How one man’s passion to make a difference has changed the lives of almost 400 people from East Durham.
It’s just over 10 years since businessman Bill Marley founded charitable organisation The Employability Trust – created to help disadvantaged people gain the skills needed to help them into long-term sustainable work.
Here he chats to EDB Editor Leanne Fawcett about the highs, the lows, the smiles and the tears and what the future holds for the Peterlee-based charity…
If you’re looking for an individual to inspire, someone who oozes passion and genuinely loves what he does, then look no further than Bill Marley. The East Durham businessman has changed the lives of so many people in the area, giving real hope and purpose to many who, until crossing paths with Bill, faced such severe challenges that they struggled to leave their homes – if indeed they had one.
A little over 10 years ago, Bill was running the East Durham Engineering Forum, a group created to bring businesses in the area together to share opportunities and look for ways to strengthen the area’s appeal to potential investors.
As part of his involvement with the forum, Bill was made aware of a challenge employers in the area were facing when it came to recruiting young people into training and development roles.
Bill said: “One of my fellow forum members, Steve Metcalfe from NSK, was chatting with me about the struggles he had finding the right people for the roles he was recruiting for, and with my links to industry I knew this wasn’t just a problem he was facing. Businesses were genuinely struggling to find young people with the skills they needed and the right attitude.
“At the same time I was a board member of the East Durham Area Action Partnership and through this role I’d been working with families in the area to improve their wellbeing, fitness and hygiene. The programme was such a success and really did make me smile. I realised I got such pleasure from helping people who perhaps were struggling with their own mental or physical health, or were out of work because they didn’t have the basic skills needed to find a job. So, I decided to form a charity that could make a difference. Rather than the models followed by many training companies, I wanted the people who came through my doors to be trained in areas that industry needed, so at the end of their time with us they had gained the skills to move into sustainable employment.
“I realised it wouldn’t be easy but little did I know just how hard getting The Employability Trust off the ground would be.” Bill’s first port of call was drawing on help from contacts within the North East’s business community. This included Karen Woods, Meryl Levington and Jackie Chapman who helped Bill set The Employability Trust up. Once he’d done that, he started looking for property and found a vacant but extremely run-down building at Palmer Road on the South West Industrial Estate in Peterlee. The site was boarded up and in a state of rack and ruin – to say it required vision is an understatement, however, Bill hadn’t got to where he was without a fair bit of self-belief and ambition, and he believed he’d found the perfect location to bring his dream to life. Once again, though, Bill faced a number of challenges, not least the financial pressures that getting such a venture started presented.
“I honestly thought that with what I had planned, there’d be plenty of grant support available, but no, that wasn’t the case, so I had to commit personal investment from my pension pot to make things happen. That’s not to say we’ve not had any help – Business Durham, the Ballinger Trust, a charitable organisation based in Newcastle, Unlimited, the Big Issue Invest, Key Fund, who have just given us a part loan, part grant, and Cummins Engines have all played a part in our journey since launching in 2012 and it’s fair to say without them we wouldn’t have been able to help as may people.
“It has been hard though and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have doubts about what I was doing, or that most people didn’t think I was crazy for even attempting it. There was so much work that needed doing and I knew I couldn’t do it alone, that I needed someone by my side who shared my vision for making a difference.”
Step forward Anne Marie Hudspeth, who joined Bill in the very early days and remains his right hand woman to this day. Anne Marie said: “To say the past 10 years have been a rollercoaster would be an understatement. But we’re now in a position where we can sit back and reflect on everything we’ve achieved and give ourselves a pat on the back knowing that what we’ve done has changed lives.
“There’s been times though when we’ve genuinely questioned what we’re doing, wondered if, when things are so hand to mouth, things will ever get any easier. But between myself, Bill and the rest of the team, we’ve kept going and I don’t think any of us can doubt now if it was the right thing to do.”
So how exactly does The Employability Trust model work, who can it help and what has it achieved to date?
People from across East Durham, young or old, who have struggled to either find or keep a job can be referred to the charity, either through self-referral or through the likes of Jobcentre Plus. Bill and Anne Marie will spend time with them to find out what their own personal challenges are, what skills they hold and what employment route they’d like to go down. Each individual is then put through a tailored programme of ‘on the job’ training and work experience to equip them with the skills they need to enter the world of work.
With direct links to employers across the region, the team knows what vacancies are available so will adapt their approach to ensure the people on the programme are finishing in the best possible position to move into work. Whilst the majority of people who come through the charity’s doors are from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are lacking in basic skills, some are there for altogether different reasons. For example, one lady who is currently with The Employability Trust has a degree in bio-science, however she suffers with such a severe lack of confidence that she is unable to work in areas that fully utilise her skillset. To date, the charity has helped nearly 400 people into employment at businesses across the North East, including Seaward, NSK, Goodfellow and Goodfellow, Castle Eden Brewery and Northern Freight, while many others continue to learn their traits directly, helping to fulfil contracts with some of the country’s most well-known brands including Nando’s, Pizza Express, Wagamama’s, the Savoy Hotel, and most recently, Wetherspoons.
So, how did this line of work come about?
Bill explains: “A guy I worked with at BHK in Peterlee, Dean McKenna, left to take on a new role at Hill Cross Furniture in Thirsk. Dean has mentioned us to the business owner, Richard Barker, who invited me down to see if there was the potential for us to work together again. “They were working with Pizza Express to restore chairs and tables from their restaurants up and down the country, which then led to a contract with Nando’s for the same sort of thing, so Richard brought The Employability Trust on board to help deliver some of the work on their behalf. This really did open so many doors for us and to date, we’ve restored over 43,000 pieces of furniture for Nando’s alone and have been become a direct supplier for them. This brings in real work for the people we have with us, and also generates the income we need to continue to provide training and work experience.
“That then led to us being asked to work with the Savoy Hotel in London (for Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant) on behalf of Contract Furniture by Design. And not just work with them, actually impress them so much they said they’d never worked with such professional people who were so respectful of their surroundings. There was no messing around, our guys went in, were courteous at all times, and were interested only in doing the job they were there to do. They even took their shoes off so they didn’t mess the carpets up. I can’t tell you how proud this made me.” The Employability Trust’s links stretch to businesses far and wide, with contracts also being managed on behalf of Caterpillar, Wilsonart, TaylorMade, TR Fastenings, BTS Facades and Fabrications and Cummins Engines.
So does this mean that Bill – who is now 70 and a grandad several times over – can ease his way into semi-retirement and take a well-earned rest???
Not really, in fact Bill is currently looking at the possibility of expanding The Employability Trust model elsewhere in the region. He said: “Opening a second Employability Trust is something we’re actively looking at, and the conversations we’re having would see this happen in North West Durham. “We had previously been asked if we’d bring the model down to Milton Keynes and whilst it’s flattering to be asked, it’s too much for Anne-Marie and I to manage, especially as I am supposed to be semi-retired now. “Expanding into North West Durham though is much more achievable, particularly as Anne Marie lives in that part of the county, so we are in the development stages of making this happen.
As for Peterlee, we want to continue to help as many people as we can. Our door is open to anyone who needs our help, we don’t discriminate. To date we’ve helped 388 people into secure, long-term employment, so our next target will be to reach the 500 milestone. I’ve mentioned many of the organisations and businesses that have helped us, but I also want to give special thanks to my wife Mags and Anne-Marie. They have been here with me from day one and have kept me going when I have seriously thought about giving up, questioning if what I’m doing is worth the sleepless nights and stress. Now, I can reflect on what we’ve achieved and no-one can doubt whether it was the right thing to do. Yes, I’d say to anyone, if you want to make money this is not the route for you, however if you want to feel happy and know you are making a real difference to people’s lives, there’s no better job.”
What do you do?
WAREHOUSING & STORAGE
The Employability Trust offers UKWA-registered warehousing and storage solutions for a variety of customers, products and piece parts. They also offer a flexible service with both short and long term options.
FABRICATION & ASSEMBLY
The trust has worked with a series of high profile customers to produce a wide assortment of products delivered either to the customer or direct to their end user. Examples include façade panels for high rise buildings or assembly or packaging for the automotive sector.
PICKING & PACKING
Alongside storage facilities, The Employability Trust can pick and pack your products to order, dispatching direct to your customers. For example, picking and packing care kits for DIY stores or screw packs for automotive and fabrication sectors.
FURNITURE REFURBISHMENT & INSTALLATION
The trust has a long history with high profile clients such as Nando’s, Big Mamma, P&O Ferries and Specialized. Services include the refurbishment of external furniture, assembly and installation of new internal and external furniture and the installation of store racking and display units.
ISO 9001:2015 ensures The Employability Trust are ready to take on any task at a high standard whenever needed. They are always ready to take on the ‘problem lines’ that organisations may not have the resources to fulfil themselves. Any job, big or small will be considered.
SHORT & LONG TERM SUB-CONTRACT LABOUR
The Employability Trust has a pool of people ready to help organisations with their short and long term labour needs. All of the staff are well known to The Employability Trust having worked with them for a number of weeks prior to being released for sub-contract work unlike regular agency staff.