Helping hand in shifting careers

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The Independent Online
TWO years ago, Ruth Robinson, an administrator with travel agent Thomas Cook, was keen to do something creative with her life, writes Roger Trapp.

She tinkered with sewing, clay and other crafts, but then she went on a wood carving course and 'it just felt right'. However, she was not yet in a position to start a fresh career.

It is, after all, one thing for gurus like Charles Handy to talk of people needing to change careers several times in their working lives, but it can be quite another thing for them to do it. Few people in full-time employment have time to retrain, while those who have lost their jobs are unlikely to have the funds to do it.

But a charity set up in the memory of Lord Seebohm, who died in December 1990 after a varied working life in banking and the social services, aims to help fill the gap.

Lord Seebohm made a point of appointing people to jobs for which they were not particularly trained but for which they might turn out to be well-suited. So his family thought it would be fitting to remember him by assisting people from a variety of backgrounds change direction in mid-life. Set up in September 1991, the Frederic Seebohm Charitable Trust received an initial grant of pounds 30,000 from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a promise of pounds 10,000 a year for three years from 3i, the venture capital group.

In 1992, the first year of operation, five awards were made from 200 applications, and eight were made the following year. The ceiling for awards is pounds 5,000, but because of social security rules limiting the amount of funding that unemployed people can receive, most take only about pounds 2,000.

One of the first awards went to Ms Robinson, who is now 28. She received her first year's tuition of pounds 4,500 at the City & Guilds of London Art School, and pounds 1,000 towards the second year. She is now working part-time, while setting up her own workshop in Peterborough.

Other people have gone into such areas as drama and social work. Richard Seebohm, son of Lord Seebohm and one of the original trustees, said switching from professions such as law into psychotherapy and counselling was particularly popular.

The trust now has the choice of going on as it has for a few more years or applying to fresh sources of funds and trying to play a bigger role. 'We want to get people to take the plunge and reinvent themselves,' Mr Seebohm says.

The process for this year's awards starts early next month, when a shortlist will be drawn up. Interviews will be carried out in August. Details are available from Judi Barwick, 5 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SN. Tel: 071-383 2124.