A Stockport student who grew up in foster care has described a free home improvement scheme for young care leavers as “gold dust”.

Luke, 22, praised the ‘Helping Hands’ scheme which was launched by EQUANS, the new brand for global energy company ENGIE’s regeneration and services-led activities, and the Care Leaver Covenant in 2019.

It has already helped to transform the homes of 62 young care leavers across England, including Luke’s home in Stockport.

Through the initiative, staff refurbish care leavers’ homes free of charge. Services they provide include painting and decorating; garden clearance; joinery, plastering; plumbing; electrical; floor laying and the use of a van with a driver/crew for moving home.

Luke grew up in foster care from the age of 14. By the time he was 18 he had lived with 30 different carers.

He now works full time for Rolls Royce as a cyber security analyst and is also four years into a six-year mechanical nuclear engineering degree at the University of Manchester.

After getting the keys to his home and struggling without family support, he turned to the Care Leaver Covenant for help and found out about the Helping Hands scheme.

EQUANS organised a plumber to install Luke’s dishwasher and washing machine; arranged two volunteers at short notice to provide a ‘man with a van’ service to transport his belongings and painted his house.

Luke said: “It has been very hard financially but I had this dream of owning my own place for 10 years.

“Honestly, Helping Hands is gold dust. Moving furniture and painting might sound like a small thing but it’s not – I cannot tell you how much it means.

“Being an adult is scary enough but when you’ve got no family it’s even harder. Helping Hands has made things so much easier for me.

“I can’t get over how generous and how friendly the team were and how much they cared – it wasn’t just a job to them. They really wanted to help.”

Now, in the run-up to National Care Leavers’ Week 2021 (October 25 to 31), more companies are being urged to introduce a Helping Hands scheme.

The programme began with a pilot in Leeds in 2019 and now operates in Birmingham, Wakefield, Manchester, Rotherham, London and Norfolk, with plans to roll out the scheme to more areas.

EQUANS started providing the scheme as part of their commitment to support care leavers after signing up to the Care Leaver Covenant in October 2018.

There are around 70,000 young people in care in the UK and approximately 10,000 leave care each year.

The Care Leaver Covenant is funded by the Department for Education and tackles the disadvantages that young people aged 16 to 25 face when leaving care and helps them to live independently.

It works with a range of organisations in the private, public and voluntary sectors to create tangible opportunities for care leavers, including financial independence and independent living.

The success of the Helping Hand pilot led to EQUANS Social Value Manager Claire Preston being awarded ‘Sector Based Champion’ by the Department for Education, one of only four in the UK – and the only one in construction.

Claire Preston, EQUANS Social Value Manager, said: “We employ our own tradespeople, and this is just the right thing to do. A team of our staff – including painters and decorators, joiners, plumbers, plasterers, floor layers, electricians as well as other office and site-based staff – carry out the work.

“Helping Luke was a privilege for us – all our staff who volunteer their time feel proud knowing they are making a big difference to someone’s life.

“Work had to stop for the most part of last year due to the pandemic so to have now completed 62 Helping Hands projects is amazing.

“I would strongly encourage more construction and maintenance companies to offer something similar to Helping Hands. The more businesses that do this, the bigger impact it will have across the country.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here