Ethical employment agency helps people into work

“Here, health is an issue. Isolation is an issue. People feeling left out can be an issue,” says Paul Gutherson, Programme Co-ordinator at Centre 4 in Grimsby.

Centre 4 is a community hub at the heart of the Nunsthorpe estate. The estate has 2,500 households, no secondary school, and just a few shops. It’s in the top 3% for multiple deprivation and just 49% of its 16-74 year olds are employed.  

“But there are lots of people who have a positive view of the area and want to support each other and make a difference for each other,” Paul adds.

Centre 4’s work is aimed at local social and economic regeneration – and the charity is involved in a range of activities to tackle social inequalities. One of these is an innovative ethical employment agency, called ERA, that supports local people to gain skills and find jobs.

“There’s been a lot of research into the barriers to employment in our area. We’ve consulted with the community and created a model of ethical recruitment,” says Programme Officer Rachel Button.

“When someone comes to us, we have a conversation about their skills and the support, training, education or work experience they may need,” she explains. “We can signpost people to training with other organisations.” 

The employment agency has been particularly successful in recruiting local people to the care sector.

“We help them into permanent jobs instead of temporary ones, so they have a better outcome,” says Rachel. “They are given two weeks training and we arrange their DBS check. Then they have a two week work trial to see if it’s a fit. If it isn’t, they get valuable work experience that goes on their CV.

“The money we make from the agency, we put back into the community once we’ve covered our overheads. As well as support with training, we offer community job opportunities for people to build their skills and experience.”

Centre 4 has linked up with local allotments to build a team of volunteers who regularly work there. It’s also set up a digital buddies scheme, training people to help others navigate the increasing need to fill out forms and complete daily tasks online.

Another innovation Centre 4 has implemented is awarding ‘‘Zlto’ points in exchange for volunteering.

Paul explains: “Points are amassed and turned into vouchers to use in the local area – we’ve got a few different trading partners on board and we keep it local as much as we can.

“It’s not to replace work but to provide an incentive to take part in something. It’s about strengthening resilience and the local economy. There may be families that are financially excluded in other ways – this helps them enjoy things they may not otherwise have access to.

“Volunteering is a pathway to employment – and a number of our volunteers have successfully secured jobs. What we do is help people to change for themselves. We don’t do something for someone that they can do for themselves – but we support them to do it.”


Centre 4 in Grimsby is one of the catalyst organisations for the Empowering Places programme, that aims to demonstrate the role that concentrated clusters of community businesses can play in creating better places and reducing inequality in local areas. Funded by Power to Change, the programme is delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with CLES and NEF.

The Empowering Places programme is part of our Community Economic Development (CED) work, which supports organisations and networks in local wealth building, co-op development and engaging communities in economic development.