Seven organisations are hoping to land £2.8 million of government funding for projects to boost skills and regenerate communities in Stoke-on-Trent.
Charities, community interest companies and education providers are all bidding for cash from the Community Renewal Fund (CRF) – set up to replace a similar EU programme which is no longer accessible following Brexit.
Stoke-on-Trent was one of 100 ‘priority places’ invited to apply for around £3 million from the CRF earlier this year.
Local authorities such as Stoke-on-Trent City Council were asked to co-ordinate funding bids from individual organisations.
The government said it would prioritise funding bids for projects focused on boosting skills, local businesses, communities and supporting people into employment.
And the city council published its own prospectus setting out specific local priorities, to avoid being ‘overwhelmed’ by applications.
These are the seven funding bids which the council has now submitted to the government:
- Young Enterprise – £255,000
Entrepreneurial employment and skills training for young people at secondary schools, special schools, colleges and youth organisations in Stoke-on-Trent.
- Wavemaker CIC – £565,109
A programme designed to upskill local services alongside elderly/disadvantaged groups’ digital capabilities, encompassing housing and health elements.
Skills and employment programme for 16-24-year-olds, the age range hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of employment. The programme includes a wide range of providers across the city.
- Acacia Training – £496,911
Addressing skills shortages and career pathways into the social care sector, also promoting wellbeing and staff retention.
- Staffordshire University – £581,622
Promoting digital engagement within the city’s most disadvantaged communities, again a consortium approach with a number of local organisations.
- Disability Solutions – £75,649
Assisting individuals with disabilities into employment, and working with employers to raise awareness and new opportunities.
- Stoke Creates CIC – £371,380
A culture-led place-based initiative delivering a range of cultural events across the city’s towns.
Ben McManus, director of Hanley-based Wavemaker, says the organisation has been working to improve the digital skills of various groups in Stoke-on-Trent, including young people not in education, employment or training, and the elderly.
The CRF funding will allow it to work with an even wider range of groups in the future.
Ben said: “We’ve been doing work like this with various communities in Stoke-on-Trent over the past seven years. One of the areas has been tele-health, which has become very relevant during the pandemic.
“And so when this new funding opportunity was announced, it seemed perfect for us. It won’t mean changing what we’ve been doing – it will just be the next logical step for us.
“We’ve been speaking to various community groups around the city, explaining the work we’ll be able to do if this funding is secured.”
Danny Flynn, chief executive at YMCA North Staffordshire, says the CRF cash will fund training to help improve the life chances of young people hit by the pandemic.
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He said: “At the start of the pandemic a lot of young people in North Staffordshire lost their jobs, including many who were just starting their careers. At the YMCA we’ve been running IT training courses for these young people, so they’ll be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that come their way.
“With this CRF funding we will be able to continue with work with 10 providers across the city. We believe that every young person in Stoke-on-Trent has the right to fulfil their potential.”
Staffordshire University’s Discover project will see it work with 11 other partners in reaching out to ‘digitally excluded’ people, helping them access equipment and teaching them digital skills.
Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University, said: “We pride ourselves on being a leading digital university and know that digital skills and engagement have a huge part to play in helping people to access essential services and find employment.
“If successful, we would work with local organisations such as Voluntary Action Stoke-on-Trent and YMCA North Staffordshire to properly understand and address the needs of people from our most disadvantaged communities so they can improve basic skills and increase their opportunities. This is very much part of our civic responsibility to improve quality of life in our city.”
The CRF is a precursor to the forthcoming United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund, which is set to be the permanent replacement for the EU structural funds accessible before Brexit.
An announcement on the successful bids is expected before the end of the month, and all projects will have to be financially completed by March 2022.
City council leader Abi Brown said: “My thanks go to those across the community who have worked hard to help us develop bids for the Community Renewal Fund.
“We were inundated with submissions and sadly have only been able to take forward those that we believe are most likely to be successful. I have been hugely impressed by the talented, dedicated and committed individuals and organisations across this city.”