Interview - Liz Sewell

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Liz Sewell, founder and director of Belina, a project that works with parents and advisers in children's centres.

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Programmes include Take Three Days and the Parents' Job Club. Liz is also the former chief executive of the lone parent charity Gingerbread.

What is it about children's centres that makes them such a key part in helping parents get back to work?

Children's centres are the best place for employment programmes. Parents like them and are willing to go there, whereas Job Centres can seem quite intimidating and it's not always easy to take your children in.

Children's centres are right at the heart of it, because they know where parents are in terms of looking for a job. For example, some people won't need much support while others will take two or three years to build up their computer skills or their English if it is not their first language.

I started the Take Three Days project in children's centres, and now the Government has caught up and is saying that children's centres build parents' confidence and motivation.

How can centres help parents?

Parents on benefits have to be actively seeking work when their youngest child turns five and soon they will need to be preparing for work when their youngest child is three. Parents want to, but often don't know how to.

A bit of free childcare can often make a real difference in encouraging someone to move forward. On our projects, we run a creche at the children's centre or we use childminders. Just three sessions can help a parent feel confident enough their child will be happy in childcare that they feel able to move in to work. By day three, parents actually start to feel that they could go back to work.

We've been running a programme with Masbro Children's Centre in Hammersmith, which shows the positive benefits of being in a group. People get support from each other and realise they are not the only person who has these issues. They love the peer support. The blossoming of cooking classes, sewing circles, basic skills courses, IT and English classes all improve parents' confidence and employability.

Tell us about Take Three Days.

On Day 1, it's about the parent and their ambitions. We have a speaker who might be a parent who has returned to work. On Day 2, we'll talk about the process - doing a CV, preparing for an interview and how to look for a job in a recession. Day 3 is about planning what to do next. We give out certificates and it's quite uplifting. We ask people to write a letter to themselves and we post it. The say they find it really motivating when they receive it a few days later.

  • Belina is running training for advisers on lone parents and work in London and Birmingham in October. For more information, email info@belinaconsulting.co.uk.
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