A small Birmingham-based firm is beating the recession thanks to a fund to get the long-term jobless back into work.

The soft furnishings firm, Textiles by St Annes, has been able to boost its workforce thanks to the Government’s Future Jobs Fund initiative which was launched in last year’s Budget. Companies can take on long-term unemployed people for six months on the minimum wage – and the cash comes from the Government.

For Textiles by St Annes, a non-profit making firm set up to help people overcome mental health problems and find work, the fund has been a massive shot in the arm.

Pat Bend, sales manager for the firm which is based in St Peter’s Urban Village in Saltley, explained: “For a social enterprise firm, it gives us the opportunity to bid for larger contracts because we have got a bigger workforce. Bigger contracts will generate more income, and we can start employing people in our own right.”

Textiles by St Annes was set up in 1999 as an arm of BITA Pathways, the Birmingham mental health charity. The firm’s 10 employees and five volunteers make such things as curtains, cushions, blinds and bedspreads. Six of the employees are financed by the Future Jobs Fund.

Its clients include furniture store Lee Longlands, hospitals, nursing homes and private clients and Ms Bend is hoping that turnover will double or triple thanks to the fund. Already they are celebrating landing a £4,500 order from an international curtain company.

“We are a developing firm,” she said. “We want to be self-financing, which will secure the project. Everything is ploughed back, so our service users will benefit more.”

The Future Jobs Fund was set up to tackle growing youth unemployment. The number of 16-to-24-year-olds out of work was 952,000 in the three months to October, the highest figure since records began in 1992. But the fund was soon expanded to cover others who face “significant disadvantage” in the labour market. In December, the Government said 75,000 job schemes had been agreed, and 31,000 jobs were in place.

Ms Bens said the firm is expanding, making more money to help people with mental health problems, and providing work, albeit for six months, for the long-term unemployed – people like Leah Driscoll who landed a job as administrator with St Annes in November.

The 18-year-old, of Field House Road, Yardley, said: “I must have applied for 50 to 100 jobs before I got this. If it wasn’t for this, I suppose I’d still be searching.

She added: “I really like it here. I don’t know what I’ll do at the end of the six months. I’m just hoping to find something else.”

And for Maureen Hewitt, of Aston, the machinist job she got thanks to the fund, came as a real boost to her confidence after being out of work for two years. The 43-year-old said: “I was giving up hope, really. But when this came up, it just felt right. I’m out of a rut, and in a working environment. I really enjoy it here. My colleagues are brilliant.”

Pat Bend is passionate about the firm she works for, and about the Future Jobs Fund which has meant so much. She said: “I can’t understand why the government are not shouting about it. It helps in every way.

“We’re taking on more skilled people which helps the business but it also helps our service users because they are mixing with people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. The new people bring skills and a work ethic that’s positive, and we can show our service users what they can aspire to. It really makes a difference.”

* Fact file

* The Future Jobs Fund has £1 billion to help create 150,000 jobs nationally for long-term unemployed young people, and those with “significant disadvantages”.

* The fund was announced in the 2009 Budget.

* Be Birmingham is managing the fund programme for the region.

* It aims to create 1,000 placements for 18 to 24-year-olds who have been claiming benefits for a year. It is a challenge fund, so not all bids will be successful.

* The fund is part of the Labour party’s Young Person’s Guarantee.

From early 2010, everyone between the ages of 18 and 24 who has been looking for work for a year will get an offer of a job, work experience, or training lasting at least six months.

* Bids need to demonstrate among other things, that the work will benefit local communities.