A pioneering scheme will provide a launchpad into work for 120 unemployed people over the next four years.

The Stepping Stones project goes live this spring after being kick-started by a cash boost of almost £250,000 from the Big Lottery Fund.

It will provide high quality volunteering opportunities to help set 30 people a year until 2021 on the road to permanent employment.

The scheme is being masterminded by Abergele based Creating Enterprise, a venture set up by the Cartrefi Conwy housing association to benefit its tenants which has already created 40 jobs and founded a unique Employment Academy.

Stepping Stones, which in itself will mean three new jobs to help run it, will give all eligible Cartrefi Conwy tenants the chance to hone their work skills as volunteers before having the option to join the academy on a 12-month paid contract when they will get training, support and mentoring equipping them for permanent work.

One of the academy’s early success stories is young Rhos on Sea man Owain Jones who has just plugged into a promising new career with a major electrical retailer.

Sharon Jones, the Business and Partnership Director of Creating Enterprise, said: “We’re delighted to have been awarded £245,295 from the Big Lottery Fund for this four-year project which is unique in North Wales for the way it will operate.

“The project aims to support social housing tenants into volunteering and employment within their own communities in order to reduce isolation.

“Tenants will be able to take the first step towards employment through volunteering with the Employment Academy in a work stream suitable to their needs, which could be anything from administration and community involvement to communications.

“There will be volunteering opportunities with both Creating Enterprise and Cartrefi Conwy which can be for periods from half a day to three or four days a week.

“Whilst volunteering they will gain both practical and employability skills. Once they feel ready to take the next step they will be given the opportunity to move on to paid employment through the Employment Academy for up to one year when a vacancy becomes available.

“During these 12 months they will be supported to find employment with local companies or to move on to further education.”

Sharon added: “We’re currently recruiting three new staff to run the project and we’re aiming for a launch date in April.

“It’s for anyone who is looking to get into volunteering as a first step and permanent employment as a second step.

“As the name of the project suggests, it aims to provide vital stepping stones into work. It’s a great opportunity  for people to work as volunteers, make new friends and gain valuable experience which will look good on their CV.”

Owain Jones, 33, says his life has been transformed by the Employment Academy which has just helped him land a job as a sales advisor with Currys PC World in Llandudno.

The academy has so far worked with a total of nine people and he is the second of them to get a job after previously being unemployed for almost two years.

Back in 2014 he faced a fruitless round of job hunting when he tried to find fresh employment after taking time off to look after his newborn son.

But things took a turn for the better when he signed up for the Employment Academy.

He said: “I’d been working for a time with Crest Co-operative doing property clearances but I left to become a stay-at-home dad helping my partner Kate look after our new baby son, Fletcher, who is now two and a half.

“As he got a little older I decided it was time to go back to work but really struggled to find anything. I applied for about 20 jobs in retail, delivery driving and admin but I either got turned down flat or didn’t even get a reply when I sent in my CV.

“I then heard about the new Employment Academy, applied for one of its contracts and was lucky enough to be taken on.

“I worked mainly with the property clearance team, getting homes ready for new tenants to move into, which is what I used to do.”

Owain’s new set of skills were put into action late last year when he applied for the sales job at Currys PC World.

“Thanks to the help I received from the academy I went into the interview with real confidence and was lucky enough to get the job.

“I enjoy meeting people of all sorts and aim to go on up the promotion ladder if I can.

“Having a job again after a couple of years unemployed is fantastic. It has really turned my life around, provided me with a reason to get out of bed in the mornings and given me back my self-esteem.

“I know I couldn’t have done without the help of the Employment Academy and I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Owain’s new boss, store manager Jason Griffiths, said: “He’s a really good worker who is very conscientious and understanding of what the customer wants.

“His confidence and ability is a tribute to the help he was given by the Employment Academy.”

Employment Academy Mentor Ffion Lloyd said: “The academy is a unique feature of Creating Enterprise and is only available to Cartrefi Conwy tenants without jobs.

“During their 12-month contract period the unemployed benefit from work experience, training and qualifications in some cases.

“They are mentored throughout and offered full support to find a permanent job, such as receiving help with CV writing, interviews and job application skills.”

Creating Enterprise was the first of its kind in Wales when it was established in April 2015 and it has since been hailed as a beacon for the rest of the country.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Cartrefi Conwy, it takes on a range of maintenance work at almost 4,000 properties managed by the housing association across the county of Conwy, from exterior painting and gas services to fixing dripping taps and broken garden gates, and has also worked for other organisations.

A total of 21 Cartrefi Conwy tenants have had two-day work trials with Creating Enterprise over the last 12 months, nine of whom were selected to join the Employment Academy and two of these have gone on to gain permanent employment.

During last year Cartrefi Conwy tenants did a total of 473 hours voluntary work with Creating Enterprise.

Creating Enterprise itself has employed 40 people since it started and currently has two people on gas apprenticeships.

In 2016 tenants on the Employment Academy gained a total of 15 accredited qualifications between them, in areas such as health and safety, first aid, manual handling and asbestos awareness. Also gained were three NVQ Level 2 qualifications in painting and decorating. Three external companies provided work placements for tenants.

For more information contact Sharon Jones by emailing her at Sharon.jones@creatingenterprise.org.uk or ringing her on 01745 335698