PEOPLE trying to overcome barriers into work are litter picking, organising charity bake sales and gardening as part of an innovative project.

Step Forward Tees Valley supports people to overcome complicated issues that might prevent them from working, including ill health, addiction or a criminal conviction.

To help boost confidence and improve skills, those people on the programme who are not yet ready for work are being encouraged to volunteer.

The groups of volunteers – calling themselves community heroes – have carried out litter picks, painting, DIY and even making Christmas decorations for community centres.

Others are working in charity shops and attractions such as the Tees Cottage Pumping Station in Darlington.

One volunteer said: “Volunteering gives me the chance to meet new people and feel useful again doing something worthwhile.

"Not only do I feel like I am helping others but I am also helping myself at the same time. I am now looking forward now instead of back."

Mark, 48, from Darlington, said: "I have health problems so I wasn’t sure what work I could do but this has shown me that I can work and getting this experience will look good on my CV.

"I know now I would like to do something that involves interacting with people, even if it’s another voluntary role.”

Helen Collins, Step Forward Tees Valley manager, said: “For some people the prospect of getting a job is a long way off, even if they do want to work.

"Volunteering can be the first step into the world of work and is invaluable experience. Just getting out and meeting people can be a big achievement.”

Step Forward Tees Valley is also working with Citizen’s Advice Darlington, and Changing Lives, to help organisations see the value volunteers can bring to them.

Step Forward Tees Valley is joint-funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the European Social Fund.

Anyone who thinks Step Forward Tees Valley could help them can call 01325-256999 Ext 135 or go to

The scheme is organised by the Northern Inclusion Consortium, an established partnerhsip of four of the North-East's largest charities, Mental Health Concern, DISC, a charity which helps the excluded, Groundwork North East and Changing Lives and the Northern Inclusion Consortium. Step Forward is based in Darlington but also covers Teesside.