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The Prince of Wales's Business in the Community receives a £4.8m boost from the Big Lottery Fund for its Business Connectors

20th June 2012

A Prince of Wales project to put business executives into disadvantaged communities to help forge links between community groups and local firms has received a £4.8 million boost from the Big Lottery Fund.

Riot-hit Hackney and Tottenham in north London and areas like Bristol and Middlesbrough have already benefited from the Business Connectors programme.

Piloted by The Prince's organisation Business in the Community (BITC) over a six-month period, the initiative has begun to build up a network of managers from leading companies.

The multimillion-pound grant will increase the number of seconded executives from 20 to more than 670, and will enable them to work in over 200 areas across England during the next five years.

The high-flying workers are trained by BITC and its partners to build partnerships between local businesses and community groups, helping to improve opportunities for residents and employment prospects.

The Prince visited two projects in south London today which have been helped by Will Popham, a Business Connector seconded from BT to work in Lambeth during the pilot project.

He toured Brick Box, a community arts organisation in Brixton, and the Oval cricket ground, which is employing more than 100 local people thanks to the efforts of Mr Popham.

Stephen Howard, BITC's chief executive, said: "With youth unemployment at over one million and one in seven shops on UK High Streets standing empty, it is vital to leverage private sector support to increase enterprise, employment and support education in the UK.

"Business Connectors has already proved to be an extremely successful way to make this happen." Companies that have signed up to Business Connectors include Sainsbury's, Greggs, BT, Fujitsu, Royal Mail, Lloyds Banking Group and Waitrose.

When The Prince arrived at Brixton's Brick Box arts centre, temporarily based in a pub undergoing refurbishment, he was greeted by the organisation's founder and chief executive Eleanor Barrett. She established the centre to provide arts for the community, particularly its vulnerable residents, and introduced local painter Adam Skidmore, who had some landscapes of Brixton hanging on the walls of the pub's old stables.

The Prince asked if he painted one scene, showing an allotment with the City of London skyline in the background, from the roof of a building and the artist replied: "Feels like I'm on top of the world - it's London, mate."

Business connector Will Popham helped Ms Barrett and her team get their organisation on a firmer footing by putting them in touch with one of his colleagues so they could develop a formal business strategy and structure.

After touring the pub and seeing a display of artwork based on the lyrics of local group the Alabama 3, The Prince travelled to the nearby Oval ground, home of Surrey county cricket club, to meet some of the new stewards drawn from the local community.

Mr Popham had put the sporting venue in contact with the local Jobcentre Plus after hearing that its attempts to recruit local staff for temporary summer vacancies had failed to find sufficient numbers with the right experience.

The business connector said Jobcentre Plus was able to train workers in an NVQ level 2 qualification in spectator safety, enabling them to have an understanding of the job before starting.

Mr Popham, a fast-track BT management employee who will complete his nine-month post as a business connector at the end of June, said his time working in Lambeth had developed his leadership skills.

He added that the Oval recruitment problem was a good example of how his role works: "It just needed someone to take a step back and look at the problem independently. That's what I do.

"The training gives them experience and confidence and an idea of what the job entails."

The Prince chatted to some of the new stewards and also met ground staff on the outfield of the cricket pitch before giving a short speech to business connectors and firms who have signed up to the project.

The Prince, who is President of Business in the Community, said: "I can't tell you how proud I am of all the business connectors that I have met up to now."

He went on to highlight how the business people were "building up trust, with local authorities and local people, just by being there and taking the trouble to go round and seeing people and helping to build the connections - helping to avoid tricks not being missed, which is half the problem".