Helping Sheffield learners stay ShipShape

Community’s new learning hub in Sheffield has engaged dozens of new learners – and they are keeping connected while staying safe at home.

Ship Shape in Sheffield
© ShipShape

A successful partnership between the union Community and Sheffield’s ShipShape health and wellbeing centre has engaged dozens of new learners in one of the most deprived parts of the city. And even though Covid-19 has meant the premises have had to close, the learners have been keeping connected while staying safe at home.

Last autumn, with the help of the Union Learning Fund (ULF), Community bought laptops and other equipment to help learning get under way at ShipShape. And after a successful pilot programme of English and IT classes, the new ShipShape Community Learning Hub launched in December.

Anchor organisation ShipShape is a well-established fixture in the Sheffield community, helping people improve their health and wellbeing through free and low-cost one-to-one and group sessions at its centre in Sharrow and in outreach venues across the city.

ShipShape works with some of the most vulnerable members of the community: many are isolated and find it hard to get involved in any activity outside their homes; others have long-term health conditions or struggle with their mental health and are at risk of suicide. The centre also works with people living with dementia and their carers and people who have suffered domestic abuse.

CEO Tanya Basharat, has been working at ShipShape for 11 years now. Tanya explained:

We’re very much about helping people to live healthier lives in their communities through practical and creative ways.”

We run cooking on a budget activities, physical activities, one-to-one counselling and specialist support with long-term health conditions including – but not limited to – diabetes or chronic pain. And we work with the community, statutory and non-statutory partners to ensure we shape services to meet people’s needs.”

But while Tanya and her team had long been interested in adding learning into the mix of services at ShipShape to meet the demand voiced by the local community at their co-production workshops, they hadn’t been able to find a suitable partner to work with – until Community made it possible.

It was when Community National Organiser Sidra Nisa started attending ShipShape’s partnership network meetings that the two organisations began to explore the potential of working together.

Sidra explained:

We have been trying to increase our presence within the community, which is something we need to do in order to create tangible learning solutions that can be instrumental towards achieving the government’s learning agenda.”

At an open day promoting learning opportunities early last year, a learning needs survey identified a demand for English and digital skills in particular.

Community Learning Organiser Hannah Smith worked with ShipShape’s Community Development Worker Nur Ali and Publicity and Admin Worker Iram Fareen to set out a clear learning strategy to engage people, which has involved delivery of English, digital skills, handwriting and other courses.

Iram has now completed her TUC Stage 1 Union Learning Representative course, becoming the union’s first ULR in a community setting.

Tanya said: The training was a great leap forward because it bridged some of the gaps we had not envisioned. Iram speaks several different languages, which is important because we have a diverse community across this neighbourhood.”

The English and IT classes that launched last autumn were a massive success, with the first group of learners presented with their certificates by Sheffield Lord Mayor Tony Downing, who officially opened the hub last December alongside Community General Secretary Roy Rickhuss CBE and National Executive Council member Douglas Fairbairn.

Tony said:

It is great to see people come together to help each other learn: I just wish there were many more places like this set up across the city.”

Roy emphasised how the economy was changing through the fourth industrial revolution. Roy said:

We know that we have to help people who are in work but also those who are working in the community. Learning and skills are crucial for economic growth and for social justice, and as a union we have launched a commission to look into how technology is influencing and changing our daily life.”

We are pleased to work with ShipShape, and our aim through provisioning the learning hub is that Community members and ShipShape clientele have the skills to fulfill their current and future personal, social and employment needs.”

After the launch, one of the learner’s daughters phoned Tanya crying tears of gratitude about how the course had changed her mum. Tanya said:

She said her mum was speaking more at home, more confident about doing things for herself, going to the local shops independently rather than relying on others all the time – she gained this confidence, simply by attending her classes and being given the opportunity.”

Courses including hair and beauty with embedded functional and digital skills and handwriting workshops, which had enrolled over 30 learners, had already started before the lockdown.

Tanya said:

Because the induction day had already taken place, the good thing was that learners could take laptops with them. The team have set up Zoom and Skype group accounts for learners, who now have the basic digital skills to continue their courses online.”

Tanya says working in partnership has always been ShipShape’s strength.

We are delighted to work with Community to ignite a curiosity for learning and help people gain qualifications.”

And Sidra feels very happy with the way Community has contributed to help set up the new learning hub.

Sidra said:

Not only do Community members have a point where they can come and learn but also the wider community – those people who need it more than anyone else – now have access to education and lifelong learning and skills development.”

This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 Learning Rep.