It might surprise some people that certain communities have up to 50% of over 16s with no qualifications at all. I recently looked at the levels of qualifications in communities where I have worked via the HACT Community Insight tool and it was clear to see a sadly predictable relationship between a lack of qualifications and high levels of Social Housing. These communities also display low levels of higher qualifications such as degrees.
The reasons for this are complex and I couldn’t begin to explain all the factors behind this, but I have always been a believer that organisations such as Housing Associations have a crucial role in helping tenants into education and improving qualifications.
The figures quoted above are a cause for concern for lots of reasons but that is not to say there isn’t a tremendous amount of excellent work going on to address this issue. Three examples stand out for me but I know these won’t be isolated initiatives as lots of Housing Associations are committed to education and training in their communities.
At the start of my career I worked for Bolton Council Housing Department now Bolton at Home, who opened their staff training courses to tenants, this included IT courses, chairing meetings, minute taking, time management and business writing courses which were, and still are, important skills to help people into work, or improving their prospects in existing jobs. Probably more importantly the courses gave tenants an opportunity to interact with their landlord, staff also met and learned from tenants and both parties developed a mutual understanding; some tenants used their new qualifications to gain employment within the Council.
Other examples spring to mind of how Housing Associations are working with communities and partners to improve learning in their communities. Some might say these initiatives are motivated by the “heart”. There might not be an obvious business benefit in terms of rent collection for example, but Housing Associations are more than landlords. They are Anchor Institutions which means they have a wider stake in the health and wellbeing of the communities where they are based.
The second example is The Broughton Trust in Salford, a charity delivering adult education courses, employment support, youth work and much more in Greater Manchester. Despite Local Authority cuts the Trust grew strongly and employed up to 35 staff at one stage. The irony was the Trust was surrounded by multi-million-pound education institutions such as Salford University and Salford College. Both the University and the College saw the value of supporting the Trust along with all the local Housing Associations.
The Trust, as the name suggests was very much trusted by local people. My employer Contour Homes knew that some of our tenants would be much more likely to attend a course or an activity organised by the Trust. The Trust trained local people without qualifications as part of research work which they delivered. It made absolute sense to work in partnership with the Trust and year on year, course after course, more of the community completed courses and gained skills which they could take into the job market.
Recently I was interested to hear about the partnership Notting Hill Housing are involved in with Morgan Hunt and Learning Curve Group, delivering an entire range of courses targeted specifically at Social Housing tenants, leading to a recognised qualification. Courses are flexibly delivered in small chunks over a period of weeks and are tailored to the current job market. By working together and connecting these opportunities to Social Housing tenants I am sure there is a much higher chance of gaining a good attendance and completion of the courses. I was more than happy to encourage my former colleagues and contacts to attend an initial discussion last week in Manchester about how new partnerships could be established with these organisations. I will be watching with interest on how this progresses in the future, as all of the Housing Associations involved are taking this forward.
The programmes run by this partnership are able to take advantage of significant amounts of Government funding, such as the Adult Education Budget; meaning that Social Housing providers are able to offer courses and qualifications to residents without an impact on their restricted budgets. That the Government are funding these activities demonstrates the level Social Impact that they have; not just in terms of education and employment, but in the wider wellbeing impacts of the learners.
Housing Associations can do more than encouraging people to enrol and complete a course, this is just one part of the picture. Some people need more help to feel they can complete a course. Confidence and belief in yourself is sometimes a barrier but it can be overcome with the right support.
One of the most effective projects I have seen in developing confidence is the Zest project, Hattersley near Manchester run by Peak Valley Housing Association. Zest supports people who have low confidence, sometimes suffering from anxiety and depression and offers them a safe environment to talk about their worries, socialise and to hear about new opportunities, such as training or volunteering and ultimately employment. Peak Valley is able to use its contractors to offer work experience and guaranteed interviews once the individual was ready to take the next step. A key strength of Zest is that it is user-led and person centred. There were no targets, no pressure, completely voluntary with no sanctions for non-attendance.
Over the first 2 years of its existence the Zest project helped 34 people into work. The participant pathway involved initial attendance at informal tea and toast sessions, to completing locally delivered training courses and then moving into work placements. The project had everything needed to support individuals. An indication of how much the project was valued is the fact that “Zesters” often return to help volunteer once they had moved on from the project.
Zest, The Broughton Trust and Bolton at Home are all examples of how Housing Associations can work with partners or use their resources to contribute greatly to improving the skills and qualifications of their residents; the Morgan Hunt/Learning Curve Group partnership is a perfect example of working with non-housing organisations to deliver the best outcomes for residents. I hope hearing about them will inspire and encourage you as much as they inspired and encouraged me.
If you are interested in learning more about how Housing Associations can help people with training and gaining qualifications and finding out about the, Morgan Hunt and Learning Curve Group partnership then please contact Edward Stroud at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org or Barry Malki/ James Williams at HACT on 02072508500.