WW4RI Project Updates

Latest News

Read about The Bell Foundation's four new ESOL partnerships, including the WW4RI project, and the impact of ESOL on refugees' education and employment in their new blog post:

The Bell Foundation: News & Blog

We are delighted to have been awarded funding to undertake an independent, qualitative and academic evaluation of the WW4RI project by The Bell Foundation. This will enable us to create a framework for future refugee integration and resettlement based on the WW4RI project. We will also be able to widely distribute the results that we find across the region and nationally.

We are looking for an independent, qualitative, academic assessment of the impact of the WW4RI project on beneficiaries lives.

All of the details are found here: External Evaluator Final Version.

Closing date for bids: 26 April 2021

A project for strengthening skills to improve mental wellbeing resilience for Syrian refugees has been given a regional award by the NHS Parliamentary group and put forward for the national Parliamentary Awards.  The project run by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG now forms part of the wellbeing strand of our region-wide WW4RI project, reaching into more refugee communities.

For further details on the award in the local and national contexts, see:

Peterborough MPs nominate NHS teams for Parliamentary Awards - PeterboroughMatters.co.uk

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG’s Wellbeing Pilot for Syrian Refugees

Project Launch

On Wednesday 21 October we hosted an online project launch event attended by over 100 people region wide. The event gave an opportunity to find out about the services we are providing, how to access these services and make referrals into the scheme, and to learn more generally about the project’s scope and vision.  Speakers participated from the employment advice and therapeutic services, ESOL and employer liaison provision, and the specialist skills providers Concept Training and MENTA, with a keynote speaker Farsh Raoufi MBE providing an inspirational testament of a refugee’s journey to UK integration.

Presenters slides are available to view below:

Louise Gooch, Project Lead (EELGA SMP)

Abdul Atteh, Employment Adviser (Essex Integration)

Sasha Nemeckova, Therapeutic Services Operations Manager (Refugee Council)

Bahareh Saremi, Therapeutic Services Regional Project Manager (Refugee Council)

Gill Searl, ESOL Coordinator (EELGA SMP)

Chris Pound, Programme Director/Devt Manager (Concept Training)

Rachel Heathcock, Employer Liaison Officer (EELGA SMP)

Read about The Bell Foundation's four new ESOL partnerships, including the WW4RI project, and the impact of ESOL on refugees' education and employment in their new blog post:

The Bell Foundation: News & Blog

We are delighted to have been awarded funding to undertake an independent, qualitative and academic evaluation of the WW4RI project by The Bell Foundation. This will enable us to create a framework for future refugee integration and resettlement based on the WW4RI project. We will also be able to widely distribute the results that we find across the region and nationally.

We are looking for an independent, qualitative, academic assessment of the impact of the WW4RI project on beneficiaries lives.

All of the details are found here: External Evaluator Final Version.

Closing date for bids: 26 April 2021

A project for strengthening skills to improve mental wellbeing resilience for Syrian refugees has been given a regional award by the NHS Parliamentary group and put forward for the national Parliamentary Awards.  The project run by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG now forms part of the wellbeing strand of our region-wide WW4RI project, reaching into more refugee communities.

For further details on the award in the local and national contexts, see:

Peterborough MPs nominate NHS teams for Parliamentary Awards - PeterboroughMatters.co.uk

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG’s Wellbeing Pilot for Syrian Refugees

Project Launch

On Wednesday 21 October we hosted an online project launch event attended by over 100 people region wide. The event gave an opportunity to find out about the services we are providing, how to access these services and make referrals into the scheme, and to learn more generally about the project’s scope and vision.  Speakers participated from the employment advice and therapeutic services, ESOL and employer liaison provision, and the specialist skills providers Concept Training and MENTA, with a keynote speaker Farsh Raoufi MBE providing an inspirational testament of a refugee’s journey to UK integration.

Presenters slides are available to view below:

Louise Gooch, Project Lead (EELGA SMP)

Abdul Atteh, Employment Adviser (Essex Integration)

Sasha Nemeckova, Therapeutic Services Operations Manager (Refugee Council)

Bahareh Saremi, Therapeutic Services Regional Project Manager (Refugee Council)

Gill Searl, ESOL Coordinator (EELGA SMP)

Chris Pound, Programme Director/Devt Manager (Concept Training)

Rachel Heathcock, Employer Liaison Officer (EELGA SMP)

Quarterly Progress Reports

The beginning of Q6 was a period of some stability and the lifting of lockdown restrictions in mid-July enabled partner organisations’ offices to reopen and project team meetings in Ipswich and Bedford to take place, facilitating in-person communications and cross-project networking and collaboration. However, the period has also been marked by the events in Afghanistan and ensuing arrival of Afghans into the UK at an unpredicted scale and speed.  In terms of the project, this is requiring a reassessment of our provision for a different client-base, ensuring that the newly arrived Afghans (and Hong Kong BN(O)s who have also started to arrive in greater numbers), many of whom have professional qualifications, can be assisted into employment relative to their existing skills and experience.  This will involve adjusting existing courses to suit higher ESOL levels and assisting with qualification conversion and preparation for IELTS and other high-level language testing required for entry into higher education and professional occupations.  The project’s wellbeing therapists are already registering new Afghan arrivals and visiting bridging hotels where they are meeting directly with families to learn more about their current needs and two additional therapist roles have been advertised to cope with the requirement for increased capacity.

The E2 Summer Schools which took place during this period were an overwhelming success, enabling many beneficiaries region-wide to progress into the project’s skills courses this Autumn.  The first Childcare course finished in Q6 followed by the first work placement in a school at the beginning of term and further Childcare courses have now either started or have been scheduled in all parts of the region.  43 placements have now been offered in schools around the region, providing a good choice for beneficiaries in terms of location and education setting once they complete their course.  The first Preparing to Work with Customers course started late in Q6 in some parts of the region, and employers are currently being sought to offer work experience placements in customer-facing roles for course graduates. 

Looking towards Q7, we are planning the first whole project in-person meeting in November, gathering all project strands together for the first time to discuss project achievements and how we can build on these going into the final year of the project. Q7-8 will see some exciting developments in the project’s direction and scope and the fruition of groundwork laid during earlier quarters and we look forward to reporting on this early next year.

Road to Recovery

As we moved gradually towards a loosening of restrictions during the early summer and are seeing the first green shoots of recovery, we have been able to adapt the project correspondingly.  During this period the sector-specific courses have been reframed in consultation with the project Employment Advisers, informed by direct feedback from the project beneficiaries.  Two new curricula now complete the full suite of courses on offer: Preparing to Work with Food and Preparing to Work with Customers. These will assist employment pathways into hospitality, a newly re-opened sector currently experiencing severe staffing shortages, and a diverse range of opportunities in customer-facing roles. The courses will also dovetail into and enhance the self-employment support provided by our project partner MENTA for refugee entrepreneurs wanting to open their own hospitality business, and we hope these new courses will be well received.

146 project beneficiaries have now taken part in the project’s existing courses comprising the core curricula courses Driving Theory, IT Skills, Study Skills, Job Search Skills and Confident Women.  In addition, the first two sector-specific courses Preparing to Work in Childcare started during Q5 for Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk beneficiaries who would like to work in educational settings.  Finishing early in Q6, beneficiaries from these courses can then move into short term work experience placements in schools to consolidate their learning, and placements have now been secured in schools for the first cohort to move into at the start of the next academic year. Sector-specific courses in Essex, Norfolk and Peterborough are due to commence later in the year, with placements in those counties being arranged for early 2022.

For those project beneficiaries currently at too low a level of ESOL to register onto these courses (E3 being the minimum requirement), E2 Summer Schools have been organised across the region, starting in Q5 and continuing over the summer.  These will improve the English of beneficiaries at E2 to a sufficient extent that they are then able to take part in the project’s courses during the Autumn and into the final year of the project.  There has been much interest in registering onto the summer schools with all classes now full to capacity.

With lockdown easing, the team were able to hold their first in-person meeting for the Cambridgeshire-based project members in the beautiful surroundings of the Peterborough Quaker Meeting House garden, the local project base for Refugee Council’s therapy service.  This facilitated an in-depth discussion on cross-functional collaboration across the project strands in the area, with representatives from the wellbeing and employment services and from UKRA, together with the ESOL coordinator and other EELGA SMP project team members.  The project team are planning further in- person meetings in other parts of the region as circumstances allow.

Formal qualitative exploration of the project is now underway, beginning in May and running through to April 2022.  Research consultancy ERS has been appointed to undertake the evaluation, funded by the Bell Foundation, commencing with the production of a logic model followed by a series of focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders throughout Q6.  By Q7 a detailed evaluation plan should be in place and interviews with beneficiaries will be taking place towards the latter part of the year.  An interim report will be produced in January 2022 and a final report in July 2022.

At this half-way stage of the project a total of 432 beneficiaries have thus far been actively participating in the programme across the East of England.  That these high numbers have been reached in such a challenging year gives some indication, and much optimism, about what could be achieved in less precarious times.

Overcoming challenges in national lockdown

Q4 (Jan-Mar 2021) proved to be an extremely challenging quarter since all parts of the region were subject to national lockdown restrictions for the entire period. Even so, the whole team, partner organisations and subcontractors were able to exceed their targets for completing skills assessments, people accessing the wellbeing service and the numbers registering and attending ESOL and Skills classes (including the construction course offered by Concept Training and the entrepreneurs’ support by MENTA) during this period. Across the project, employment advisers, therapists and ESOL providers are now working with more than 327 beneficiaries against a target of 225.

As a result of the national lockdown, it was not possible for employment advisers, therapists and ESOL tutors to meet beneficiaries in-person. This led to a slower rate of referrals and a lower take-up of the ESOL and Skills courses. The challenges associated with online learning (such as access to devices, data and in particular the necessary digital skills) remained a problem for some learners. The consequences of this included lower attendance and a higher number of dropouts since people were again managing children not being in school and nursery as well as many other issues created by the ‘stay at home’ requirements.

A range of ESOL & Skills classes took place during the quarter. These included job search, driving theory, IT skills and study skills. The first Concept-run course to obtain a CSCS card and work in the construction industry also started in Q4. MENTA continues to offer support to refugee entrepreneurs and we expect to see a number of Bedfordshire entrepreneurs accessing this service in Q5. Their 1-to-1 advice – of course provided remotely in Q4 – is complemented by an online course on relevant subjects. The first module covers moving from Universal Credit to the DWP self-employment track.

The Confident Women course is scheduled to take place in Q5 and we expect to run the various Preparing to Work In courses (hospitality, childcare and warehousing) in Q5 and Q6. Concept will also run an additional course to obtain an SIA card for the security industry.

We currently have no plans to expand the range of ESOL courses on offer but recognise that many potential participants are working at ESOL levels below Entry 3. In order to secure and maintain the pipeline of learners for future quarters, we will be running general Entry 2 ESOL classes in Q5 and Q6 as on-line summer schools. We hope that these learners will then be able to access the other courses by the end of 2021 or the start of 2022.

Achieving our Targets in Challenging Times

The project’s Q3 period between October to December 2020 saw significant upward growth across all areas of the project and all project strands are meeting and in many cases far exceeding projected targets; a significant achievement under the extraordinary conditions presented by COVID-19. 

Employment Advisers and Skills Assessors have worked extremely hard to promote the project and have completed a total of 193 skills assessments and action plans for beneficiaries across the region, directing each to a relevant project pathway, which surpasses the cumulative target for the end of Q3 of 110. 34 refugees have taken up wellbeing provision with the service to date and the wellbeing team have adopted a robust foundation in delivering therapeutic services using online platforms. The project’s ESOL core curricula courses (IT Skills, Job Search Skills, Driving Theory) are now operating in all counties with 72 beneficiaries attending, mostly online, classes across the region, and 23 project beneficiaries have been accepted onto the MENTA Refugee Entrepreneur Support Programme and have begun their 1:1 sessions with a business adviser to support them through the various stages of setting up a business.

In October the project was formally launched via a virtual MS Teams Live event with the aim of ensuring that all relevant organisations in the region are aware of the project and how to refer potential beneficiaries into the services offered.  Over 100 people attended and very encouraging post-event feedback was received.  The keynote speech from a former UASC and the films of resettled refugees working in the region produced for the event have been adapted to be included into the ESOL and Skills modules.

Consolidating the Project Pathways

The ESOL core curricula (IT Skills, Job Search Skills, Study Skills, Driving Theory) are now being delivered region-wide and the project’s ESOL Coordinator has been refining four sector-specific courses ready for rollout from January 2021: Preparing to Work in Childcare and Early Years Education; Preparing to Work in Warehousing and Logistics; Preparing to Work in Hospitality (ready for delivery in Q5 when hospitality work opportunities are predicted to be more numerous); Confident Women.  The Confident Women course will be offered exclusively to women and taught by women, focusing on boosting confidence and providing employment skills to the large number of women registered with the project who have never previously worked outside the home.

During the course of Q3 the SMP project team started to consider ways to boost provision of services by working with other established course providers and external bodies.  For example, the WEA offer a Community Interpreting course, a route in which a number of project beneficiaries are interested.  On completion of this course the project is working up a route in conjunction with CCGs to prepare beneficiaries to deliver health improvement information on the COVID-19 vaccination programme, extending to provision of more general community health advice.  This will serve a mutually beneficial function, providing beneficiaries with valuable employment experience whilst using their skills to assist in crucial local community advocacy on vaccination.

And for those clients who have a skills assessment and action plan but do not currently need an AMIF funded service, employment advice has seen them benefit from referrals to external training providers, eg SWBA, Code Your Future, ESOL, Functional Skills, or to similar or complimentary services to ensure clients are well supported, eg the Shaw Trust.

During Q4 the project’s Employer Liaison Officer will continue to build links with the DWP, other training providers and employers able to offer work placements.  In order to further promote the project’s Employer Liaison service and the benefits of employing refugees, the project team has produced two new pages for the website: WW4RI Employer Liaison - EELGA SMP and WW4RI - Employing Refugees - EELGA SMP

The wellbeing strand of the project continues to collaborate and network across the region, meeting CCGs and ESOL providers to introduce the service available and establish solid referral pathways.  A pilot phase of the project which was rolled out across Cambridgeshire and informed how the wellbeing service across the region would be delivered has been chosen by four MPs to represent the East of England in the Health Equalities award in the national NHS Parliamentary awards: Shortlist | NHS Parliamentary Awards

Although there are a multitude of challenges presented by operating the project under the present circumstances, that targets continue to be met is testament to the resourcefulness and tenacity of those involved.  As delivery overall well exceeds projected targets at this stage, the project is in an excellent position to ride out the current storm of Q4 and emerge later in the Spring to return to in-person teaching and advice sessions, and the full scope of employment opportunities originally envisaged when the project was planned pre-pandemic.

The period July-September has seen significant progress on the project with all six counties having services in place to submit quarterly returns.  The project now has a full team of Employment Advisers and Skills Assessors who have worked extremely hard to promote the project and enrol clients.  As a result, 60 beneficiaries have completed skills assessments and action plans in quarter 2 which brings the project total to 101 beneficiaries, 61 ahead of the projected quarter target figure.  Connections are starting to be made with local businesses, and a wide range of paid employment and volunteering roles have been secured.  The project’s Employer Liaison Officer is working to build networks with regional DWP contacts to encourage engagement with the project.

68 beneficiaries have completed Google classroom enrolment activities while waiting to start relevant ESOL skills pathways.  26 have already embarked on the ESOL and Skills pathways, surpassing the projected quarter target by 11 enrolments.  This includes registrations on classes started this quarter in Essex and Norfolk, in IT Skills and Job Search courses respectively, and 7 cross region registrations to entrepreneur advisers MENTA.  WEA are providing ESOL in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Suffolk.  All learners registered with the WEA ESOL and Skills pathway will benefit from a tablet and data if required to enable them to access 90 hours of learning and can retain the tablet to help with future job searching.  Delivery has been delayed however due to several different factors including approvals from the funders and the slow availability of devices.  The service is now expected to start in Q3.

Q2 has seen 14 beneficiaries access the project’s therapeutic strand, delivered by the Refugee Council.  Early in Q2 the Refugee Council focused on introducing the wellbeing service to stakeholders across the region and as a response received back a substantial inflow of referrals.  They are also working on collaboration with project partner organisations to establish solid referral pathways.  Vacant placements in the service are expected to be filled during Q3 (2 placements within the Refugee Council; 1 placement within the Suffolk Health Outreach team).

A series of online Getting to Know You events in September enabled the project partners and sub-contractors to come together and for each to become more of aware of the project services and how to access the different project strands, consolidating internal networks and communications. The impact of Covid-19 is certainly being felt, but the project team have shown resilience and creativity in adapting to the situation to not only meet but far exceed targets, as the quarterly figures indicate.  Many of these impacts have had immediate practical consequences such as the necessity for dealing with clients online and difficulties securing office space.  But there are other issues which have a more underlying impact on service provision, not least that there are currently no new arrivals under the refugee resettlement scheme, paused due to Covid-19, and a client group who could have benefitted from early access to the wellbeing service.

Activity during the project’s first quarter has seen 41 people already having undertaken a skills assessment, exceeding the projected target of 20, 37 of whom are planning to start on the ESOL and skills pathway.  Most assessments were for people resident in Hertfordshire and Norfolk where employment advisers have been in place since April; two further appointments for Employment Advisors in Essex were made towards the end of the period.  The SMP team has recruited two Employer Liaison Officers during this quarter to identify employers able to provide relevant work experience.

Recruitment of psychological therapists to deliver the well-being stream is progressing well with therapists now in place in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Suffolk.

The exceptional Covid-19 position means that significant adaptations to the ESOL and skills course content and delivery have been required to keep project performance on track.  The ESOL curricula have been re-profiled as the launch course for hospitality would have been readying people to work in a sector with now scarce opportunities. Four courses in driving theory, IT skills, study skills and job search have been prepared to equip beneficiaries with the skills they will need to access the new sector-based ESOL classes which are being drafted.

In the event that we need to deliver all our ESOL curricula on-line for 2020-2021, funding will need to be redirected into buying basic tablets for learners and ensuring that they have sufficient data to be able access the classes.

There are opportunities that this situation is now presenting.  If we move to on-line ESOL, beneficiaries can be recruited more quickly as they will not be required to travel to learn in one classroom.  We have developed an IT ESOL Skills Module as IT will be essential to access vocational courses, undertake work searches and secure work in the UK job market, but this was not one of the sector-specific ESOL programmes that we had originally planned to deliver.  In the event that local Covid-19 lockdowns are enforced, having online skills will be vital for adults seeking work and to support their children at home.

Working with the project partners on mobilisation has been successful and the SMP team has created multiple guidance and networking opportunities. This has ensured consistency across the East of England and provided an opportunity for partners to share experience, best practice and ideas on project delivery. This comment from the Refugee Council exemplifies how we have worked together: ‘We appreciate the difficulty of launching a project during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is testament to the WW4RI team that this has been achieved.’

The beginning of Q6 was a period of some stability and the lifting of lockdown restrictions in mid-July enabled partner organisations’ offices to reopen and project team meetings in Ipswich and Bedford to take place, facilitating in-person communications and cross-project networking and collaboration. However, the period has also been marked by the events in Afghanistan and ensuing arrival of Afghans into the UK at an unpredicted scale and speed.  In terms of the project, this is requiring a reassessment of our provision for a different client-base, ensuring that the newly arrived Afghans (and Hong Kong BN(O)s who have also started to arrive in greater numbers), many of whom have professional qualifications, can be assisted into employment relative to their existing skills and experience.  This will involve adjusting existing courses to suit higher ESOL levels and assisting with qualification conversion and preparation for IELTS and other high-level language testing required for entry into higher education and professional occupations.  The project’s wellbeing therapists are already registering new Afghan arrivals and visiting bridging hotels where they are meeting directly with families to learn more about their current needs and two additional therapist roles have been advertised to cope with the requirement for increased capacity.

The E2 Summer Schools which took place during this period were an overwhelming success, enabling many beneficiaries region-wide to progress into the project’s skills courses this Autumn.  The first Childcare course finished in Q6 followed by the first work placement in a school at the beginning of term and further Childcare courses have now either started or have been scheduled in all parts of the region.  43 placements have now been offered in schools around the region, providing a good choice for beneficiaries in terms of location and education setting once they complete their course.  The first Preparing to Work with Customers course started late in Q6 in some parts of the region, and employers are currently being sought to offer work experience placements in customer-facing roles for course graduates. 

Looking towards Q7, we are planning the first whole project in-person meeting in November, gathering all project strands together for the first time to discuss project achievements and how we can build on these going into the final year of the project. Q7-8 will see some exciting developments in the project’s direction and scope and the fruition of groundwork laid during earlier quarters and we look forward to reporting on this early next year.

Road to Recovery

As we moved gradually towards a loosening of restrictions during the early summer and are seeing the first green shoots of recovery, we have been able to adapt the project correspondingly.  During this period the sector-specific courses have been reframed in consultation with the project Employment Advisers, informed by direct feedback from the project beneficiaries.  Two new curricula now complete the full suite of courses on offer: Preparing to Work with Food and Preparing to Work with Customers. These will assist employment pathways into hospitality, a newly re-opened sector currently experiencing severe staffing shortages, and a diverse range of opportunities in customer-facing roles. The courses will also dovetail into and enhance the self-employment support provided by our project partner MENTA for refugee entrepreneurs wanting to open their own hospitality business, and we hope these new courses will be well received.

146 project beneficiaries have now taken part in the project’s existing courses comprising the core curricula courses Driving Theory, IT Skills, Study Skills, Job Search Skills and Confident Women.  In addition, the first two sector-specific courses Preparing to Work in Childcare started during Q5 for Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk beneficiaries who would like to work in educational settings.  Finishing early in Q6, beneficiaries from these courses can then move into short term work experience placements in schools to consolidate their learning, and placements have now been secured in schools for the first cohort to move into at the start of the next academic year. Sector-specific courses in Essex, Norfolk and Peterborough are due to commence later in the year, with placements in those counties being arranged for early 2022.

For those project beneficiaries currently at too low a level of ESOL to register onto these courses (E3 being the minimum requirement), E2 Summer Schools have been organised across the region, starting in Q5 and continuing over the summer.  These will improve the English of beneficiaries at E2 to a sufficient extent that they are then able to take part in the project’s courses during the Autumn and into the final year of the project.  There has been much interest in registering onto the summer schools with all classes now full to capacity.

With lockdown easing, the team were able to hold their first in-person meeting for the Cambridgeshire-based project members in the beautiful surroundings of the Peterborough Quaker Meeting House garden, the local project base for Refugee Council’s therapy service.  This facilitated an in-depth discussion on cross-functional collaboration across the project strands in the area, with representatives from the wellbeing and employment services and from UKRA, together with the ESOL coordinator and other EELGA SMP project team members.  The project team are planning further in- person meetings in other parts of the region as circumstances allow.

Formal qualitative exploration of the project is now underway, beginning in May and running through to April 2022.  Research consultancy ERS has been appointed to undertake the evaluation, funded by the Bell Foundation, commencing with the production of a logic model followed by a series of focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders throughout Q6.  By Q7 a detailed evaluation plan should be in place and interviews with beneficiaries will be taking place towards the latter part of the year.  An interim report will be produced in January 2022 and a final report in July 2022.

At this half-way stage of the project a total of 432 beneficiaries have thus far been actively participating in the programme across the East of England.  That these high numbers have been reached in such a challenging year gives some indication, and much optimism, about what could be achieved in less precarious times.

Overcoming challenges in national lockdown

Q4 (Jan-Mar 2021) proved to be an extremely challenging quarter since all parts of the region were subject to national lockdown restrictions for the entire period. Even so, the whole team, partner organisations and subcontractors were able to exceed their targets for completing skills assessments, people accessing the wellbeing service and the numbers registering and attending ESOL and Skills classes (including the construction course offered by Concept Training and the entrepreneurs’ support by MENTA) during this period. Across the project, employment advisers, therapists and ESOL providers are now working with more than 327 beneficiaries against a target of 225.

As a result of the national lockdown, it was not possible for employment advisers, therapists and ESOL tutors to meet beneficiaries in-person. This led to a slower rate of referrals and a lower take-up of the ESOL and Skills courses. The challenges associated with online learning (such as access to devices, data and in particular the necessary digital skills) remained a problem for some learners. The consequences of this included lower attendance and a higher number of dropouts since people were again managing children not being in school and nursery as well as many other issues created by the ‘stay at home’ requirements.

A range of ESOL & Skills classes took place during the quarter. These included job search, driving theory, IT skills and study skills. The first Concept-run course to obtain a CSCS card and work in the construction industry also started in Q4. MENTA continues to offer support to refugee entrepreneurs and we expect to see a number of Bedfordshire entrepreneurs accessing this service in Q5. Their 1-to-1 advice – of course provided remotely in Q4 – is complemented by an online course on relevant subjects. The first module covers moving from Universal Credit to the DWP self-employment track.

The Confident Women course is scheduled to take place in Q5 and we expect to run the various Preparing to Work In courses (hospitality, childcare and warehousing) in Q5 and Q6. Concept will also run an additional course to obtain an SIA card for the security industry.

We currently have no plans to expand the range of ESOL courses on offer but recognise that many potential participants are working at ESOL levels below Entry 3. In order to secure and maintain the pipeline of learners for future quarters, we will be running general Entry 2 ESOL classes in Q5 and Q6 as on-line summer schools. We hope that these learners will then be able to access the other courses by the end of 2021 or the start of 2022.

Achieving our Targets in Challenging Times

The project’s Q3 period between October to December 2020 saw significant upward growth across all areas of the project and all project strands are meeting and in many cases far exceeding projected targets; a significant achievement under the extraordinary conditions presented by COVID-19. 

Employment Advisers and Skills Assessors have worked extremely hard to promote the project and have completed a total of 193 skills assessments and action plans for beneficiaries across the region, directing each to a relevant project pathway, which surpasses the cumulative target for the end of Q3 of 110. 34 refugees have taken up wellbeing provision with the service to date and the wellbeing team have adopted a robust foundation in delivering therapeutic services using online platforms. The project’s ESOL core curricula courses (IT Skills, Job Search Skills, Driving Theory) are now operating in all counties with 72 beneficiaries attending, mostly online, classes across the region, and 23 project beneficiaries have been accepted onto the MENTA Refugee Entrepreneur Support Programme and have begun their 1:1 sessions with a business adviser to support them through the various stages of setting up a business.

In October the project was formally launched via a virtual MS Teams Live event with the aim of ensuring that all relevant organisations in the region are aware of the project and how to refer potential beneficiaries into the services offered.  Over 100 people attended and very encouraging post-event feedback was received.  The keynote speech from a former UASC and the films of resettled refugees working in the region produced for the event have been adapted to be included into the ESOL and Skills modules.

Consolidating the Project Pathways

The ESOL core curricula (IT Skills, Job Search Skills, Study Skills, Driving Theory) are now being delivered region-wide and the project’s ESOL Coordinator has been refining four sector-specific courses ready for rollout from January 2021: Preparing to Work in Childcare and Early Years Education; Preparing to Work in Warehousing and Logistics; Preparing to Work in Hospitality (ready for delivery in Q5 when hospitality work opportunities are predicted to be more numerous); Confident Women.  The Confident Women course will be offered exclusively to women and taught by women, focusing on boosting confidence and providing employment skills to the large number of women registered with the project who have never previously worked outside the home.

During the course of Q3 the SMP project team started to consider ways to boost provision of services by working with other established course providers and external bodies.  For example, the WEA offer a Community Interpreting course, a route in which a number of project beneficiaries are interested.  On completion of this course the project is working up a route in conjunction with CCGs to prepare beneficiaries to deliver health improvement information on the COVID-19 vaccination programme, extending to provision of more general community health advice.  This will serve a mutually beneficial function, providing beneficiaries with valuable employment experience whilst using their skills to assist in crucial local community advocacy on vaccination.

And for those clients who have a skills assessment and action plan but do not currently need an AMIF funded service, employment advice has seen them benefit from referrals to external training providers, eg SWBA, Code Your Future, ESOL, Functional Skills, or to similar or complimentary services to ensure clients are well supported, eg the Shaw Trust.

During Q4 the project’s Employer Liaison Officer will continue to build links with the DWP, other training providers and employers able to offer work placements.  In order to further promote the project’s Employer Liaison service and the benefits of employing refugees, the project team has produced two new pages for the website: WW4RI Employer Liaison - EELGA SMP and WW4RI - Employing Refugees - EELGA SMP

The wellbeing strand of the project continues to collaborate and network across the region, meeting CCGs and ESOL providers to introduce the service available and establish solid referral pathways.  A pilot phase of the project which was rolled out across Cambridgeshire and informed how the wellbeing service across the region would be delivered has been chosen by four MPs to represent the East of England in the Health Equalities award in the national NHS Parliamentary awards: Shortlist | NHS Parliamentary Awards

Although there are a multitude of challenges presented by operating the project under the present circumstances, that targets continue to be met is testament to the resourcefulness and tenacity of those involved.  As delivery overall well exceeds projected targets at this stage, the project is in an excellent position to ride out the current storm of Q4 and emerge later in the Spring to return to in-person teaching and advice sessions, and the full scope of employment opportunities originally envisaged when the project was planned pre-pandemic.

The period July-September has seen significant progress on the project with all six counties having services in place to submit quarterly returns.  The project now has a full team of Employment Advisers and Skills Assessors who have worked extremely hard to promote the project and enrol clients.  As a result, 60 beneficiaries have completed skills assessments and action plans in quarter 2 which brings the project total to 101 beneficiaries, 61 ahead of the projected quarter target figure.  Connections are starting to be made with local businesses, and a wide range of paid employment and volunteering roles have been secured.  The project’s Employer Liaison Officer is working to build networks with regional DWP contacts to encourage engagement with the project.

68 beneficiaries have completed Google classroom enrolment activities while waiting to start relevant ESOL skills pathways.  26 have already embarked on the ESOL and Skills pathways, surpassing the projected quarter target by 11 enrolments.  This includes registrations on classes started this quarter in Essex and Norfolk, in IT Skills and Job Search courses respectively, and 7 cross region registrations to entrepreneur advisers MENTA.  WEA are providing ESOL in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Suffolk.  All learners registered with the WEA ESOL and Skills pathway will benefit from a tablet and data if required to enable them to access 90 hours of learning and can retain the tablet to help with future job searching.  Delivery has been delayed however due to several different factors including approvals from the funders and the slow availability of devices.  The service is now expected to start in Q3.

Q2 has seen 14 beneficiaries access the project’s therapeutic strand, delivered by the Refugee Council.  Early in Q2 the Refugee Council focused on introducing the wellbeing service to stakeholders across the region and as a response received back a substantial inflow of referrals.  They are also working on collaboration with project partner organisations to establish solid referral pathways.  Vacant placements in the service are expected to be filled during Q3 (2 placements within the Refugee Council; 1 placement within the Suffolk Health Outreach team).

A series of online Getting to Know You events in September enabled the project partners and sub-contractors to come together and for each to become more of aware of the project services and how to access the different project strands, consolidating internal networks and communications. The impact of Covid-19 is certainly being felt, but the project team have shown resilience and creativity in adapting to the situation to not only meet but far exceed targets, as the quarterly figures indicate.  Many of these impacts have had immediate practical consequences such as the necessity for dealing with clients online and difficulties securing office space.  But there are other issues which have a more underlying impact on service provision, not least that there are currently no new arrivals under the refugee resettlement scheme, paused due to Covid-19, and a client group who could have benefitted from early access to the wellbeing service.

Activity during the project’s first quarter has seen 41 people already having undertaken a skills assessment, exceeding the projected target of 20, 37 of whom are planning to start on the ESOL and skills pathway.  Most assessments were for people resident in Hertfordshire and Norfolk where employment advisers have been in place since April; two further appointments for Employment Advisors in Essex were made towards the end of the period.  The SMP team has recruited two Employer Liaison Officers during this quarter to identify employers able to provide relevant work experience.

Recruitment of psychological therapists to deliver the well-being stream is progressing well with therapists now in place in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Suffolk.

The exceptional Covid-19 position means that significant adaptations to the ESOL and skills course content and delivery have been required to keep project performance on track.  The ESOL curricula have been re-profiled as the launch course for hospitality would have been readying people to work in a sector with now scarce opportunities. Four courses in driving theory, IT skills, study skills and job search have been prepared to equip beneficiaries with the skills they will need to access the new sector-based ESOL classes which are being drafted.

In the event that we need to deliver all our ESOL curricula on-line for 2020-2021, funding will need to be redirected into buying basic tablets for learners and ensuring that they have sufficient data to be able access the classes.

There are opportunities that this situation is now presenting.  If we move to on-line ESOL, beneficiaries can be recruited more quickly as they will not be required to travel to learn in one classroom.  We have developed an IT ESOL Skills Module as IT will be essential to access vocational courses, undertake work searches and secure work in the UK job market, but this was not one of the sector-specific ESOL programmes that we had originally planned to deliver.  In the event that local Covid-19 lockdowns are enforced, having online skills will be vital for adults seeking work and to support their children at home.

Working with the project partners on mobilisation has been successful and the SMP team has created multiple guidance and networking opportunities. This has ensured consistency across the East of England and provided an opportunity for partners to share experience, best practice and ideas on project delivery. This comment from the Refugee Council exemplifies how we have worked together: ‘We appreciate the difficulty of launching a project during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is testament to the WW4RI team that this has been achieved.’