Community Learning

Responding to Local Needs and Wants

We are working to improve access to community learning for adults, bringing new ‘local’ learning opportunities to people whatever their circumstances. We are able to do this by delivering learning in local venues but also by establishing a focal point for learning within particular communities.  One example of this is that we have, with the support of Surrey County Council’s Travel SMART project, Guildford Borough Council, Guildford College, surveyors Tuffin Ferraby Taylor and Community Foundation Surrey, we have refurbished a property and garden which is now a community classroom and centre for volunteering.

We focus our resources on those are often least likely to participate, including those living in rural areas (for example Tandridge and Dorking) and people on low incomes with low skills. Courses cover a wide range of local needs from confidence building to starting a soft landscaping business.  Some lead to qualifications and we provide certificates to celebrate the joy which comes with achievement.  But where partner organisations and agencies are better able to provide for particular needs we also help learners to enrol on courses with others.

New Pilot Project launched at the Park Barn Community Centre

SLLP is piloting a new approach to learning within the heart of communities. The first community learning centre has been established in Park Barn, an area of disadvantage and social inequality. The centre works with vulnerable people referred by our partners for support in any number of ways. People can also walk in off the street and self-refer. Either way, the support we provide is underpinned by learning from the moment a client walks through the doors of our centre. 

Since establishing the centre in March 2019 with the support of Project Aspire, there has been a significant uptake in participation. We were given a target of 35 clients in the first 12 months, a figure we reached by November. The structure of the centre reflects the focus on learning – if an individual has issues with literacy and numeracy, they will lack confidence in many areas of adult life. Everything can be linked back to learning in some way. The same argument applies to digital exclusion. The ability to access the internet effectively is a key feature of everyday living. 

With this in mind, following an initial assessment, every single person who attends the learning centre is enrolled onto a course of some description. These include classes in literacy and numeracy and the principles of basic IT. Such courses play a huge part in an individual’s self-confidence and opens up a world of new opportunity for them.  

Community participation has also steadily increased with a number of volunteers now part of the team. These volunteers provide help with interpreting services, small business mentoring, financial awareness and IT instruction. Their help is invaluable and eases the pressure on the centre’s two dedicated staff members on Thursday mornings.

Impact and Value of Community Learning

The impact of community learning on individuals, families and communities is captured through the many case studies and instances of learners improving their personal circumstances through gaining confidence, new skills, a new sense of purpose, independent living, employment and sometimes self-employment.

Through delivering the Learn My Way programme we have been able to offer opportunities across the county to improve digital and financial literacy skills. Under our BIS funded Project, TRANSFORM IT – Digital Inclusion for Surrey Communities, we developed the capacity to transform the way learning is delivered within communities.  We are building on this by providing courses to provide the skills essential to those re-entering employment.

We see many strengths and opportunities within our communities:

  • People are resilient and when given the chance reluctant learners become enthusiastic learners. On completing a City & Guilds qualification one delighted learner proudly and confidently declared that they had never achieve 75% in anything.
  • With sustained support there can be lasting change. Those employed as City & Guilds trainers and assessors were once volunteer trainees themselves. They now teach others and are involved in developing the enterprise.
  • Community members who are successful become examples for others. One long term unemployed mum explains to others how she gained employment through establishing her own mobile dog working service with new van and livery.
  • Small steps can lead to big changes. A learner at a homeless hostel who attended a confidence building workshop, an internet awareness course and a healthy eating course delivered by a Jamie Oliver Chef is now in her own flat and living independently.

Volunteering

Within some of the communities in which we are active we are able to promote volunteering, for example within our social enterprise projects. These community-based projects provide the time and space needed for improving confidence.  This often results in individuals becoming motivated to acquire new skills and to follow options they had not previously considered.

Partners working together

Key to the success of community learning has been the engagement of local partners. For example:

  • the Corner House, Woking and the Richmond Fellowship have helped us to address mental health issues)
  • Jamie Oliver’s chefs have provided lessons on Healthy Eating to those seeking independent living.

Contributing to local community district and borough plans helps to pool resources and leads to sustainability. Our community-based social enterprise activities, for example are embedded within these plans.

Meeting with community representatives, local volunteers and those who have an interest in promoting local learning helps us to confirm and respond to local needs and wants.