3. Bridge Warden's College/Skills to Succeed - Medway RULER
The main emphasis of the Medway RULER SRB programme is the economic regeneration of the Medway Towns area of Kent, where 400,000 people face 'employment restructuring' following the closure of the Naval Dockyards.
This project seeks to put the local university, the University of Kent, at the centre of this regeneration and the attendant community development, through a co-ordinated programme of education and training, as well as business support.
The focus is on learning, whether academic or vocational, from uncertified courses through to postgraduate awards. It also aims to target community and voluntary groups, as well as the local ethnic minority communities. These goals are to be met through four sets of activity: Economic Regeneration in Medway, Business Support, Community Development and Skills to Succeed. In practice, the first three of these have been merged into a single project.
Background - Problems to be Tackled
- The idea of placing the University at the centre of economic regeneration is an unusual focus. Universities often have research capacities that are undervalued and underused for supporting local economic development: the public perception is that their focus is to produce graduates, who may not necessarily take jobs in the local area.
- The idea of targeting education and training for local regeneration purposes is an interesting one, but it remains to be seen what impact this has on the local economy. Certainly, the premises and resources, and especially the focus on new technology, can only be beneficial. However, to use these effectively, local community and voluntary groups, schools, local businesses, and professional associations need to have access to the necessary resources and training.
- The Medway RULER SRB quickly put in place the infrastructure necessary to achieve its objectives. Getting the Bridge Wardens' College operational within a year of the beginning of the scheme was a major success, and this is providing a focal point for the scheme. The project has also set ambitious targets, but there is confidence that, after a relatively slow beginning as the value of the new facility has to be demonstrated to the business and other communities in the area, these will be met.
- Merging the first three projects has given them more coherence than they had in the original bid, as they are re-oriented towards the SRB objectives. However, the relationship between these three, primarily based around the College, and the fourth project, working with ethnic minorities is not clear.
- Whilst some visions of the future were concerned with progression from informal learning in the community, it remains to be seen whether these will widen participation in higher education. For one or two individuals, involvement in the project has made a significant difference to the quality of their lives. But it is too early to draw conclusions about its effect on whole communities.
- Both projects have given thought to their sustainability beyond the life of the SRB funding period. The first set of projects ought to be well established, and because they generate income, they will no doubt have established themselves as the University of Kent in Medway.
- The related ethnic minority project has addressed the issue of sustainability early, because its funding tapers over the seven-year period. There is recognition that the forward strategy will have to include seeking further sources of funding, as this work does not attract substantial income from fees or grants. Some problems obtaining funding through the FEFC have been reported, and since this money had been built into the calculations, this was posing a threat to the achievement of specified outputs.
- Students and college members are given free guidance and training on the use of computers as a learning resource where this is needed.
The baseline research identified the following issues:
How the Project was Developed
- Around 1600 people who had been employed in naval-based industries had become unemployed as a direct result of the Naval Dockyard's closure.
- The Medway Towns' population has the lowest Higher Education provision relative to its size in the UK, in spite of strong local authority and industrial interest in the potential of locally delivered vocational higher education. The scheme identified a need to support learning and achievement not only in 'conventional learners' (ie school leavers), but also for skilled, experienced people who are already economically active.
- The County Council identified more than 200 companies who were having difficulties filling vacancies because of skills shortages.
- Many businesses have unsatisfactory market information, a limited capacity to develop new products, and little investment in human resource development.
- Businesses belonging to members of ethnic minority communities - most of whom are concentrated in certain areas - are particularly hampered by restricted use of business support services, and lack of inter-cultural communication skills.
- Local research also demonstrated a need to build the organisational management capabilities of individuals supporting voluntary and community organisations, through better financial management, management of volunteers, and training in publicity and promotion and community development skills.
The first of the three sets of activity originated from earlier work and discussions with Kent TEC, who recognised the need for a more visible presence of higher education to support economic regeneration in the area.
This was to be effected through research and development opportunities and resources, together with the provision of a range of short courses to support business and continuing professional development, particularly through IT, as well as local access to university provision.
The idea had emerged from earlier discussions between the TEC, the university, and local employers, as well as community groups and voluntary organisations. The Rochester Bridge Trust and the University had been discussing the possibilities of the University having a presence in the Royal Dockyards in Chatham, taking over the eighteenth century Clock Tower Building at a cost to the Trust of £2.5m. In return, the University would agree to develop a national centre associated with the Medway, including Masters programmes in Estuary Environmental Management and Heritage Tourism Studies, which reflect the mission of the Trust.
As indicated above, the scheme began with four proposed sets of activity:
- Economic Regeneration in Medway
This project creates employment and improves skills levels to match demand in the employment market. This is achieved by enabling fast growth of learning opportunities for under-developed businesses and potentially economically active local people, including support networks, computer-based facilities, and access programmes.
- Business Support
Through supporting the growth and competitiveness of local businesses, including recently established businesses, this project aims to benefit the Medway Towns. It would also be responsible for starting up a small number of new businesses.
- Community Development
Provision of access to new and improved educational and cultural facilities, support to community groups and voluntary organisations, and involving individuals in voluntary work all contribute to community development. Opportunities are offered for conventional, negotiated and supported self-study, which focus on key areas of community development skills and community health.
- Skills to Succeed
This project helps ethnic minority communities grasp the opportunities offered by developments in the Medway, and play a distinctive positive role in the regeneration of this area. Its core aims are to increase the participation in education and training of ethnic minority communities, to raise the level of skills, initiate and support the establishment of small businesses and to improve and enhance community cohesion.
The first three of these, amalgamated into a single project, concentrate on two broad areas of work. Firstly, the project provides access to new and improved educational and cultural facilities. This is achieved through the reconstruction and refurbishment of an existing Dockyard building as the Bridge Wardens College; and the provision of a programme of learning for individuals, business and voluntary organisations and community groups. It also offers opportunities to take part in a variety of learning programmes. The scheme is developing a curriculum that reflects the skills and knowledge needs of local economic regeneration, while also working on computer-mediated learning materials. Links have been established with local schools.
The second of these two areas of work focuses on supporting new and established businesses. This includes product research, sectoral/specialist suppliers networking initiatives, the facilitation of new and existing business clubs, and self-help seminars. There are also drop-in self study services and professional forums, and there are efforts to raise awareness of technology transfer opportunities. Business services including video-conferencing and customised computer assisted learning packages.
The other project, Skills to Succeed, targeting ethnic minority communities, has built a team of key workers and outreach workers. It has identified education and training needs to enhance employability, and is building links with community groups and refugee organisations. The scheme extends provision of basic skills and language support, and encourages participation in voluntary work, including language support within this project. It also offers qualification outcomes.
The Medway RULER scheme applied for nearly £1.2 million of revenue funding from the SRB over seven years. A total of £5.8 million was needed, with the balance to come from other private and public sources of, respectively, £2.8m and £1.8m. The latter includes £420,000 of European funding, £590,000 from Kent County Council and other local authorities, £263,000 from the Home Office, and £430,000 from further and higher education funding councils.
Outcomes and Achievements
- A new college, Bridge Warden's, was set up as part of the scheme, and has now been open for around 18 months. It has extensive and wide-ranging education and training provision, focused on the use of new technology for learning. Local businesses and voluntary and community groups also use the premises for meetings. SMEs have also benefited from support, advice and guidance on the millennium bug.
- There has been provision of a range of courses, including Masters programmes in health care for paramedics, estuary environmental management, and heritage tourism. Each of these now has 12-20 students. Courses also include Certificate courses in Combined Studies, the European Computer Driver's Licence and a Masters programme in Medical Law. In addition, there have been IT courses for individuals, businesses, schools and community groups.
- The ethnic minority project has appointed two key workers to help establish relationships with the local ethnic monitory communities, and to encourage them to participate in learning in order to improve their employability. The numbers are larger than targeted because the programme also receives ESF funding: this encourages a wider client group than ethnic minorities, to include younger unemployed people. The financial support has enabled improvements to encourage both recruitment and retention. For example, the project provides a crèche facility, supplies learning materials, and pays exam entry fees to encourage the achievement of qualifications. The project paid for portable laptop computers, to be used to support teaching and learning.
- A Chinese Women's group has been established through outreach activities. This is now self-sufficient in identifying and meeting its education and training needs.
- Progression opportunities for those engaged in outreach learning have been increased through the partnership arrangements. The project has also improved contacts with, for example, the Council's Economic Development Unit, which had informed the focus of the educational provision to ensure that skills being developed were those needed in the local economy.
- Because of the diversity of the local communities, an important strategy has been to encourage members of different communities to undertake voluntary work to support the objectives of the project. Indirectly, this has also contributed to the enhancement of voluntary and community work in the area.
Bridge Wardens College
Tel: 01634 888 999
Fax: 01634 888 900