Newcastle City Council

Felicity Mendelson, Senior Learning and Development Officer, Newcastle City Council, and UNISON Union Learning Representative (ULR) has been involved in unionlearn projects since 2001, when she oversaw the setting up of a learning centre for City Council staff.  Since then the Council has gone from strength to strength in engaging staff in learning, improving their literacy, numeracy and ICT skills and in achieving NVQs. 

Despite this, Felicity is really excited by the Bridges to Learning project as it has provided an opportunity not only to address the skill needs of a new group of Council staff but also to trial new progression routes in learning.

As Felicity said:

 “As you know, I am passionate about giving opportunities to people, and our unionlearn and UNISON projects have already helped hundreds of people. However, this is the first project that takes us beyond Skills for Life and NVQs to give people their first step to do university education and it provides an excellent model for other parts of the Council.”

The focus of the City Council’s project is to help almost 500 staff who are engaged in the delivery of ‘Adult Services’, back into learning. Around 140 of these staff work in the City’s four Resource Centres, which provide emergency short-stay care, respite and day care and community rehabilitation, with the remaining number of staff being involved in the delivery of care at home.  This includes hands-on support for older people, assisting them to dress for example, and re-enabling them, wherever possible, to take care of themselves after discharge from hospital or a long term illness.

Through a combination of roadshows, one-to-one discussions with over 380 members of staff and other marketing activities, the team was successful in identifying a wide range of learning interests amongst staff as well as real enthusiasm amongst some to aim even higher.

Such was the enthusiasm for the Open University’s K101 Introduction to Health and Social Care course and the Integrated Vocational Route, which offers the K101 alongside an NVQ Level 3, that the team had to put in place an application and selection process.  This took the form of asking each applicant to provide a short statement explaining why they wanted to do the course and the difference it would make to their lives.

Wendy Aitman a UNISON ULR whose secondment to the project for 20 hours each week has been secured through the B2L partnership from the City Council, reported:

“We knew that we wanted to make sure that we had support in place for everyone, whether it was study skills or language support for those whose first language is not English (ESOL). We chose this process, though, so that we could really look at their motivation, rather than their writing ability as we wanted to support everyone who wanted to do this and make sure that nobody fails”.

As a result of their careful and caring approach, 13 people from a wide mix of ages, work areas and different ethnic backgrounds enrolled for the OU courses in September and they’re not only still engaged on the course but they are recommending it to others, so much so that from the number of enquiries recently, the City’s B2L team are convinced that they will have another group ready for October 2010.

The demand for an additional OU progamme has also been stimulated by the success of the other learning opportunities that the team has put in place, including ICT, Literacy and ESOL classes, which are run at Westgate College in the west end of Newcastle, and at the Council’s Learning Zone in their Byker Depot. Wherever possible, Wendy and Jane Yugire, the other ULR seconded full-time to the project, attend the learning sessions, each Wednesday at Westgate College for example, to offer support and encouragement and a number of referrals for NVQ courses have followed.

The OU’s ‘’Understanding health’ and ‘Health and society’ courses and the WEA’s Return to Learn courses were popular last year and a new group of learners from Adult Services will soon join a Return to Learn course hosted by the B2L project team at the Freeman Hospital.

Chris Dugdale, the Manager of the City Council ‘s Care Services is delighted with the success of Bridges to Learning:

“The ULRs have really gone out of their way in adopting a supportive outreach approach. They went to great lengths to meet night staff, for instance, often a forgotten group and I’m very keen to see them develop. They also made sure that they fitted in with people’s timetables; for example, arranging to meet one member of staff who was coming off duty at their local Asda as she shopped before she went home.  This really has put care staff at ease and made them feel valued, so it’s no wonder we’ve had such a successful project.”