Shotton IT Resource Centre is a local UK online centre based in Shotton Colliery, an ex-mining village in East Durham with a population of 4,359. It was set up and is owned by Shotton Partnership Ltd., a group of local volunteers who came together to regenerate the village.
Centre Manager, Rona Hardy, explains: “The closure of the local mine in 1972 started a downward spiral which is still felt today and Shotton shows levels of acute deprivation. It is in the top 10% of deprived wards in the UK.
“Shotton Colliery faces many complex issues including an ageing population, high unemployment, poor health and low educational attainment. The number of people receiving benefits is high with many receiving Disability Living Allowance, Employment Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit, ‘Out of Work’ benefits or Job Seekers Allowance.”
When the IT Centre first opened, it provided local people with easy access to computers and basic IT training but it soon became apparent that a wider range of services was needed. The Centre has now expanded its services to offer even more to its learners, including employment sessions for job seekers and a food bank. The Centre’s client base made it ideal for the Reboot UK programme.
Rona says: “As part of Reboot UK, Shotton IT Centre has been supporting learners who are furthest from employment to get the skills they need to start learning again, become digitally engaged and gain the confidence they need to start work.
“A lot of our learners come to the Centre because they need internet access and support to use the internet. They may have no access at home, low skills and poor literacy or they may simply need to be led through their first engagement with a computer. Many of these learners come to Shotton IT Centre because they receive conditional benefits, which means that they have to use a computer to search for work. This means that they are engaging with computers for the first time and re-entering education under huge stress. To ease this, there is always a member of staff in the room to support and guide them.”
One learner, Mark, 28, said that this support was crucial: “If you need help, they’ll help you straightaway in there.”
Another learner, George, 62, said that: “If you make a mistake or go back on a page or whatever, the tutor’s straight there.”
George was introduced to Shotton IT Centre through the Jobcentre as he was struggling to find work. He’s done several different jobs throughout his life, notably as a welder for Caterpillar and as a soldier in the Armed Forces.
He says: “I welded for 40 years then was made redundant. I’ve been unemployed for a year. I think it’s my age – nobody wants to know me now! I nearly gave up, but I’m here so I can learn to use the computers and apply for other types of jobs besides welding. I had no idea how to switch one on, never mind job search! It’s made me feel more confident on what I’m trying to achieve. Whether or not the jobs acknowledge you, that’s a different thing altogether but it’s definitely made me more confident in learning.”
To support learners like George, Shotton IT Centre has developed support to wrap around its IT and training. Rona explains: “We’ve developed more intensive support such as the Food Bank, Credit Union, Winter Champions, Debt First Aider schemes and Active Listening. This kind of support addresses the intersecting issues that individuals might have when they are experiencing poverty."
These individuals are often feeling very low. They have been out of work for a long time, and their confidence in themselves and their skills has been eroded. Rona explains: “The intense support for the learners has proved to be very important. It gives them the confidence to do courses and training that previously they would have thought too challenging. Our active listening skills show the learners we’re here for them and this helps them open up more about their health and state of wellbeing; they have found someone to talk to and are being given a chance to offload their feelings. It really helps to have someone to listen to them.”
Shotton IT Centre has enjoyed continual success with an ever increasing membership, even more so, thanks to its many partnerships, including the involvement in the Reboot UK project. Rona says: “A lot of what we’ve achieved recently would not have been possible without the Reboot UK funding. The funding has allowed us to offer the intense support that some of our clients need. It has helped us to put together packages of support that take them from the crisis of a sanction and not being able to pay for food, to digital inclusion and accredited courses that provide routes back into work.
“The full impact of Reboot UK is still in its infancy but we can already see improvement with the learners. Some have found work or have moved onto something else. Others are further from employment but are less apprehensive and more relaxed about learning. They know that we’re here if and when they need support and that is a big step in itself.
“I’d definitely participate in a project like this again.”