Francesca (or Checka as she likes to be known) had been out of school for a while when she was offered a place with the ‘for young people’ organisation, which helps young people who are out of employment or education with CVs and other support.

“I’d dropped out of my GCSEs and I had no idea what I wanted to do. Then I heard about Grand Union Housing Group’s Project Mackenzie.”

Project Mackenzie is run in partnership with The Akabusi Charitable Trust, founded by former Olympian Kriss Akabusi MBE, supporting young people in their transition to employment. Participants take part in a four-week course to help them become ‘workplace ready’.

Checka adds: “Kriss Akabusi is an amazing man! The course was very engaging and very varied. It wasn’t just telling you about how to get jobs. There were guest speakers and lots of advice.

“Before the course I was so quiet, so cynical. Now I’m informed, encouraged and hopeful.”

Nicola King, Grand Union’s Youth Participation Officer had asked Checka what she liked to do and she had replied “filing” (and added “How sad is that?!”) So when Francesca Fitch, Town Clerk at Shefford Town Council, asked Nicola if she knew of anyone wanting work experience, Nicola knew just the person!

Checka, 17, began her work experience in June 2019 and in November started an 18-month Business Administration apprenticeship with Bedford College funded by the Town Council.

“Six months down the line I can see how my role has really developed. I’ve been shadowing Francesca, who’s really lovely, and I’ve been learning lots. It’s a great place to work.

“I now run the administration for the local cemetery and cataloguing historical graves. I also organise the various notice boards, help with organising events and run the social media accounts.

“I’ve done two training courses, the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM) and Register of Play Inspectors International (RPII) – routine play inspection.

“My ambition is to gain experience and to see where it leads, but I’m excited that I’ve been offered an AAT accounting course for when I complete my apprenticeship.”

When she’s not at work (where she shares her office with the Mayor of Shefford, Paul Mackin), Checka has been learning to drive, as well as enjoying her hobbies of walking and reading psychology, fantasy and science-fiction books.

Karen Nicholson, Grand Union’s Community Investment Manager, said: “Project MacKenzie is more than employability and training, although that it is part of it and an outcome. At the core of the project we aim to give those young people involved opportunity to see their potential and give them space, time and support to fulfil it.

“Watching, hearing and learning about the journeys the young people have gone on is inspiring. The skill of the project is that it is carefully and individually tailored to meet each groups of young people’s needs to ensure that the group is engaged from start to finish.”

Paul Mackin, the Mayor of Shefford, said: “Shefford Town Council took the decision to offer work experience to a suitable young person. Due to the nature of work carried out in the Town Clerk’s Office we had to ensure that whoever came to us could be relied on to respect the confidentiality needed in such an office. Checka was recommended to us by Nicola King who runs a variety of youth activity projects in and around Shefford, including Project Mackenzie.

“Checka joined us and immediately fitted into work routines. The job of the Town Clerk is very varied and covers a wide range of activities. One of Checka’s tasks was to bring some kind of order to our burial records for our community cemetery. She amazed us all with her work ethic and ability to adapt to the different activities that the Town Clerk is expected to deal with.

“A year ago we decided to employ an Assistant Clerk to help with the Town Clerk’s work load. At the same time we wanted to provide an employment opportunity for a young person so we combined the two objectives and took Checka on, on a full time basis as she studies for a Level 3 Apprenticeship in Business Administration.

“It does seem to be working out very well. Checka is gaining confidence rapidly and has adapted extremely well to the range of tasks we have presented to her.”

So what does Checka think of Project Mackenzie?

“I’d absolutely recommend it to others. It has taught me that there are non-conventional ways to live my life and that’s ok.

“Before Project Mackenzie I was shy, scared and quiet. I couldn’t have imagined that life could be like this.

“It has genuinely changed my life.”