Nee Bedford – People Developer
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos by Joff Alexander-Frye (and supplied by #Focus5)
Nee Bedford is an effervescent, positive and engaging woman who works for #Focus5, a project which deals with some of the most socially isolated young people in the region. #Focus5 is a project within Plymouth-based CSW Group which provides bespoke support to young people aged 15-18 across the South West. In particular, it helps them move towards education, employment and training – equipping them with vital professional, life and soft skills along the way.
Born and brought up in North Devon, Nee went on to attend the University of Plymouth where she studied Psychology before taking on a role in the Student Services Department of East Devon College (now called Petroc). She had always known that she wanted to work with people, just not in what capacity and, she clearly found what she had been looking for when she landed a role with, what was called, Connexions (now CSW Group). That was seventeen years ago and it was clear from talking with Nee that she is every bit as passionate today in her role as she was all of those years ago when she first began.
Initially working in frontline roles, it wasn’t too long before Nee moved into management within CSW and, in March 2017, she moved into her role working on the #Focus5 project as their Contract Manager. This role essentially sees her managing the contractual aspects of the project and overseeing a team of Key Workers who go out and deliver the #Focus5 project. The Key Workers run a variety of activities and work closely with young people who are far away from education and employment (the industry term, so Nee told me, is NEET, which stands for Not in Education, Employment or Training).
“We offer everything from basic support which helps individuals to transition into their next life stage, all the way to more extensive support for those individuals who need significant barriers in their lives to be removed before they will be able to move forwards in life. The young people who we work with must either be NEET or at risk of being so and we specialise in working with those young people who are in additional need of support and those who are furthest away from education, employment and training.”
In terms of geographical reach, #Focus5 spans across the same footprint as their umbrella organisation, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (an organisation whose mission is to lead and influence economic growth, job creation and prosperity in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay). In addition, CSW Group is also active across other areas of the South West and The Solent.
“Our team of #Focus5 Key Workers work across this geographical area, meeting young people wherever is most natural, either at their home, or in a safe public space such as a café. Their role as Key Workers is to work with the young person, identify the things that are stopping them from accessing the education or employment that they need and then build a tailored action plan for that young person. Once this is drawn up, we are able to ‘plug in’ any of our twelve specialist partner organisations to play their part in delivering that plan.”
At this point in our conversation, I enquired as to the origin of the name #Focus5. Nee, without breaking stride, replied,
“It all comes from an initial piece of work that we did, consulting with a wide range of businesses in the region to ask them what the top five most important skills were that they looked for in employees. At the end of that piece of work, we reviewed the findings and distilled them into common answers and threads. What emerged were a clear ‘top five’ answers which were Communication, Teamwork, Problem Solving, Customer Service and Organisation. So, these are our five focuses and the five eventual aims and objectives that they work towards with our young people.”
Seventeen years in to her time with CSW (no mean feat having gone through two, arguably three, recessions), I wondered what kept Nee motivated and positive in her role. She pondered for a second and then proclaimed,
“I work with an amazing team of people, both within CSW and #Focus5. I absolutely love seeing the Key Workers making a difference in young peoples’ lives. We have young people who have been house-bound with anxiety and others who are struggling to move forward who, through our project, are now healthy, functioning, employed members of their community. It’s these stories that, time and time again, humble me and inspire me to keep on doing what I do. It just never gets old helping to develop people and investing in their future.”
I remember being a teenager and, although I was never classed as ‘NEET’, I know that, without the input, advice, coaching, challenge, belief and investment of many others, I wouldn’t be half the person that I am today. I can only imagine the impact and difference that the #Focus5 team are making to the lives of young people in our region every day and I look forward to hearing more of their amazing stories as time goes on.
There is something really special about fruit that is reaped from unseen sowing. True selflessness is a rare and beautiful thing. Thank you #Focus5 for all that you do.
Funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund, #Focus5 provides unique, flexible, one0to-one support for young people aged 15-18 across Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay, who need help taking small steps into education, employment or training. If you know any young people who could benefit from #Focus5, email the team on firstname.lastname@example.org or refer them via the website where you can also find out more about their amazing work. Alternatively, follow them on Twitter @Focus5_BBO .