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In the first of our Open Talent retrospectives, the Foyer Federation’s Amanda Watson talks to Karen Venables about how the programme has impacted attitudes, service delivery and young people’s lives in Doncaster Foyer.

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Karen Venables talks Open Talent

Before Open Talent came along, Doncaster Foyer had a very traditional approach to supporting young people to transition to independent living.

“It was quite restrictive in terms of ideas and creativity and flair”, explained Foyer Manager, Karen Venables. The young people who were coming into the Foyer would access our services, but it always felt difficult to get them to engage in the programmes we had on offer. It did feel like we needed to do something different if we were going to really get the young people to make some positive life choices and set their goals higher than they were”.

As well as a rigid structure, Karen said ‘talent’ was something that wasn’t talked about very readily.

“Before Open Talent we didn’t really look at young people as unique individuals who may have a particular talent. We hadn’t really considered that if an investment was made in a young person’s talent it would yield a better result for that young person.”

“For us, as a service it was about really opening our eyes to what we could offer young people and to really look outside the box at those opportunities. It took our blinkers off a little bit in how creative we could be in working with young people.”

The programme really marked a shift away from traditional support-based approaches, and towards a asset-based model informed by advantaged thinking. To launch Open Talent in their service, the Foyer residents held a talent show as their local church with beat boxing, singing, violin performances and more.

“I think as a Manager that was my first experience of seeing young people with individual talents – I was actually really amazed at how creative and talented they were. Although that show was around musical and theatrical talent it did get the conversation flowing around ‘what is talent’? “

Karen cites the journey of one Resident, Linzi:

“Linzi has been with us from the start of the journey and we’ve seen her grow as a young person and she’s taken advantage of all the different opportunities that we’ve offered and she’s set up her own t-shirt printing business. She’s moved out of the Foyer now and gotten her own accommodation. Seeing Linzi go through the programme and really grow with it has been great. “

And it’s not only residents who have come ahead in leaps and bounds:

“In terms of staff recognising that they’ve got talent, I remember when we had the Ignite day and staff were really quite anxious about that, one member of staff said to me that she was actually dreading going but at the end she realised that it’s ok to try something that you’ve never done before, step out of your comfort zone and laugh at yourself.”

As well as changes in residents and staff, the physical space has undergone a transformation:

“The actual foyer service is more of a vibrant and energised and colourful place with a great atmosphere. We developed a talent room as part of the Working Assets project and it was about having that very creative and positive space. There’s also a relaxation space and the windows have positive words in them, so when people from the local community drive past the building all they see is these really positive words, like’ growth’ ,’thrive’ and ‘invest’ and I think for the local community that really says something about what’s been going on in that building”.

Karen  concedes the programme wasn’t always easy-going.

“At times it has been challenging , but staff have really seen a difference in the service we deliver and a project worker had said to me  ‘coming to work Is so much more enjoyable under Open Talent’ because they’re having the opportunity to get involved in project which they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Karen said Open Talent is now a way of life at the Foyer, something so ingrained in their very essence.

“We came to the end of OTSDP and there were some amazing achievements and it’s left a way of working with young people that we’re not going to lose now. We will just continue to see more and more opportunities for young people and we’ll just ensure that we keep making investments in individuals.”


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