BY YANN TEAR
Street cleaning company Veolia has earned praise for recruiting around 100 homeless people to its workforce since it began trialling a Road to Work scheme two years ago.
The high-viz jackets worn by company workers are a familiar sight around Westminster, and increasingly they are offering a way out for those who find themselves out on the streets.
Veolia specialises in recycling and waste management for businesses and households, street cleansing and the maintenance of parks and open spaces.
In partnership with Westminster City Council, and working with central London homeless charity The Connection, Veolia has designed and piloted a return to work scheme for the homeless and vulnerable, which combines specialised support services like counselling, housing and advice, with flexible workplace arrangements.
Once employed with Veolia, candidates have access to the full range of training and development opportunities offered by the company.
Veolia was recently awarded with the London Healthy Workplace Charter accreditation and aims to provide fulfilling careers, and a positive, healthy working environment for all its employees.
Since the pilot launched in 2017, scores of homeless and long-term unemployed people have been offered workplace opportunities in the form of street cleansing and admin roles.
Candidates are supported with modified work hours to assist with the transition, and are given on and off the job support, to ensure the candidate has every opportunity to succeed.
The firm itself is very proud of its Road to Work programme, which both the council and beneficiaries of the scheme have hailed as life-changing.
Helder Branco, senior contract manager for Veolia, said: “The Road to Work programme is very close to my heart and one that I’m proud to say is working, and making a difference to those in need.
“The success of the trial is a reflection of the collaboration and strong relationships we have with Westminster City Council and The Connection, which allows specialised support services for the individual.
“Due to the size of our workforce, we have the potential to offer regular workplace opportunities and hope to bring a significant number of people through the scheme.
“However, we recognise the circumstances of vulnerable people entering the role mean they will need significant support to succeed.
Our partnership approach makes the long-term success of the individual a priority.”
One typical success story from Road to Work, whose name has been withheld on request, said he lost his job working at a pub in Camden and could not meet his rental payments.
“Within a few short weeks I’d lost my job and home, and found myself living between shelters and the streets,” he said. “After three months, the shelter I stayed at presented an opportunity to work with Veolia as a street cleanser.
“I had limited experience but I was determined to get back on my feet, whatever it took. I had always been a hard worker, and despite my current situation I wanted to take the first opportunity I had to get back into work.
“It’s hard to believe that I’m now coming up to a full year at Veolia. I’m happy with the environment I work in, the people are friendly and have shown no judgement for how I came to be here.
I also have hopes to further my skills and progress within the company in the near future.
I rent a studio flat and am in a position where I can support myself financially again, which is very rewarding. I want those struggling to know there is hope and opportunities for a better life.”
Cllr Andrew Smith, Westminster City Council member for housing services, said: “Sometimes all people need is an opportunity, in an environment where they will be supported.
Veolia are making a real tangible difference to people’s lives. “We want Westminster to be a place where we try out ideas like this one, which can then be rolled out across the country and help more people.”
Veolia will join Westminster City Council at an upcoming job fair, where London’s homeless and vulnerable can meet directly with firms looking for staff, as well as a team of advisers offering tips to job seekers about live vacancies.
The fair will be held on Wednesday, May 1, at the Landsec offices, 80 Victoria Street, between noon and 3pm.