HE had been predicted to get A and A* grades in his GCSEs. Instead, after falling into “the wrong company”, Jacque started smoking cannabis every day, stopped studying and then turned to crime to fund his drug habit.

His life seemed to be spiralling out of control as he was convicted of robbery and looked unlikely to find an employer willing to take a chance and give him work.

He was at risk of becoming one of the country’s long-term NEETs (Not In Employment, Education or Training) and homeless.

But incredibly, Jacque – who is still only 18 – has managed to turn his life around thanks to a small Southampton charity.

After being referred by the Wheatsheaf Trust to the Rainbow Project he has spent the past 14 months working for Osborne –one of the UK’s leading construction businesses, at its Glen Eyre road site, where new university accommodation is nearing completion.

Jacque has been working there as an administrator and they say he is a changed person and well liked.

He came to the charity on a referral order from YOS (Youth Offending Service) and, says Rainbow Project manager Trudi Thompson, he got off to a “ropey start”.

But with continued support from the Rainbow Project and mentoring he soon turned this round and was offered extra hours and responsibility.

Trudi added: “Jacque has proved to Rainbow, Osborne and more importantly himself that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to. Since Jacque started with Rainbow he has managed to rent a flat and maintain a tenancy, which is really something considering his age. He is now set to leave Osborne as his father has started his own property development business and won a new contract, so he is going to work with him full time. He is also looking to get a carpentry qualification as well, which will set him up for life. This journey has been a real life changer for Jacque, which is a true testament to what Rainbow is out to achieve.”

Jacque told the Daily Echo: “I was on a probation order before I met the Rainbow Project guys and unemployed. I was 17 and had been unemployed for a year. I’d been going for jobs but nothing came of it. I had a conviction for robbery, which happened at Halloween 2013, so employers didn’t want to know.”

Asked how he went from being an A grade student to a young offender he says: “It was just the people I was hanging round with and the way I was leading my lifestyle – and I was smoking a lot of weed. There was a lot of it in school. It just comes into your hand. I blame myself, though. People tried to help and the school (Oasis Academy) put me through drug counselling.

“I finished school and got four GCSEs and an A grade in IT. I was predicted to get As/A stars in all my lessons. Everyone had high hopes for me. Year 9 was when it started to go wrong for me and by Year 10 it was too late.” Jacque says he got hooked on smoking cannabis and says: “It was the only thing on my mind. I was smoking every day. I was definitely more lazy and then there was trying to get the money to buy the drugs – robbery, burglaries and theft from shops.”

The lowest point was the robbery, says Jacque.

“There was a group of five of us and one had a knife . . . looking back it annoys me because I didn’t have to go out that night; I wasn’t planning to. It annoys me that no one said to me what was going to go on. I knew what was happening –but I didn’t know before it happened, and then there was no way I was going to say ‘no’.”

After being convicted in January 2015 of the crime, Jacque was given an 18-month probation order.

“I did a variety of courses like employability skills. Some of it was helpful. A real eye-opener was a prison visit I was sent on. That was scary, seeing what it was like in there. There was definitely no way I was going to end up there.

“The Rainbow Project stepped in and I joined Osborne in May 2015. The Wheatsheaf Trust referred me to do pre-employment skills. They work with the Rainbow Project and referred me. It was a bit up and down at first just getting here each day. The transition from not working to going to work each day was big.”

Trudi said: “It’s fair to say he had a ropey start but we do supported work. Jim McCormick, the project manger for the site, will say if there’s an issue and I’ll come out but Jacque has done really well. His probation order got halved because he was doing so well and was complying with the order. He’s become independent and is looking after himself. It was like a switch – something just clicked and he just became focused on this is what I want to do and this is what I want to be.”

Jacque has learnt IT skills, archiving and is responsible for all the staff inductions.

“I definitely feel I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve got a lot more confident talking to people,” says Jacque.

Trudi added: “At the peak we had 200 staff here and Jacque checked them all into the site – in fact he has done over 2,000 inductions in his time here. He sorted out all their paperwork and got them on the computer.”

Jacque told theEcho: “Life has changed; I’m just going the right way now. I’m on the right track rather than going backwards. It’s allowed me to get my own place and learn life skills. I know how to manage my money and pay bills. My relationship with my dad is a lot better, but I always had a good relationship with my mum.”

Osborne’s Jim McCormick said:” It’s good to see him progress and be more confident now. He’s been a mentor to other young people with the Wheatsheaf Trust too.”

Jacque added: “The problem was peer pressure –just wanting to be one of the gang. You need to look at what you want to do in the next 10 or 15 years; do you still want to end up sitting in the corner doing drugs or do you want to get on with your life? You can enjoy yourself but there are boundaries.”

Trudi added: “The Rainbow Project is about saying I’m in a bad place and I’m going to take this opportunity. Our project is to help young people and we would like to get more employers on board to help young people. If more of them did this there would be less drugs in the street:we make a difference. “

The Rainbow Project supports disadvantaged people who because of their history have little chance of gaining employment without brokerage, support and regular mentoring. These young people typically come from care, offending or homelessness backgrounds.

The Rainbow Project secures paid work experience opportunities sponsored by local employers.

The Wheatsheaf Trust works to improve the situations of individuals and families across Hampshire, working with people to gain self respect and to contribute to society by supporting them into employment, education or training.