THE first big sponsor has stepped forward to back a scheme helping Hampshire graduates hit by the pandemic and recession.

Casella Family Brands – the family-owned company behind Yellow Tail wines – has pledged £10,000 to the Mind the Gap campaign.

Mind the Gap is an effort by the social enterprise Winchester Creatives to provide training, apprenticeships and job opportunities in the creative industries.

Kevin Chinn, marketing director for Casella Family Brands (Europe) Ltd, said: “We were very impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the crowdfunding campaign, and as a values-driven, family-run business which recognises the support that creatives offer us in order to help with our marketing plans, we wanted to do something to help.

“So, we have sponsored a Winchester Creatives apprentice which in turn will help us to help us identify new opportunities in the wine category and markets from a different and fresh perspective.”

The sponsorship will provide a living wage for the next six months for one of the five recent graduates that Mind the Gap seeks to help.

Winchester Creatives is now seeking four more businesses to help fund its programme.

More than £6,000 was raised through a crowdfunding campaign in the summer towards the Mind the Gap campaign, while Winchester City Council provided £2,000 through its Projects That Matter grant scheme. The money raised so far will provide training and mentoring to creative students across Hampshire.

Winchester Creatives was founded by Richard Coope and Dan Benham to help local graduates to get in and get on in the creative industry.

Mr Coope, who also runs the Winchester creative agency Brightful, said: “Covid-19 has left a hole in the futures of Hampshire’s young creatives.

“According to BBC Panorama and The Resolution Foundation, the UK level of unemployment has risen sharply, leaving a million under-25s out of a job for the foreseeable future. We’re doing something proactive to change this.

“Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. We now need Winchester’s fine institutions and businesses to step-up and sponsor us to deliver the full social impact we hope to achieve. It’s about giving our local young people hope.”

Dan Benham said: “We’re delighted to have Casella Family Brands (Europe) Ltd as a sponsor and for them to help our initiative. And clearly there is a lot of community support for our local initiative helping young creatives during this difficult time. We hope to make a practical difference to people’s lives and help them get into much-needed jobs.

“Very often creative students are required to work for free in order to gain experience, and during the pandemic and recession this just seems to add insult to injury. We hope Winchester Creatives can go some way towards breaking down this barrier to entry.”