LifeScape: Preston's green-fingered initiative changing lives
An award-winning, not-for-profit social enterprise which rejuvenates outside spaces whilst also providing much-needed opportunities to work for disadvantaged workers who have otherwise found employment hard to find and maintain. "It's a no-brainer," says Dominic Munro.
LifeScape operates on the principle of social value. It's run by its three Directors - Warren Kozera, Warren Ward, and Dominic himself - all of whom are businessmen in their own right and who donate their time to give their social enterprise a chance to make a difference, offering a professional landscaping service and employment for people from socially excluded demographics.
"It was Warren Ward's idea, really," explained 45-year-old Dominic, LifeScape's Operations Director and the owner of GSU Landscapes. "Our daughters go to school together and we became friends and so when he mentioned the idea for LifeScape I thought it was fantastic. Not only is it a brilliant concept which can grow, but the bigger it gets the more beneficial it is to the area."
Established in 2018 and based in Whitestake, Preston at the GSU's HQ, LifeScape's raison d'être is improvement, of both people and the local area. Up-skilling disadvantaged workers who may have spent time in prison or living on the streets, LifeScape looks to transform people into diligent grounds maintenance and landscaping operatives, covering everything from grass cutting and hedgerows to grounds clearance, litter picking, graffiti removal, and tree services.
"We include workers who are struggling to find employment: the type of group who need a second chance and might not get it elsewhere," said Laura Yardley, LifeScape's Business Manager. "We try to be a nurturing employer because people might have things to work through outside of work; problems such as accommodation and a lack of a financial safety net. So while they're re-acclimatising and making sure everything's a bit more stable, we try to support them.
"It's really nice to be involved; it's been great to take on new responsibilities and while it's not been all plain sailing, when I recruited two new operatives myself and saw them come in on day one, that was brilliant," added Laura, 41, from Chorley, "One had really struggled to get work and she cried when she got her first job. She said we were changing her life, which is just an amazing feeling."
That feel-good atmosphere is best captured by Ian, one of LifeScape's Operatives, who said: “LifeScape has given me job security, enough to feel properly settled and safe at work, and supported me enough to get my life together outside of work also. I feel like LifeScape has given me a second chance at a better working life.”
With the social enterprise - which has eight people on its books - funnelling any profits back into the business model, LifeScape benefits from Dominic's industry experience. Always looking for like-minded organisations to work with, clients include the likes of the Eric Wright Construction Group, EMCOR UK, United Utilities, Recycling Lives, and The Bolton Family.
"Landscaping's quite an easy trade to pick up, so people can quickly up-skill themselves," said Dominic, who was born in Blackburn but grew up in Leyland. "You see an instant effect when you get them involved in something like this. One girl used to be in prison and she's got a beautiful personality. The feedback we get about her is just how good she is and she come to me telling me how much she loves the job.
"That makes it all worthwhile; it's about letting people prove they have something to offer," added Dominic. "What's annoyed me is how hard it's been to pick up more work with LifeScape - giving these people work is investing in them and people should be falling over themselves to get them in. But I think that will change over time; this year we've gathered momentum and Laura has been a breath of fresh air. This year will be the year."
Working in HR for the Co-op in Manchester, in May 2019 Laura took a year-long sabbatical to work for LifeScape and is enjoying the unique nature of the work.
"It can be hard work emotionally because you develop a connection with the people you support and, when that works, it's brilliant - I've met some real characters!" said Laura, who lives in Horwich in Bolton. "It's all about treating people with respect: a lot of people don't get the respect they deserve if they've made a mistake in their past.
"Some of the people we work with aren't used to having second chances and I've really seen the importance of treating people as you'd wish to be treated yourself," she added. "You see a big difference in people once you show them that you're not there to jump to conclusions about them; you build mutual trust.
"The longer people are with us, the more open they are."