into employment.

We will continue to look at the needs of the community and work flexibility to meet those needs. We will always think about the needs of the people in Dundee and surrounding areas.

Looking forward – will Helm develop and grow over the next few years?

I came into post at the start of the pandemic and at that point we were focused on keeping young people and staff safe while continuing to provide a vital service. We were also considering the impact Covid was likely to have and what the future for young people would look like post pandemic. At that point we brought in an art therapist to support young people with their mental health.

As we reach the end of that phase we know the impact the pandemic had on young people and their mental health and we are continuing to look at ways to support them.  

Post pandemic we need to keep thinking about the needs of young people but also the needs of Dundee and surrounding areas and the needs of employers.  We’re looking at vocational elements and how we can adapt them to what employers and society needs.  For example, in our garage our mechanics are trained to work on electric vehicles.  Dundee is very forward-thinking city in this area – and Helm leading in this will enable our young people to have the skills they need to support the community and employers.

In terms of looking forward, we know that our first social enterprise – Spick and Spanners garage – provides a vocational experience that is essential for young people, and also offers Helm an additional source of funding which is vital as a small charity. We’re in the process of developing the garage and new business plans for social enterprises. For example, we’re looking at our beauty salon to see if that can become a social enterprise and looking at hospitality options with a partner within Dundee.

We’re also building on our Hame housing project and working with Hillcrest Housing Association and Dundee City Council to create other housing models for young people and will develop more in that area into the future.

We are always looking forward at developing sectors future and career options, and how we can prepare young people to take up those opportunities.  

How are you celebrating Helm’s 40th birthday?

We have a year of fantastic events and projects lined up!

We launched our 40th birthday at the end of March and had fantastic responses from across Tayside from partners and young people.

In September we’re running an Open Day and inviting schools and other partner organisations to showcase our different services. We’re going to have cars on site where you can get under the bonnets.  Our salon will be offering attendees beauty treatments.  Our kitchen will be making some fantastic food. We’ll be doing a tour of the building so people can see our gym and training rooms and our art therapist will be on hand so people can get creative! We’re also running our AGM on the same day to mark our 40th year and will be looking back on the successes of Helm over the years as well as looking to the future.

In December we’re celebrating with our employers who have supported us over the years providing work placements.  We want to thank them and highlight the support they’ve given to our young people over the years.  We’re running a black-tie event at the V&A to say a big thank you by handing out awards to recognise all of their support.

Then in March we’ve hoping to run a Civic Reception for our key stakeholders to highlight the impact that Helm has made to both young people and the wider Dundee community.

Finally, Helm wouldn’t be Helm without doing something with young people so we’re looking to establish a street art wall in Dundee.  Young people will be working with a local artist to design a wall to recognise the last 40 years of the charity and give us a legacy within Dundee.

How can public get involved to support Helm?

For the first time ever, Helm has signed up to the Kiltwalk and we’d love people to take part and raise sponsorship for Helm. I have already signed up and hoping that it doesn’t rain on the day!

As a small charity, all donations are really valuable to us, and you can now donate through our website. We’re looking for more organisations and companies to get involved and support Helm, so if anyone works for an organisation who might be interested, it’d be great to hear from you.

Finally we’ve got some new volunteering opportunities coming up at the end of the summer and if you’d like to volunteer with young people directly, again we’d love to hear from you. 

You can get in touch with the team by emailing[KS1]  to find out more about all of these opportunities.

Thanks for talking to us today Ally – it’s great to talk to you about Helm during Small Charities Week!