The young people who come to SOFEA are aged between 12 and 25. In every case they face one or more barriers and/or disadvantage that makes an intervention necessary for them to build a purposeful life for themselves.
The SOFEA model is based on three pillars:
Each young person gets a personalised approach, which blends the three.
Our approach to work is to progress young people into the workplace as soon as they are able, into good jobs and with the agency to learn and develop. We work with good employers.
This journey starts with work experience, usually in one of our logistics operations providing surplus food to those in need. This is important for three reasons – first, it has purpose; second, it provides structure and routine; third, it builds skills.
Wherever possible we recruit for paid roles from the young people who participate in the programme, this includes warehouse operatives, customer service assistants, HR staff, education mentors and drivers’ mates.
The barriers that young people at SOFEA have faced have often meant that they have not made the progress at school that they could have done.
Our education programme enables them to (re)take their English and Maths GCSEs, but it does much more than this. The broad curriculum that we offer enables young people to determine the direction that they go in.
We have opportunities to learn digital skills, environmental skills, citizenship skills, art and sport in order to understand the world in different ways and to find their role within that.
A lot of young people who come to SOFEA struggle with their mental health and/ or behaviours. A therapeutic approach runs through everything we do, which helps young people to understand their behaviours and to implement better strategies for managing themselves and their interactions with others.
We work on the basis that this is the first piece in the jigsaw, that until we have addressed this, meaningful progress towards employment or qualifications is very difficult.
In practice this means that a young person who joins us with severe anxiety is supported to overcome this by our therapeutic team.
When a young person presents with behaviours that indicate attachment difficulties, our specialist staff can help address this.
When a young person presents with anger, we identify the root causes and provide strategies for effective long-term change.
One of the issues young people come to SOFEA with is harmful drug use, and occasionally selling drugs. There are three guiding principles we use here:
- Safeguarding – the young person involved, but also the impact on everyone else. We have a lot of staff with a wide range of experience and expertise
- Our values statement – we accept people as they are, but accept no limitations on what they might achieve – which means we will always try to work with a young person
- Sound and transparent relationships with other agencies with whom the young person may be involved – Police, Social Workers, Schools, Parents, LADO, Exploitation teams – sharing information, listening, developing solutions
We are transparent with what we do, with our Board, our Partners and most importantly with the young people we work with. Sometimes this means that we take a different approach than might be the norm in a school or college setting.
We have a behaviour policy and a code of conduct, part of which is our drugs and alcohol policy. There is provision in this to cease working with a young person on a permanent or temporary basis if their behaviour is deemed to be too risky to others, or is deemed to be the most appropriate response to the issue.
However, we cannot work with young people if they are not with us. So, wherever possible, we take an approach that works alongside the young person to help them make changes.
Our approach works, not faultlessly and we make mistakes, but we are often successful in helping a young person to understand their behaviour and its effects and to successfully make changes that enable them to access learning and/ or work.
If we were to exclude young people when they demonstrated unhelpful behaviours we would lose the opportunity to effect change.
This could lead to an escalation of the problem, further barriers and disadvantage which impact not only that young person’s life, but their family’s (their future family’s), their communities and the economy.