A project which aims to help people with complex needs into work is urging those who need assistance during the coronavirus pandemic to get in touch.

The Building Better Opportunities Getting Cumbria to Work project supports people in the Barrow and South Lakes area aged 18 and above, who are either unemployed or economically inactive.

It is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund and is run by Cumbria Council for Voluntary Service in partnership with The Well at Barrow, Imagine Independence, Right2Work, Barrow Women’s Community Matters and Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service.

Project manager Natalia Wealleans-Turner said the coronavirus pandemic meant more people were now unemployed and there had been a huge spike in applications for Universal Credit.

“We want to help people weather this really difficult period," she said.

"We have been giving and will continue to give our existing participants essential support so they are in a stronger position in terms of employability because when the lockdown is lifted, they will emerge into an entirely different labour market which has been adversely affected.

“Our aim is to ensure our participants who are vulnerable and some of the furthest away from the labour market, are not left even further behind.

“We also want to help new people who are now unemployed or claiming benefits as a result of the economic impact of Covid-19.

“The main aim of the project is to support people to take gentle steps by accessing support and training that will increase their employability.

“This can involve addressing barriers to employment, such as childcare issues, the person’s mental health, providing support to those in recovery from addiction or working with people for whom English is not their first language.”

Current participants include mums looking after pre-school children or people caring for loved-ones, as well as people with physical and learning disabilities or mental health conditions.

The organisation also works with people who have a history of offending, often because of drug taking, who are now rehabilitated but struggling to find work.

The project is also working with some of the refugees from Syria in Barrow.

Each new participant has a one-to-one meeting with a key worker to help them draw up a development plan.

Ms Wealleans-Turner said support might include accompanying someone with anxiety on a visit to a library, cafe or a job centre appointment or it might involve the person attending activities to improve their mental health and well-being.

"Since 2017 we have supported 326 people, of which 65 have left the project into employment; 34 have gone into education and training and 18 have left more equipped to explore employment options,” said Ms Wealleans-Turner.

The project has worked with more than 40 local business and organisations to offer work placements and volunteering opportunities, including Joss Engineering, Barrow Domestic Appliances, Lowther Castle and St John’s Hospice Shop and it is keen to work with others.

“Not everyone will leave with a job but the project can make them more employable and make a difference in terms of softer outcomes,” said Ms Wealleans-Turner.

She said the project was still open for business during the coronavirus pandemic and was holding one-to-one and group sessions virtually.

“We have regular telephone contact and email support with participants and use online platforms like Zoom to engage with groups,” said Ms Wealleans-Turner.

She said any people or businesses who thought the project could help them should get in touch via its website www.gettingcumbriatowork.org.uk