The remarkable growth and resilience of the SWEET project

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/5515037920

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/5515037920

The story of the SWEET Project is a story of remarkable growth and resilience. The SWEET Project provides placements for university students who are qualifying as social workers. While being trained and supervised, these students provide social support to families living in the South of Birmingham.

Jayne Hulbert and Jayne Creswell had always liked the idea of a student social work training unit. Jayne Hulbert has been a long time social worker in the South of Birmingham and Jayne Creswell is a senior family support worker. When other support services were withdrawing from the area in 2009 they knew the time was ripe to start the SWEET project. As it reads on their website: ‘The idea was simple and had two aims: on the one hand, to find a workable means of meeting the needs of families and adults; at the same time, to provide the quality of placement learning opportunities for student social workers. But would it be possible to combine the two? The SWEET Project was born out of this question’.

31 universities

It did prove possible, as testified by the remarkable growth of the SWEET Project in its first years. The first group of students, coming from the University of Birmingham, reported back to their placement supervisors about their exceptional learning experience. The University of Birmingham committed more students to the SWEET Project in its early phases and soon other Universities came on board. Today, students from 31 Universities all over the country do their work placements at SWEET to become qualified social workers. The SWEET Project receives a daily placement fee for each student, which funds the salaries of the staff and any overheads. All social services are provided free of charge.

Shock

At least they were, until the SWEET Project was hit with an unwelcome surprise. In 2014, the government announced it was reducing placement fees for social work students by one third, effectively taking one third of the project’s income away. However, the founders and staff of the SWEET project have shown remarkable resilience. They have succeeded in securing a contract with the Birmingham City Council to deliver part of its social services for children and families. Also, some of SWEET’s clients such as schools have now started paying fees for the tailor-made support that SWEET provides to some of their children. The SWEET project has now also started a consultancy service for social start-ups – offering their expertise to aspiring social entrepreneurs.

It looks like the SWEET Project will be able to recover from this external shock by being creative and working in partnership. The SWEET Project has won several awards since its founding in 2010:

  • 2011 – The Big Society Award, awarded by Prime Minister David Cameron
  • 2011 – Winner of the Big Venture Challenge Award an award for ambitious scalable social venture that is run by UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs.
  • 2012 – Social Enterprise UK awarded the SWEET project for being the most innovative social enterprise of the year.

Read more about the SWEET project on their website: http://www.sweetproject.co.uk/

The SWEET Project was also featured in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2011/oct/21/beg-venture-challenge-winner-sweet-project