30 July 2019

Find out more about how Housing Plus Group have been working with local organisations over the last few years and where they see it going in the future.

Project timeline

Work with the Prince’s Trust began in 2011, with the Learning Programme launching the same year. The Digital Dens opened in 2013 and the Learning Programme was refocused in 2017.

The Life Skills Project continues to grow, develop and flex with the changing needs of customers and communities.

The project

Housing Plus Group is delivering a Life Skills project empowering tenants in Shropshire to change their lives.

The objectives of the Life Skills project were to:

• Improve education, skills and training in local neighbourhoods
• Help communities withstand the roll-out of Universal Credit by supporting people into work
• Change life opportunities
• Increase levels of digital engagement for all tenants but particularly, among older people

More than 10% of young people in Shropshire are not in employment, education or training – the highest proportion in the West Midlands. Five estates rank among the most deprived 10% of LSOAs for education, skills and training.

The association also recognises that lower levels of internet usage among older people exclude them from social interaction as well as public services. Developed in close partnership with tenants, the Life Skills project includes:

• Two Digital Dens with internet access, vocational courses and employment support.
• A learning programme boosting skills in IT, self-confidence, CV writing and money management.
• A new employability element adopted as a model of best practice by The Prince’s Trust.
• A BBO team supporting people furthest from work.
• Dedicated IT workshops for older learners

Challenges

When the Digital Dens first launched, there was a tendency for young people to use cyber cafés as a youth club. Tenants couldn’t get onto the computers for work searches and older people were deterred from accessing the Dens. We countered this by replacing some of the drop-in times with a more structured timetable. Young people had times allocated to them, enabling us to engage positively with this group.

We recognised that some of those who might benefit most from the project were hard to reach and sometimes resisted engagement. We used active direct marketing, recruited customer ambassadors, developed peer-to-peer support and held a community fun day for large numbers of residents at which information was provided on learning opportunities, training, volunteering and support to find work.

Outcomes

Digital Dens were created through an innovative partnership with Community Interest Company Social Telecoms. The partnership is also supporting local infrastructure by providing low-cost, estate-wide Wi-Fi and affordable computers for residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Increased digital engagement as a result is demonstrated by tenants opting to receive paper-free landlord communication – up 25% in 2018-19.

• 155 young people have taken part in the Group’s employability programme through The Prince’s Trust.
• 80 participants progressed straight into employment, training or volunteering.
• Last year the BBO team worked with over 100 people. Among a group furthest from employment 61 are now in work, education or volunteering.
• 23 local people progressed into employment or work placements from Digital Dens this year.
• The Life Skills project has been backed by stakeholders. Local councillors signalled their support and helped raise awareness by completing courses themselves.

If you did this again, what would you change?

We are very happy with the results of the Life Skills Project, its impact on communities and the individual lives changed. If we could change anything, we might have started sooner!

What can others learn from this example?

Involving customers in the design of projects and building solutions around them has put us in the best position to bring about local change.

Residents are a visible partner in the Life Skills project and their involvement is key to its success. A young participant in the Prince’s Trust programme was encouraged to volunteer as one of our Digital Champions, volunteers, living in the community, who provide peer-to-peer support. Another Digital Champions is Donald Sutherland, 85, who helps to deliver IT workshops in classes where the average age of learners is 81 and the oldest is 92.

Collaborating with residents also helped us to redesign the Learning Programme. The successful new programme reflects a better understanding of the skills gaps that were making it difficult for our residents to access work.

The popularity of the Digital Dens and learning hubs has been achieved by locating them in the heart of communities often excluded from traditional learning routes. We have also been careful to offer different channels and learning environments to meet a range of needs and aspirations.

All premises used for the project are fully accessible and to ensure that online information about the courses is provided to all our tenants it is available with text-to-speech, translation, screen masking and MP3 file options.

For more information contact Clare Chick on 01785 312256

The Life Skills Project