Since its foundation in 1976, The Prince’s Trust has supported over a million young people aged 11-30 through a range of courses, grants and mentoring support. The Trust’s work assists young people to improve skills, increase self-confidence and helps them to move into jobs, education, training and volunteering. David Williams, from the Trust’s Delivery Partnership and Volunteering Team, explores how partnering with Westminster Abbey helps fulfil these aims.
6 minute read
In 2014, The Prince’s Trust began a new, exciting and highly valued partnership with Westminster Abbey. Since then, the Abbey has supported hundreds of young people participating on the Prince’s Trust’s Team Programme.
Over the course of our partnership, Westminster Abbey has run World of Work Days for groups and provided work placements. Since the first Prince’s Trust group visit in October 2014, the Abbey’s World of Work Days have been organised by wonderful representatives from the Abbey’s Learning and HR teams. These sessions have supported young people from across London with groups from Brixton, Westminster, Kensington, Wandsworth, Haringey, Bromley, Barking, Walthamstow and Carshalton taking part.
The Team Programme is a 12 week personal development course for groups of young people aged 16 to 25, run by colleges and other delivery partners of the Trust, where young people are encouraged to take ownership of a variety of projects and activities. During the course, young people take part in a residential trip and two weeks of work experience. In addition to this, the young people plan, fundraise for and run projects in the local community. The programme also supports young people in moving on to the next stages in their lives offering careers advice and highlighting educational opportunities, as well as offering guidance on CV writing, interview skills and applying for jobs and college courses.
In the majority of cases, it has been the young people’s first visit to the Abbey. Upon arrival there is often a mixture of excitement and apprehension, with some of the young people wondering if this famous building might be too grand and imposing for them to enter. However, they are immediately put at ease by the warm welcome they receive from the Abbey staff including meeting one of the senior clergy who officially welcomes the young people to the Abbey. Although the visits are very informal, they are also meticulously planned, with the Abbey adapting the day’s arrangements to the young people’s different career aspirations.
Groups are given an introduction to the Abbey’s long history and the different types of jobs that people have there, followed by a special guided tour. These tours are perfectly paced to engage with the young people, with groups visiting the Coronation Chair, the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, Poets’ Corner, The Lady Chapel and the Statues of Modern Martyrs as well as some of the thousands of tombs and memorials. One feature which is always of particular interest is The Queen’s Window which often sparks debate amongst the young people.
I learnt that there can be jobs inside of the Abbey...like cleaning the walls, cafeteria jobs and working in the office and more.
This is far more than simply a historical tour. The time in the Abbey allows the young people to not just learn more about its unique place in the nation’s history but also that it is a place of daily prayer, a place of welcome to visitors from around the world and to those of all faiths and none. The young people discover that the Abbey is an evolving institution whose workforce come from a wide range of backgrounds and previous career experiences. Viewing many of the different tombs and monuments also prompts discussion not just around their historical significance but also their context in the present day.
The young people also visit some of the different working areas of the Abbey and meet some of the people employed there. These include the Abbey’s Marshals, Beadles (security), Audio Guide Assistants and staff working in the Abbey shop, the works yard and the garden, as well as office-based roles such as the Abbey’s IT and Finance teams. Without exception, the Abbey staff are always welcoming and happy to spend time talking to the young people, answering questions about their jobs, explaining what has been important to them in their careers and what they enjoy the most about their work as well as some of the challenges.
It is always extremely beneficial for groups to meet people from so many different backgrounds and career experiences. Towards the end of the day, the young people have more in-depth discussions with the Learning Team to hear about their career paths and personal experiences which many of the young people can relate to.
The young people also have an opportunity to tell the Abbey staff about their time on the Team Programme and all their achievements on the course to date. Even after the day has finished, the Abbey staff are always pleased to hear news of their further achievements and on occasion have even been able to attend the End of Team Presentations which take place in the final week of the course.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Learning Team resourcefully designed an alternative online tour. This provides the Trust with the opportunity to invite young people from further afield than London to attend.
Our tour-guides gave us loads of information about when the Abbey was established, its prior uses, along with the current use. To wrap the session up we learned about different roles, and work opportunities the Abbey has to offer. We all thoroughly enjoyed the session and didn't realise how many employability opportunities there are.
Joe - Plymouth, Prince’s Trust Team 256
In addition to the many young people who have attended World of Work sessions to date, a further number have spent a fortnight’s work placement at the Abbey as part of their time on the Team Programme. These placements have not only provided excellent work experience, but also a valuable insight into working at such an established and high profile institution and an experience of a busy commute into central London.
A notable success includes one young person who so impressed the Abbey’s IT staff during his placement, that he was later offered an apprenticeship and then employment. He is now an established member of the Abbey’s IT team.
At first glance, a visit to a 1,000 year-old institution may not be the obvious opportunity for young people to gain advice and guidance on jobs and careers; however, with opportunities from retail to stone masonry and with the support provided by Westminster Abbey staff, this always proves to be one of the most popular and valuable experiences for the Prince’s Trust young people. We look forward to continuing such a fulfilling partnership long into the future.
There is so much to discover in the centuries of history and in the stories of the thousands of people connected to Westminster Abbey.
Some barriers may be felt due to the age, size, faith or power linked with the building, but it is a space that belongs to all of us.
The doors are open and we're ready to welcome you in and help your group uncover the Abbey that will inspire them.
Why not get in touch with Aaron and Zahra to explore opportunities for young people to engage with the Abbey?
It’s a privilege to live and work here – the Abbey really is the heart of the country and its history.