In the early 1980's a group of concerned business women and men in North London wanted to make a contribution to addressing the problem of youth unemployment. Many initiatives at this time drew on public or charitable funding. What was unusual about this particular project was that the founders sought to create an entity which was not reliant on taxpayers or charity donors.
How it all began
The idea was to create a business, owned, not by individuals but by a charity which set the aims of offering substantial periods of paid work, experience and vocational training to people who were at a disadvantage in the labour market. Southern Task Educational Trust was formed to offer expertise and guidance rather than capital. A commercial bank loan provided the start-up money, underwritten with a loan guarantee from the Wellcome Foundation and in March 1983 Camden Garden Centre Ltd was formed, wholly owned by Southern Task Educational Trust.
Long-term unemployed youngsters were employed at the outset and today opportunities are offered to older people, women returning to work, ex-offenders, people living with mental health problems, homeless people, those recovering from drug or alcohol addiction,those who have fallen through the cracks because of pandemic, those with low self esteem or confidence, those who have served in the armed services finding it hard to get work, as well as unemployed young people. The Southern Task Educational Trust was renamed for simplicity to Camden Garden Centre Charitable Trust in 2012.
Traineeships at Camden Garden Centre and The Plant Room, Richmond
By opening The Plant Room Richmond, The Camden Garden Centre Charitable Trust offers Traineeships to disadvantaged people from Richmond and the surrounding area. The Trustees of the Trust are unpaid volunteers and the Trust wholly owns the shareholding of Camden Garden Centre. The Managing Director of the company is the only paid Director. The founding ethos of the Trust and company continues today - the company does not receive any donations or funding and relies solely on the success of it's business operations. The company is the main benefactor to the Trust which in turn grants back funds to the company to employ and train individuals supplementary to the business needs of the organisation and who would otherwise find it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain employment elsewhere.
The aim is to improve long term employability of these individuals, through on the job training in horticultural and retail practices, access to a wide raft of qualifications and the day to day understanding of what it is like to be in a job - to be responsible for their actions from daily organisation - getting out of bed and arriving at work on time - to an understanding of how to work in a team and how their actions impinge on others - to have accountability for areas of work for which they might have responsibility.
Trainee scheme at the Plant Room
The heart of our social enterprise is the Training Scheme. Trainees are employed for two years, are mostly full-time and earn the national minimum wage We have helped over 400 Trainees from different backgrounds and difficulties and often our catchment group mirrors societal problems of the time - currently we are often helping those who have lost jobs because of the pandemic or have some mental health issues. Trainees receive a raft of training, education and experience, giving them life and work skills to get back into long term employment and change their lives. Most Trainees start educational qualifications which will often be the first they have ever achieved. Often the courses taken are in-house level one or two retail and customer care; level one, two and sometimes three in various horticultural qualifications at college; and a whole range of other training which might include forklift truck operator licence, car driving licence; bricklaying; IT; pesticide spraying; literacy and numeracy skills; first aid and other industry short course certificates.