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First trainees graduate from Liverpool's world-famous Strawberry Field

The first group of graduates from Strawberry Field's Steps to Work programme Credit: The Salvation Army

Liverpool's world-famous Strawberry Field has seen its first group of young adults graduate from a new programme to help them into work.

The iconic red gates made famous by the Beatles opened to the public for the very first time in 2019 following a refurbishment and rebuilding scheme at the former children's home.

Owned by The Salvation Army, Strawberry Field has a long-standing connection with young people in Liverpool.

For nearly 70 years, it gave some of Liverpool’s most vulnerable children a refuge from turmoil and unhappiness.

Now the Steps to Work programme reaches out to young adults with learning difficulties or other barriers to employment through a training hub on the lower ground floor of Strawberry Field.

Seeing our trainees grow and develop in terms of confidence, belief and self-esteem is truly amazing. As cohort one start to enter the world of work and gain more independence the spirit of Steps to Work is truly realised.

– Alan Triggs, programme manager
The famous red gates at Strawberry Field Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

The new Strawberry Field also includes a visitor exhibition, community café, shop and gardens.

All proceeds from the visitor experience go directly to fund the Steps to Work programme, with further opportunities to support the programme through fundraising opportunities, volunteering, sponsoring a trainee or offering a work placement.

Opportunities are limited for many people with learning disabilities.

Nationally, only between 6% and 7% of working age adults with learning disabilities are in paid employment.

One trainee has already secured a job once they graduate.

Chris Higginson, 22, has worked in three theatres in the Hope Street area of Liverpool; the Unity, Hope Street Theatre and the Everyman.

He has now been offered a job as an usher and theatre assistant at the Everyman and will take up his new position over the next few weeks.

The Steps to Work programme is brilliant. I love it and I really enjoy taking part; it has helped me 100%. I’m a lot happier and more confident in myself now and that is all thanks to the programme and the support that the work coaches have given me.

– Chris Higginson
John Lennon's sister and honorary president of the Strawberry Field project Julia Baird Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

Chris isn't the only one who has made a success of the course.

Two trainees will complete an apprenticeship with a local nursery and a fourth trainee is now a permanent volunteer at Strawberry Field.

Thanks to a partnership with the City of Liverpool College and the investment of local businesses and organisations, Steps to Work offers a 12-18 month programme that combines education and work placements to ensure trainees are truly work ready.

Through the programme, trainees spend time on a ‘work readiness course’, which aims to provide them with the tools they need to gain independence, discover their potential and learn skills which will help them in the world of work.