Learn to expand your horizons

Ray McCowan (second right) celebrating a link-up with Hibernian Community Foundation. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Ray McCowan (second right) celebrating a link-up with Hibernian Community Foundation. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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To reach the people who most need help, the courses offered at Edinburgh College go a long way beyond the classroom, writes Jane Handley

COLLEGES are integral parts of our communities – and serving the needs of local people, including raising aspirations and achievement, is at the heart of what we do. Giving people at a local level the chance to develop themselves and, ultimately, go on to education and employment is crucial, not only for themselves and their communities’ prosperity but also for our national industry and economy.

At Edinburgh College, our education provision is set up to expand local people’s horizons and support them to succeed but we don’t only do this through the traditional means of classroom education. We have an expansive and diverse range of community projects that give us greater reach into our communities, provide more opportunities for more people and ensure we are fulfilling our obligations to bring benefits to our surrounding areas.

We realise the huge importance in providing educational opportunities to those who need it the most, including people who are disenfranchised, so we have established a strong partnership with the Prince’s Trust, a youth charity that helps change the lives of young and unemployed people.

Working closely with the trust, we have created tailor-made employability programmes in Midlothian and Edinburgh, short courses aimed at developing essential employability skills for vulnerable and unemployed people aged 13-30. Around one in five people in the UK are out of work and employability programmes are vital in helping to support young people into jobs and training to get them on a path towards a positive future.

One heartening story to come out from our relationship with the Prince’s Trust is the work of an inspiring young ex-serviceman called Lewis Montague, who became a short-course leader. Lewis joined us through the Help for Heroes charity and brought his experiences from army life to benefit a group of young people at our Gate 55 outreach centre in Sighthill. During his service on the frontline in Iraq, Lewis lost some of his own battalion and was then in a near-fatal car accident that left him unable to walk or talk, and had to leave the army to recover.

His shattering experiences of losing members of his battalion and the strength it has taken him to recover has helped him to connect with the group of young people and has shown them the strength and determination it takes to pull through and succeed. After completing the programme with Lewis, many students felt inspired to get back into education and have started further courses at the college.

Another success of the employability programme with the Prince’s Trust was a scheme in which 11 young unemployed people designed and created illustrated boards to decorate unused shop fronts on Dalkeith High Street. Working with Dalkeith Heritage Regeneration and Dalkeith History Society, they created boards that showed the history of the town, including burning witches at the stake, coal mining in Gorebridge and the building of Rosslyn Chapel. The project brought the college and local historical groups together to create something both educational and valuable for the local community, while giving the young people new skills and confidence.

We are also involved in an ongoing partnership with Hibernian Community Foundation. Football is hugely influential in young people’s lives; our hope is that pairing up education with the Hibernian brand will be the catalyst for many young people who may never have previously thought about going to college. One aspect of the partnership gives young people a chance to take part in a seven-week course offering a football coaching badge and employability skills qualification. Local employers and Hibs supporters are key partners in this project by making work placement and internship opportunities available.

Our teams in the College Community centre continually strive to offer support to those on the fringes of society. Working from one of our outreach centres in Leith, our English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) lecturers deliver training to home tutors who teach English in people’s homes. The one-to-one lessons are designed to provide English lessons to students who are unable to attend classes in college.

The students are predominantly immigrants without a basic level of English, often mothers with small children or members of the community unable to attend the college for other reasons, such as health problems. The home lessons provide a lifeline to people to end isolation through learning English and can help them to enrol on courses, apply for jobs or simply attend doctors’ appointments and school parents’ evenings.

Our commitment to seeking out new ways to support people in our local communities will continue. Local people are the lifeblood of our college. We couldn’t exist without them, and we hope through projects such as these that we’re giving something substantial back to the community.

• Jane Handley is head of college community at Edinburgh College www.edinburghcollege.ac.uk


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