First Step Trust (FST)

First Step Trust (FST)

At a glance


  • Mental health
  • Substance misuse
  • Training / employment support

Other details

Organisation type: 
Geographical remit: 
National - England


FST’s primary objective is to enable access to work and employment for people long term unemployed through severe and long term disadvantage such as mental health problems, drug and alcohol recovery problems, offending behaviour and other disabilities.

More recently within this group we have developed a focus on delivering training and qualifications to those whose disadvantage has meant difficulties in accessing training because of anxieties and lack of confidence in the traditional learning environment.


We work to deliver these objectives through engaging people as workers and trainees in our two social enterprises, SMaRT Garage Services and Abbevilles restaurant, and also in the administration of our busy main office. We also run two special projects in Secure services in the North West. In this way we provide work experience, on the job training and salaried employment to some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded members of our community.

In recent years, FST has been exploring new ways of helping people overcome barriers to learning including, low levels of literacy/numeracy and debilitating anxiety in formal situations e.g. exams or interviews.

Through FST's ground breaking work using Virtual Reality (VR) to upskill our workforce members and engage learners in secure mental health facilities, we have recognised the potential of assistive and emerging technologies as a real game-changer for the people we work with. The technology enables us to do things never before possible. We have, with the support of Halfords Autocentres and the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), developed an innovative programme which offers high quality training in a safe environment that does not require any written work.

This led us to identify the need for new ways of enabling and 'scaffolding' learning that will combat some of the wider psychosocial barriers including 'fear of learning', the impact of e.g. learning disabilities, Autism, negative peer pressure and reoffending behaviours. A recent Resolution Foundation report suggests that current "low rates of training among the least educated are troubling, given international evidence showing that there are higher returns to adult education for these individuals." Research suggests that AI/ machine learning could help us overcome these.

We have been supported by two Ufi VocTech Trust grants to deliver VR supported training to these communities of learners furthest away from learning and work. The route to market for our products is into the automotive industry directly, but is also being commissioned by NHS and criminal justice/mental health services as a way to introduce those in secure environments to potential future work opportunities.

These digital developments form part of the charity's strategy for embracing digital innovation to better serve our client base and grow the market we are able to serve beyond those in our local areas.

Through working with FST in this way our workforce members (service users) gain the supportive community of the workplace, the self respect of delivering a service to their customers, the satisfaction of overcoming their anxieties about learning and a sense of direction for the future.


a) SMaRT Garage Services (Socially Minded and Responsible Trading) our award winning garage in Woolwich is fully equipped providing services, repairs and MOTs to both the general public and commercial clients. Our workforce gets involved in all aspects of running the garage from ordering parts to servicing vehicles alongside our qualified motor vehicle technicians.

Over the 10 years SMaRT Garage has been operating, 11 workforce members have gone into full-time employment or apprenticeships as Motor Vehicle Technicians, 9 of which were employed by SMaRT garages directly and went on to work for the likes of TFL, Mercedes, Renault, Audi, Halfords and other main dealers.


We are currently working in partnership with Halfords who provide specialised training to our staff and workforce as well as routes to employment via work placements and apprenticeships in their garages.

b) FST Abbevilles,our restaurant in provides outside catering to the general public and commercial customers.

Our venue holds up to 40 people and can be hired for breakfast meetings, team away days, working lunches / evening events as well as parties. Abbevilles can offer custom hot menus or buffets to suit the needs of the client. Our restaurant has two widescreen TVs for presentations that connect together and reliable Wifi.

We offer on the job training in catering services, front of house, finance and administration.


c) Virtual reality and other assistive technologies

SMaRT Pathways, our major development in the past 2 years involves the creation of a new training model utilising Virtual Reality with 3 VR programmes

  1. Our Virtual Garage® tyre changing, vehicle lift, Health & Safety 1 and 2 programmes. These programmes are based on the creation of a virtual garage reproducing the garage environment used at our Woolwich garage.
  2. Our Virtual Kitchen® is a programme reproduces the Abbevilles kitchen providing opportunities for end users to gain the skills and underpinning knowledge to achieve Level 2 and Level 3 Food Hygiene qualifications.
  3. Our Virtual Construction site is a programme that we are developing to help improve access to higher paid jobs in the construction industry. Our first VR programme in this area features the opportunity to drive and operate a JCB type excavator with a backhoe.


SMaRT Pathways currently offers service users recognised qualifications (Entry level 3 Motor Vehicle Technician, Level 2 Food Hygiene qualifications).

We have also just received approval as an IMI (Institute of the Motor Industry) Training Centre to provide our own 10 module automotive skills course with Halfords Autocentres support, for trainees to access paid employment or a Year 2 City & Guilds Level 2 Motor Vehicle Course.

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