A new scheme to get the county’s unemployed back to work through volunteering has been launched thanks to a £100,000 grant.

It could also boost charity groups in the city’s most deprived estates.

Volunteer Centre Oxfordshire based in St Aldate’s, Oxford, will arrange placements in a range of organisations from charities to schools to improve people’s employment opportunities.

The organisation, part of Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA), is one of 15 across the country to share part of a £1.9m Big Lottery Fund grant for the project, which last for two years.

Lindsay Watts, OCVA Volunteer Centre Oxfordshire manager, said: “We’ve been running a service to help people volunteer for years but now we can reach out to people specifically affected by unemployment.

“Volunteering can be hugely beneficial to unemployed people, simply getting back into a routine and getting up-to-date references is an invaluable step on the path back to work.

“Voluntary organisations and communities can benefit and we will ensure these organisations are given support and training to manage their volunteers.”

According to the Department of Communities and Local Government Indices of Deprivation 2007, pockets of deprivation are evident across the county with 20 neighbourhoods in Oxford and Banbury among the 10 per cent most deprived in England for Education, Skills and Training.

These include parts of Barton and Blackbird Leys in the city.

According to the OCVA, East Oxford has a high proportion of public sector workers who face having their jobs axed due to ongoing public sector cuts, while those in rural areas face transport difficulties in a bid to find work.

Public perception of volunteering is an activity such as working in a charity shop. That is a myth Ms Watts wants to shatter.

She said: “There are a whole range of possibilities with charities and public sector organisations. We already have a database of 800 opportunities available.

“People could help with gardening in a nature reserve or teach children to read in schools.”

The project will offer the opportunity for volunteers to work towards the level two qualification in Community Volunteering run by educational charity ASDAN.

A third of people who took the course in Oxfordshire last year are now in paid employment.

Jim Ferguson took voluntary redundancy from his job in Oldham and moved to Oxford to take a masters degree in psychology at Oxford Brookes University.

Now he combines his studies with volunteering once a week at Restore, the charity in Manzil Way, East Oxford which helps people with mental health problems through activities such as gardening, woodwork and running a cafe.

Mr Ferguson said: “I want more experience of working in mental health so here I get to know a range of different people.

“It will also be good for my job prospects and I will hopefully gain a good reference.”