A review of Opportunity Sheffield’s Welfare to Work Recognition Event on Weds 9 Dec

With the intention of highlighting some of the positives to emerge from a challenging year, Opportunity Sheffield organised a welfare-to-work recognition event on Wednesday 9th December.

Sheffield City Council’s employment and skills service invited partners and other employability stakeholders from across the city to join the online discussion and celebration event via Zoom.

Almost 90 people people attended the event from 10am to 2pm, which focused on the achievements of welfare-to-work practitioners and clients in difficult circumstances throughout 2020.

Here are some of the highlights from the event:

Welcome and introduction – John Powell, Programme Manager, Opportunity Sheffield

Following a musical introduction from Opportunity Sheffield account manager Bill Hilton, who played festive music on the piano as guests arrived, Programme Manager John Powell, Programme Manager, welcomed guests to the event.

What we wanted to do this year is have a slightly different event that was a celebration/ recognition event. The recognition was of the challenging year we have all faced and despite that you have continued to help people that are less fortunate than you are. The celebration is to reward those individuals and organisations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

John Powell, Programme Manager, Opportunity Sheffield

John ran through some housekeeping matters and took the opportunity to thank event sponsor ICONI Software and the Institute of Employability Professionals, sponsor of the Adviser of the Year trophy.

Guest speaker – Cllr Adam Hurst, Sheffield City Council

Opportunity Sheffield was pleased to welcome Cllr Adam Hurst, Labour representative for West Ecclesfield and Adviser to the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, to share his thoughts on the achievement of the welfare to work community during 2020. Cllr Hurst spoke about his time working in the employability sector at Mencap and referenced some of the challenges faced by providers in the current economic climate.

Welfare to work organisation like yourselves are very dear to my heart particularly the ones that work with people with significant barriers. As a Local Authority it is vital that we continue to work with you and learn from you, because you are the ones who are connected to those members of the community that may find dealing with the council a challenge.”

Cllr Adam Hurst, Labour Councillor for West Ecclesfield, Sheffield City Council

Quiz and word game ice-breaker (Breakout rooms) sponsored by ICONI Software

Next on the agenda was an ice-breaker activity using Zoom breakout teams. Attendees were assigned to rooms as teams of seven or eight people to take part in a quiz designed by Phil Johnson, Senior Project Officer at Sheffield City Council. The quiz featured an anagram round, a Sheffield areas cryptic clues round and some festive-themed multiple choice questions. Prizes for the quiz were sponsored by ICONI Software.

The Teacake Club presents… ‘2020: The year that was’

Attendees were invited to watch a video of The Teacake Club’s review of the year, featuring footage and images from significant events in Sheffield’s employability community over the past 12 months.

Opportunity Sheffield contract manager Kevin Owers introduced this segment with a few statistics on the growing membership of the network (based on mailing list subscribers, website views and content submitted) and closed with some general comments on the importance of continuing to share knowledge, information and contacts across the community.

Innovation in Delivery Award 2020, sponsored by ICONI Software

Phil Johnson introduced the nominees and winner of the Innovation in Delivery Award 2020, sponsored by ICONI Software. He delivered a presentation detailing the nominees, who were as follows:

Door 43 – Sheffield FuturesRemote & digital support

Early intervention service Door 43 worked hard to adapt to the lockdown and the ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Within the first week of lockdown, the service moved from being an exclusively in-person to offering support over the phone and online. The service launched a counselling offer in June, with roles dedicated to supporting young people from BAME backgrounds and those experiencing loss or bereavement related to Covid-19.

Workpays P2SFlexible/tailored delivery

Lead keyworker Carol Stevenson was working with a digitally excluded participant to deliver a Customer Service Level 1 course. With offline delivery the preference for a particular learner, Carol designed a bespoke blended learning approach using email, WhatsApp and telephone conversations during the Covid lockdown. The participant was able to continue working towards her qualification and complete the course on-site once lockdown restrictions were eased.

Endorphins Group – LGBTQ+ Employment support session

Lead keyworker Paul Taberner delivered a presentation on the Pathways programme and support available including barriers such job skills and emotional support but from the point of view from how it effects the LGBTQ+ community. Paul spoke about the discrimination he has faced in his own life, both in terms of the reaction of family and employers, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. He discussed various methods of employment support available, both during the pandemic and beyond.

The Building BlockBlended learning

The Building Block model, underpinned by two weeks of classroom-based delivery to prepare for the CSCS test, was adversely impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown in the spring. During lockdown, a blended learning approach was designed and adopted, enabling the learning aspects of the construction training course to continue. A package of online videos and written resources was compiled, while participants gained access to tutor support via Zoom meetings, email correspondence and telephone calls. Health & Safety sessions were delivered face-to-face on a 1-2-1 basis, as soon as restrictions were eased.


Sheffield Futures: Project Apollo – ‘Coach & Walk’ & ‘Virtual Learning’

COVID-19 social distancing rules had a major impact on Project Apollo clients and delivery, leaving many care leavers isolated and at risk of disengaging, and standard support  approaches redundant. As lockdown commenced, the team began testing brand new ways of working. Within a matter of days, Project Apollo began delivering outdoor ‘Coach & Walk’ and ‘Virtual Learning’ sessions.

This was supported by regular Teams check-ins and text messaging to ensure clients had human contact, could discuss their wellbeing, and receive coaching. Project Apollo released the Four Minute Fire series of employability videos on YouTube. These were adapted into live Teams workshops to offer clients interactive learning sessions and interview preparation.

Information Session #1: Kickstart Scheme – Gareth Urwin, Service Manager, Opportunity Sheffield

Opportunity Sheffield Service Manager Gareth Urwin provided an update on the Kickstart Scheme and the availability of funded placements for unemployed 16-24-year-olds, which the Council has been working on as part of the Sheffield Partnership for Jobs and Skills.

Gareth talked about the process for getting Kickstart roles approved by the Department for Work and Pensions, and revealed that a tranche of jobs have now been signed off and will be available to young people to apply to via their work coach.

Information Session #2: ESF employment activity in Sheffield – Matthew Teale, Development Manager, Opportunity Sheffield

ESF Pathways South Yorkshire Project Manager Matthew Teale spoke about the wide range of employment support activity in Sheffield that is funded, or part-funded, by the European Social Fund. He introduced a series of providers who deliver ESF activity in the city – The Growth Company, Wise Ability and South Yorkshire Housing Association – to talk about their programmes and showcase some positive case studies from the past year.

Sheffield’s inspirational participants

Either side of the lunch break, Opportunity Sheffield introduced the ten Participant of the Year nominees for 2020, using slides and video footage from keyworkers, contract managers and in some cases, the clients themselves.

You can watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the nominee videos on Opportunity Sheffield’s YouTube channel.

Bill Hilton retuned to the piano during the lunchbreak playing a medley of seasonal and topical tunes.

IEP introduces Participant of the Year Award 2020

Following a few words from Jodie Murphy from our event sponsor ICONI Software, who spoke about her own experiences in Northern Ireland in the fields of employment support and wellbeing, we named our 2020 Participant of the Year.

WINNER: William Wombell, a client of Yes2Ventures and now an employee of social enterprise Viewpoint CIC.

Former finance professional William became unemployed in 2019 after battling clinical depression and found himself in a very low place in life, but with the help of Yes2Ventures and a supportive employer in Viewpoint CIC, he has found – and held down – a job in a new sector and worked towards improving his mental health. William was nominated by Yes2Ventures chief executive Mark Powell.

You can hear about William’s story by clicking here to watch a case study video on the Opportunity Sheffield YouTube channel.

Information Session #3: Employability Insights (Breakout rooms)

Attendees were able to choose from three breakout room options for a half-hour information session segment. These were:

Kevin Stevens from The Amber Project Child Exploitation Service – Raising awareness of how, and why, young people are groomed into joining gangs.

Rob Walker from Sheffield City Council – Discussing digital skills now and in the future – employer demand, upskilling and routeways into employment

Scott Parkin from event sponsor IEP – Discussing the new accredited qualification options for employability professionals

You can watch the IEP presentation on employability accreditations by clicking here

Adviser of the year Award 2020, sponsored by IEP

Programme Manager John Powell announced the winner of the Adviser of the year Award 2020 – an open category for which nominations from across the city had been invited – with the following words.

“This year’s Adviser of the Year ticks all of the boxes. Working across two different projects over the last 12 months, this person proved to be a highly consistent and reliable performer, with an energy and enthusiasm matched by no little skill or endeavour.

“Having moved across to the ESF Pathways Programme in the summer, they have hit the ground running and – from the outset – been among the top two or three achievers against Outputs and Results. With some hefty targets to aim for, the numbers of people moved into work have been really outstanding. But not only this, our winning adviser has always been responsive, proactive in resolving issues for their clients – tenacious even – and a pleasure to work with.

“This year’s winner can understand their clients, in no small part because she has walked the same road from unemployment back into the workplace. From her own experience, she understands the sense of loss and helplessness that often comes with redundancy, and in such a difficult year it is hard to place a value on such empathy.

“A few comments here from her colleague: ‘This adviser has “gone from strength to strength within the team, becoming a trusted adviser, employment liaison officer and work friend. Her focus is on the client and how she can get them into work, and she won’t stop until she believes she has done everything possible for them. Through her own achievements and determination, she is an inspiration to others.’

“Meanwhile line manager describes her as “the glue of the team”, someone who will always lend a hand or for the extra mile despite her heavy workload. ‘She has embraced the new ways of working during 2020 with optimism and positivity, ensuring she always has a smile for everyone and a listening ear. This is something we all need at this time.” 


Karen Beaumont, Manor & Castle Development Trust

Video: Final reflections on 2020

Opportunity Sheffield reflected on a difficult year in 2020, referencing the many challenges but also the achievements on its Sheffield’s Working and ESF Pathways programmes and the potential to continue the good work in 2021. In a video available to view on the Opportunity Sheffield YouTube channel, the service thanked all the delivery partners on its flagship welfare to work programmes.

Provider of the year Award 2020, sponsored by ICONI Software

Programme Manager John Powell announced the winner of the Provider of the year Award 2020 – selected from Opportunity Sheffield delivery providers – with the following words.

“During a challenging 12 month period our Provider of the Year has done what it always does, providing a beacon of hope in its local community. Where possible its doors have remained open to welcome people in and provide the employment, education and wellbeing support they so desperately need.

“As Opportunity Sheffield, the Council worked with this provider on a series of different projects this year, notably Sheffield’s Working and ESF Pathways. They have proven to be one of our most consistent performers, both in terms of recruiting individuals onto programme and achieving positive outcomes for their clients.

“On Sheffield’s Working, this provider achieved 100% of its outcome targets on the October to March contract, while on ESF Pathways more unemployed and economically inactive participants have moved into work at this provider than at any other partner over the last 12 months.

“Their contract managers have only positive things to say. As well as providing a thriving job club and offering Lead and Specialist Health keyworker services, this provider delivered on our pilot behavioural change project and has proved an effective partner on the Building Block construction training programme.

“Throughout all, the collective achievements have been underpinned by a skilled, well-balanced and close-knit team, which displays a professional yet compassionate approach, aligned with a genuine  desire to make a positive contribution to the people of eastern and south-eastern Sheffield.”


Our standout candidate for Provider of the Year 2020, and this year’s winner of the award, is Manor & Castle Development Trust.

Opportunity Sheffield’s ESF keyworkers of the quarter (Sept-Nov)

Opportunity Sheffield Contract Manager announced the winners of the ESF Pathways Keyworker of the Quarter Awards – internal awards applicable to those providers working on Sheffield City Council’s employment support project.

The winners were:

Targeted Support & Specialist Health – Janice Wilson, Manor & Castle Development Trust

“Our winner ticked over nicely with new Outputs but saw an enormous spike in Results, with a phenomenal 19 specialist health participants securing a job during the quarter. This compared to 3 jobs on the same contract between June and September. Many of these clients had been on the books for some time, working to overcome some complex mental health barriers to the labour market.”

Honourable mentions went to Tammy Piercey of Sharrow Community Forum and Andy Wallace of Big Ambitions.

Lead Keyworker – Hazel Bryce, Yes2Ventures

“Our winner picked up 34 new Outputs during the quarter, logged six Education & Training Results and claimed another 20 job Results, to add to her 10 from the previous quarter. Not only that, but she’s just sent through a host of referrals for the ESF Pathways Youth programme. When someone has been top of the league table for Outputs, Results, performance against profile and contract completion rate since Day 1 – and consistently achieved at such a high level – they deserve to retain the award.”

Honourable mentions went to Karen Beaumont and Anita Eales of MCDT, Amy Thompson of Big Ambitions, Anne Saleh and Zaheer Ahmed of Sharrow Community Forum and Dionne Sulph of AALFY.

Closing remarks

John Powell thanked everyone for attending the event and for the contributions made by contributors and the organising committee, before closing the event at 2pm.