HAMPSHIRE residents have been celebrating their employment success stories.

A conference at the Hilton Hotel at the Ageas Bowl highlighted the achievements of participants in the Solent Jobs Programme over the last two years.

Focused on those who had been out of work due to recognised health conditions, the jobs programme engaged with 1,153 people with complex barriers to work such as depression, anxiety and autism.

It linked them with 793 local businesses that the programme engaged with, resulting in 354 new job starts.

The conference shared the findings of the programme with partners, policymakers and local stakeholders to highlight how participants had returned to work, with a view to promoting best practice for future programmes and legacy projects.

Participants on the programme spoke about their experiences and how the Solent Jobs Programme had bought them renewed hope, social networks and financial stability.

Cllr Darren Paffey, cabinet member for aspiration, schools and life long learning at Southampton City Council, opened the conference.

He said: “The council was delighted to work with Portsmouth City Council and the Wheatsheaf Trust to deliver this innovative and successful programme of support to people with long term and complex barriers to work.

“The results of this study prove that an intensive and flexible programme, responsive to local needs and integrated with local services, maximises outcomes.

“Moving into work is of great benefit to an individual, in terms of financial security, social interactions and improved health, but the benefits do not stop there; as cities, we also benefit from healthier communities, a more robust labour market and reduced demand on public services.”

The programme, part funded by the European Social Fund and Southampton and Portsmouth City Deal ran from 2016-18. It promoted partnership working, especially between employment and health services.

The participants were 713 men and 440 women and 35 per cent had been unemployed for six years or more. All had a health condition, 52 per cent had multiple conditions and 49 per cent had a mental health difficulty. Thirty-seven per cent were over 50 and 80 per cent were living in a workless household.

One participant said: “I was in a shell for over 10 years ... and no-one could get in…. I can phone (my adviser) any time and she phones me back and I can ask her anything. If I’m not sure about anything, she will work for me to help me.”

One said: “I was petrified because I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t worked on a shop floor for years. But the people there, they’ve lovely, they actually made me welcome and it was lovely.”

Cllr Suzy Horton, cabinet member for education at Portsmouth City Council, said: “For people who want to work but can’t, for health reasons, programmes like this can be life-changing.

“As well as earning, they feel connected to the community again and improve their sense of self-worth.”