How Arhag and Olmec’s tenants’ job scheme has been extended to BME women

On a recent intensive course to help BME women get into meaningful work, we met an Afghan woman who, at first, barely had the confidence to speak to her classmates on the course.


The woman was referred to us by one of our partners as a victim of domestic violence living in a hostel. She was isolated, knowing no-one in the UK but her husband, whom she was fleeing.

By the end of the week, she had developed a new-found confidence, made new friends, and began exchanging phone numbers with women on the course.

She has a new CV and a set of skills to help her look for work. This client has since found a part-time job, saying: “I found the interview process really easy after Rise and am really thankful to you.”

These are the kind of transformations we now deliver on a regular basis through our RISE into Employment scheme, which we set up with our partner Arhag Housing Association and is now in its third year.

When we launched the scheme, it was focused on helping Arhag tenants get back to work in order to be prepared for the changes brought by Universal Credit (UC). This still remains essential, but by being in work, the more resilient they are to the impact of the changes wrought by the introduction of UC.

But such has been the success of RISE that after an initial expansion by Olmec and Arhag to offer places to BME London Housing Associations, we are now offering specific courses to BME women across the capital.

This is due to £1m in funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Tampon Tax Fund (TTF), which Olmec, Arhag, Praxis, IKWRO, and Migrants’ Rights Network successfully bid for earlier this year.

While each of the partners have their specialist projects, Olmec is using some of this money for courses tailored for BME women over two years.

The Afghan woman’s story is hardly unique. Not everyone comes from such a challenging background, but we want all of our students to leave with the same underlying skills.

Fundamentals such as writing CVs, application forms, interview practice, business attire, and how you behave in a workplace are a given.

But RISE is about so much more. It’s about empowering, building confidence and making people feel self worth, helping to interact socially and making friendships – instilling these qualities is equally as important.

Time after time we hear from participants that this is the key outcome from the course.

One female Arhag tenant had worked for years as a voluntary teaching assistant in a school.

She did not have the self-belief to see that the work she was doing was of huge value and that she was offering an important service to the school.

She completed the course and found herself in paid work almost immediately.

This is the startling thing about the course and perhaps why we were given NCFE certification after the first cohort graduated in 2016.

(We’ve also won two prestigious awards and been nominated for another.)

We are finding that a steady 60% of our students are finding work either during or soon after completing RISE, which lasts for one day a week for 10 weeks.

Similar courses, run by much bigger and better funded organisations, are seeing results at half that level.

But it is not all about the volume of jobs, RISE is also about quality.

It’s about helping people find careers, jobs they want to get out of bed to do, to help others and to feel like valued members of society.

So, we’ve seen recent outcomes like a posting with the Home Office, sexual health worker, operational director and an employment adviser.

One graduate from the first course worked for a time as a housing officer undertook training in immigration advice, and now helps run RISE.

This is exactly the progression we are seeing and it’s what we want to encouraged and expanded.