74%!!! That’s remarkable – ESF Community Learning Grants

I’ve been in Manchester today at a celebratory event for projects funded by the European Social Fund’s Community Learning Grants scheme. The ESF scheme has focused on improving employment opportunities in the European Union and on helping to raise standards of living. The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) has been administering the North West of England’s grants programme, worth £2m, since 2011.

Over 150 local voluntary and community organisations and charities have been funded through the scheme to provide training and support for some people who are furthest from the labour market and least likely to find work.

Statistics from the project evaluation are very impressive – and all the more so as the projects have been running in some of the region’s most hard pressed communities.

Projects from Barrow to Birkenhead have supported people to develop new skills from fork lift truck driving to film making, from horticulture to hairdressing. Those who have benefited range from people over 50 years old, living on isolated housing estates to ex–offenders, homeless people and people with a learning difficulty.

158 projects have successfully engaged at least 3575 participants to date. Of the people who took part, 62% were female, 37% were people with disabilities, 21% were over 50, 38% were from an ethnic minority and 17% described themselves as lone parents.

74%%Yes. That’s 74% (based on data reported so far) from communities that are often labelled ‘hard to reach’.

98% of participants were surveyed. Of those, 86% of participants rated their programmes as ‘Excellent’ and 11% as ‘Good’.

As ever, the statistics don’t do justice to the individual stories of achievement and hope that we heard today.

  • James from Care Network told us about Kim-Marie who’s just got a job after more than 10 years out of work.
  • WEA Tutor Linda spotted one of her students on a video and explained how he’d gone from being alcohol-dependent to starting a degree in Criminology.
  • The Lorna Young Foundation supported a new social enterprise who had their produce on display. (You can visit them at: http://www.oromocoffee.org/default.asp)
  • Paul, who was made redundant a year ago and worried that his disabilities were a barrier to finding further work, is now working for his local council in Chester.

These stories are just the tip of that ‘74% iceberg’ and it’s worth remembering that the maximum grant to any individual organisation was £12,000.

The saddest aspect of the programme is that 711 voluntary and community organisations applied for the funding. Over 550 had to have their applications rejected. There’s so much more need for funding support that reaches otherwise marginalised people and has a positive impact.

This works – and now more people do so as well.

It works because of the partnerships, networks, expertise, commitment and creativity of many voluntary and community organisations who know how to make it work.

Congratulations to them all and to the WEA’s ESF team as well as partners including Locality, Community Matters and Network for Europe and the Skills Funding Agency who oversaw the ESF funding.

Now we really need to get the message out there that a comparatively small amount of funding can make a very big difference if it’s spent wisely.

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn: http://linkd.in/1GI0QK1

8 Responses to 748!!! That’s remarkable – ESF Community Learning Grants

  1. Dave Boydon says:

    This is so fantastic! AND in an age when education, employment, training and collective social cohesiveness are being pushed further and further down the political agenda. In such an age, to be able to offer up a stark example of what can be accomplished by and with people who wouldn’t otherwise have had access to education and training is a truly remarkable achievement and one which should be celebrated by all concerned. It is just a shame and so frustrating that this kind of success and achievement has to be accompanied by a constant battle for justification and funding.

  2. Hugh Humphrey says:

    It is really good that the WEA is involved in this way.
    The WEA helps to administer the fund in the NW but it is not clear to what extent it is actually involved in delivering some of this work. To what extent are WEA tutors involved in the delivery?

    • Ann Walker says:

      Thanks for the comment and query Hugh. I’ll ask one of the colleagues in the NW region to let you have more details of the project.

      • Hugh – we have used our WEA networks to promote the existence of the fund, our Learning Managers have run workshops to explain RARPA and promote quality of learning, and we have encouraged staff trustees and volunteers from funded community projects to come on a variety of specially arranged Train the Trainer and PTLLS courses. Over 100 people have been on PTLLS so far and many are interested in teaching for WEA in the future. Do contact us if you’d like to know more!

        • Hugh Humphrey says:

          Many thanks Ian for the information on the WEA’s specific involvement. That seems an excellent way to go. We have obviously made a vital contribution in terms of training and potentially got something back to help develop our own work too.

  3. Thanks Ann I am really enjoying working as a tutor for the WEA in Yorkshire and would like to get involved in this type of work – did you get a sense of the key elements of delivery that worked?

    • Ann Walker says:

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying your work with us Jane. (I think we met at an event in York in the summer?)

      I think that the general WEA approach to teaching, learning and assessment and shared values with our partners are the key elements of what worked. You’re probably familiar with our vision, mission, approach and values (at http://www.wea.org.uk/about/vision) and I’m sure that you could discuss this further with your local WEA Organiser.

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