Walsall College
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term ‘key-worker’ has never carried such weight. However, the UK’s opinion on which jobs qualify for the title has changed rapidly since the virus halted every-day life.

Respect for NHS workers, lorry drivers and supermarket teams is now stronger than ever; but with growing demand and heightened pressure, they are looking to recruit more. Now, thanks to schemes like the Community Matters Project, the team at Heart of England Community Foundation has helped fill job roles to meet the need in the West Midlands.

No-one could have predicted the shift in core workers, but due to the worldwide pandemic, roles ranging from medical practitioners through to supermarket employees have never been relied on more. In a recent three-year project managed by Heart of England Community Foundation, in partnership with Walsall College, 157 people were given key employability skills to help them get back into work and take up jobs in these vital sectors.

The project was one of many within the nationwide Building Better Opportunities programme, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund (ESF). The programme was launched in order to co-invest in the local projects tackling the root causes of worklessness, promoting social inclusion and driving local jobs and growth.

Kate Kaur, Project Mentor at Connecting Communities Walsall, said:

“We are so pleased to see how successful the programme was, and it was great to see so many people benefitting from the scheme. The programme provided participants with not only the skills and expertise but also the confidence to get back into work. It’s programmes like these that need to be available within communities across the region, offering support to people who may not know where to begin when looking for employment.”

By mobilising and teaching these core skills, the scheme has helped find employment for those whose confidence had been holding them back; meaning that today some of these participants are now employed and stand as the everyday heroes that the nation is thankful for. One of the participants, Shanae Tennant, attended the programme and sessions focused on women’s empowerment, health and well-being, and she is now a care assistant in a residential home for the elderly. Likewise, Kashmir Dhillon, who also benefited from the programme, took away employability skills and is now taking up a residential support worker role in a care home for children.

Tina Costello, Chief Executive at Heart of England Community Foundation, said:

“The Community Matters Programme is a key project that the Foundation has helped to manage and support; we are incredibly proud of the success of the scheme and happy to see that so many individuals have benefited from this.

“It’s important to us that local people like Shanae and Kashmir are provided with the skills and confidence they need to succeed in gaining employment. Not only has it been successful in ensuring that they secure employment but, in turn, has eased the pressure on the health sector by widening the pool of expertise out there. This is important not just in a time of need, like the Covid-19 pandemic, but all year round; we need to ease the pressure on our key industries and support them as best we can.”

For more information about the Community Matters Programme, as well as the other projects that Heart of England Community Foundation supports, head to www.heartofenglandcf.co.uk.