“Working here, I feel completely different…”

Recently, the Prince’s Trust asked 2025 young people how they felt since the Covid – 19 pandemic. Almost half of the people they interviewed described feeling hopeless about the future.

Mental health in young people is at an all-time low and has been widely reported in the press. For many 18 – 26 year olds, their future looks bleak. This is especially acute in areas of social deprivation.

At FareShare South West, we deal with this first-hand. An inflexible education system which struggles to accommodate those who learn differently means that many bright young people with practical, logistical brains, are left behind. This could see them fall behind at school, fail key qualifications or be excluded from mainstream education. Longer term, young people who don’t thrive at school may struggle to find work and become disengaged or disaffected.

Given a practical, hands-on role and one-to-one support and things often change. At FareShare South West, we offer live work experience and training to young people. Our team identifies an individual’s strengths and tailors opportunities and support to match. We make it a priority to build their confidence and self-worth, and they flourish as a result.

Take Rio who, until a year ago, had spent the best part of two years in his bedroom. When we first spoke to him, he had chronic social anxiety, was feeling depressed and had decided not to return to school,

“I didn’t leave the house once during lockdown. Most days, I stayed in bed till 5pm.”

On top of this, Rio had stepped away from his friends who were making destructive life choices that clashed with how he wanted to live. He found himself at a crossroads; stick with the people he’d known forever, continue breaking the law and most likely end up within the justice system or find an alternative. His mother struggled to see him withdraw and took action. Together, they made an appointment at the Job Centre. It was there that Rio learnt about FareShare South West’s Volunteer programme. Rio’s lack of confidence meant he didn’t want to deal with customers but as part of the warehouse team, Rio could work independently, alongside others. He knew he’d be happier behind the scenes, doing something practical.

Rio started at FareShare South West in January 2022. Amy, FareShare’s Volunteer Development Manager remembers his first day:

“I just wanted him to turn up, that’s all that mattered. I knew if he made it here on day one, he stood a chance of turning things around.”

Gradually, Rio has found his sense of self. He’s clever, hard-working and easy to talk to. A healthy working environment, a job that helps other people, and the opportunity to learn transferable skills, has helped him come alive.

As Rio says: “When I first started working for FareShare I didn’t have any self-confidence, belief or any sort of direction I wanted to go. Being here has allowed me to get a grasp of how the working world functions, but also opened my eyes to how important places such as food banks are. Overall, it’s been a great place to build my confidence by meeting different people every day and has also taught me about things that everyone should know about.”

With the support of our friends and partners at Rathbone Greenbank, who recognise the value of programmes such as these, Rio is now a permanent member of staff at FareShare South West.

He is popular with his colleagues, and a hit with the staff and volunteers that run the charities and community groups he delivers food to every week.

As part of his role, Rio has gained a number of food and logistics qualifications. Now, he’s ready to explore other personal and professional development opportunities with support from his line manager and our employability expert. And it doesn’t stop there, Rio uses his own experience and the knowledge he’s gained to acts as mentor and role model to the new intake of young people into our warehouse.

Watch Rio’s short video here