Local heroes

Winning the HSJ 2004 Recruitment and Retention Award means an awful lot to David Taylor, head of regeneration at University Hospital Birmingham foundation trust. And although they might not know it yet, it also means a lot to disadvantaged groups in the West Midlands.

The ACTIVATE project (Assisting Communities to Identify Vocational Areas of Training and Employment) helps people with little prospect of securing work to turn their lives around. The long-term unemployed, black and minority ethnic groups and lone parents are among those who can receive three weeks' job readiness training. They then go on a further three weeks' work experience, followed by paid work placements and NVQ units.

The project is co-ordinated by Birmingham and the Black Country strategic health authority workforce development directorate.

University Hospital Birmingham takes the lead on finance and training in the multi-agency partnership that also includes University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire trust and South Staffordshire Healthcare trust.

'Winning meant an incredible amount to the trainers and trainees, ' says Mr Taylor. 'It was a real recognition of the effort that disadvantaged people had put in to get employment and qualifications.

And as a healthcare provider there is little more you can do to improve a person's well-being than help them get a job.' The rewards of the scheme have also been felt across the broader social spectrum. Working with disadvantaged communities has helped get health messages across to groups that often experience inequalities. Members of local South Asian and refugee populations and those with drug or alcohol problems have all benefited.

'What happens is that health training becomes linked with health awareness. The profile and standing of the NHS is raised and we are invited through doors that would otherwise take much longer to open, ' says Mr Taylor.

'Lots of people outside the organisation view the NHS as insular. The scheme has shown that this doesn't always have to be the case. It is rare to win an award like this. I really wouldn't underestimate its impact.'