I am delighted to see that the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) has celebrated the tenth anniversary of its youth and community engagement scheme, the Phoenix Project. This is a sterling example of the Big Society in action
During a ceremony at the Maritime Museum in Falmouth, fire service staff, partner organisations and past course participants gathered to mark the occasion.
Since 2002 more than 1,000 young people aged between 13 and 17 years old have taken part in courses at fire stations around Cornwall aimed at improving self esteem, communication skills and team work. Participants are then enrolled onto a six month mentoring programme with the Phoenix team.
During the celebration event, Des Tidbury, Chief Fire Officer of CFRS, spoke of his pride in the Phoenix team: “Cornwall was one of the first fire services to introduce the Phoenix Project, having witnessed a similar scheme run in Tyne and Wear. Firefighters are great role models and the team work and self discipline our courses teach can help redirect what can often be challenging behaviour.
“Since 2002 the programme has gone from strength to strength and is a testament to the hard work of our dedicated Phoenix team. I am delighted we are able to celebrate the tenth anniversary – the programme has continually evolved over the last 10 years and has had a positive impact on the lives of many people.”
“The Phoenix Project fitted in with the needs of the school and, most importantly, the needs of our students” said Kerry Elliott, a teacher from Richard Lander School in Truro. “The first course we took part in five years ago, brought together a group of teenage boys who were heading in the direction of joining the ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ statistic when they left school. It was clear early intervention was needed.
“The course instilled an enthusiasm in the boys that I’d never seen before and this, and the follow up mentoring, led to improvement in grades and behaviour. Without the Phoenix Project, life would have been very different for this group of boys.”
One of the biggest cheers at the ceremony came for 15-year old Erin, a pupil from Richard Lander School, who spoke to the audience about a course she took part in, targeted at students who were in need of a boost to their self esteem.
“The thought of going on the course as the only girl with a group of boys was a horrible one and it was really hard working with people I didn’t want to work with,” said Erin. “As the week went on I realised I didn’t have any confidence and that I needed to control my emotions, especially when I was feeling nervous or angry.
“I’m really glad I was able to take part in the course – it has made me believe in myself.”
The success of the project has led to a number of ‘spin off’ courses run in partnership with a range of organisations including Job Centre Plus, the Probation Service and Cornwall Council’s Children’s, Schools and Families department. Now the Phoenix team offer tailored courses for jobseekers and single parents. Courses are also run in partnership with the Probation Service to help set ex-offenders on the right path.
Carolyn Webster from Jobcentre Plus, which funds the ‘Phoenix Works’ courses for jobseekers, said: “Phoenix Works has become a great push that really adds to the support we can give people in their journey back to work. We see a dramatic change in such a short space of time with an increase in motivation and a desire to succeed.”
“The Phoenix Project is a great example of how organisations can work together to improve opportunities for people,” said Councillor Lance Kennedy, Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Community Safety and Public Protection. “Similar schemes run by other fire and rescue services have seen their funding cut over recent years due to the budget pressures affecting all public services. However, I am pleased CFRS continues to recognise the value of this scheme.”