SOFEA is an Oxfordshire-based charity that provides education, employability and wellbeing programmes for vulnerable young people in the county.

Business Investment Fund Grant

Support includes education in maths and English (GCSE), employability skills training, personal development, mental health support, coaching and mentoring, as well as the redistribution of around 2,300 tonnes of food across the Thames Valley and South Midlands through its FareShare regional centres.

With referrals coming from schools and colleges, pupil referral units, social services, CAMHS and the police, many of the individuals SOFEA supports have suffered adverse childhood experiences and are at significant risk of becoming long-term NEET (not in education, employment or training), falling into a life of poor qualifications, low skills, insecure work or unemployment.

SOFEA’s trusted cross-sector relationships bring together knowledge and experience of 16 academic, vocational and social-value programmes into personalised ‘bundles’ of services, supporting individuals on a journey of personal transformation.

In 2021-22, 447 young people engaged in SOFEA’s education, employability and wellbeing programmes – with 83% of the young people progressing into further education or employment.

SOFEA redistributes over 2,300 tonnes of food each year via a network of 29 community larders directly to 2,150 disadvantaged individuals and families, as well as through voluntary and community sector partners that prepare cooked meals in care homes, refuges, shelters and schools.

In July 2021, the charity was awarded grant funding through the Business Investment Fund, administered by OxLEP Business and set-up to support Oxfordshire’s business community to move into an effective renewal phase following the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding for the programme was secured by OxLEP from the central government’s Getting Building Fund, which itself was set-up with aims to accelerate economic recovery following the outbreak of COVID-19.

"We were delighted to hear that our application had been successful. The funding enabled us to move from theoretical discussions to planning and practical implementation."

The SOFEA team have endorsed the role the Business Investment Fund has played: “We heard about the Business Investment Fund through OxLEP making contact with our Chief Executive, Richard Kennell. We decided to apply having just moved our food operations to a larger adjacent warehouse, which gave us the opportunity to refurbish our original warehouse into a dynamic open learning and training space with gym, specialist IT workshop and space for a commercial training kitchen. The opportunity to apply for OxLEP funding then enabled these plans to be realised.

“In terms of the application process, given the scale of funding available, the process was stringent and well-supported by the OxLEP team. We were delighted to hear that our application had been successful. The funding enabled us to move from theoretical discussions to planning and practical implementation.

“In terms of what this means for us as an organisation, the development work at our warehouse in Didcot provides an additional 6,000 sq. ft of functional space. With the thermal insulation, this comfortable space enables us to support more young people with a broader range of education, employability and social purpose programmes to develop a wider set of knowledge and skills for their lives ahead.

“We’ve also received support from OxLEP Business through the Peer Networks programme.

“I would encourage anyone considering applying for similar grant funding to do it. The OxLEP team provided plenty of guidance during the application stages and were also on hand to support us through the implementation stages, ensuring that we complied with the rules of funding and reporting.

“In terms of our aspirations for the future, we aim to increase our food redistribution to around 3500 tonnes, distributed through a larger network of 50 Community Larders and 250 voluntary and community sector partners. We are developing strategic alliances with public sector bodies (including police, public health and primary care networks) and VCS partners to support greater numbers of vulnerable young people across the Thames Valley and South Midlands. We will continue to work closely with schools and local community groups across the regions to promote the physical and mental health benefits associated with improved diet and nutrition.

“We are also increasing our links with local churches, communities and businesses to help distribute refurbished laptops and tablets to disadvantaged children, families and older people.

“I would like to pass on our sincere thanks for OxLEP’s support of our plans and aspirations. Your funding helped make our dreams a reality.”