Teen mum’s mission to help others overcome obstacles

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“I can and I will” - this is the life motto of one Barnsley woman who, having overcome so many of life’s knocks and obstacles, now supports local young people so they can overcome and avoid the same and many other problems for themselves.

Gaynor Cross, 37, set up Jenga Training in Grimethorpe in 2014 to support young mothers and young people that are long term unemployed. Those that they help are often hard to reach and not in education, employment or training (NEET) when they come to Jenga Training for support.

A recent report from the Work Foundation showed that unemployment among 16-24 year olds in Barnsley was 25 per cent and that those leaving school with only GCSEs were twice as likely to be unemployed as those with better qualifications.

That young mothers as even less likely to gain these higher qualifications as they have often been forced out of education due to their circumstances, struck a chord with Gaynor.

“I became a mother at the age of fifteen but I refused to lead a life that depended on benefits and went to Barnsley College and got myself a foundation degree in social sciences and following that a degree in youth and community work.

“I set up Jenga Training C.IC in 2014 to improve the prospects of teenage parents, sometimes all that is needed is a bit of encouragement to help yourself.”

The training centre offers accredited beauty training courses as well as supporting each student to find employment following their training, and helps them to improve their maths and English skills which are so key when looking for jobs. Gaynor and her team recognised that there was a need for flexible and more accessible training in Barnsley, as often college courses require long time commitments, expense and travel. For young mothers with caring responsibilities this can often be too much of a commitment to take on.

Jenga Training recently opened their Community Salon, First Class, where learners can gain work experience in a real work environment as well as receiving their training.

Gaynor continued: “The salon is going to help all of our learners to gain real hands on experience, and will combine classroom learning with practical experience with paying customers. Each of our learners if they complete our 10 week courses come away accredited with a certificate which means they can start their journey into employment or their own enterprise.

“I have lived in Barnsley all my life and have overcome so many obstacles along the way. The team here are trying are best to improve the lives of young people in Barnsley, many of which are facing the same difficulties that I have been through myself.”

Local grant making charity, South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation, have supported the training centre with a grant award to help them set up the Community Salon.

Chief executive Ruth Willis said: “We were so happy to support Jenga Training CIC because they clearly understand the problems currently being faced by young people in Barnsley and are more than prepared to help tackle them. Having local, friendly support is so important to people who are struggling as it gives them the confidence to come forward and look for help.

“SYCF offers grant funding to organisations working for community benefit just like Jenga, all across Barnsley and South Yorkshire. For 30 years we have been supporting community groups with grant funding so I would encourage more Barnsley community organisations to come forward and see if they can get support from us too.”

The Salon is based at the Acorn Centre, Grimethorpe, and offers beauty treatments such as acrylic nails, manicures and lash extensions at affordable prices and is open throughout the week.

Gaynor added: “By coming to First Class you are helping our trainees learn but are also treating yourself to a bit of luxury at a really good price, so please come by.

“Before I started Jenga I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but I haven’t let it stop me. At the moment we currently offer our services to teenage parents and the long term unemployed but I want to soon be able to offer the programme to people with disabilities. If I am able to do this job and train these young people when I am disabled, then why can’t others with disabilities see if they can do our training too?”

She also said that Jenga Training and the salon hopes to gradually work with more and more trainees in the area, expanding their services as both grow in future.