Job-seekers and adult learners are developing their skills in science, technology and maths at the UK’s first community-based LEGO ® Education Innovation Studio in North Wales.
The studio was opened earlier this year and is the brainchild of community interest company, G2G Communities, which has been providing training and education for out-of-work people in Denbighshire since 2011.
Alongside a range of educational and employability programmes, the studio is providing learners with a unique environment to develop skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – subjects that have been recognised as a priority area by Government.
This is due to the estimated shortfall of 40,000 STEM qualified individuals each year and an average of just 19 per cent of women entering STEM related employment.
Since setting up the organisation in 2011, over 1,500 people have taken part in programmes from improving basic skills in literacy and numeracy to support in starting their own businesses.
Key to the organisation’s development has been its access to European funding through WCVA’s Engagement Gateway project.
Gateway funding has enabled G2G to run programmes specifically targeted at long-term unemployed people, over 50s and women, which have helped participants achieve a range of qualifications and get back into work.
Tony McCleary and Gail Edwards have taken part in Engagement Gateway programmes and credit G2G with putting them on track to a brighter future.
Tony, 53, from Prestatyn, said: ‘I’ve been out of work for a long time after previously having the same job for 25 years. As a result I lost a lot of confidence and wasn’t sure how I was going to get it back.
‘I started out with two days a week to improve my maths and to help me with job interviews and it’s been brilliant. I’m getting my confidence back and I feel much more positive about my job prospects after doing courses here.
‘My wife has also noticed a difference in the way I am at home because I’m a lot happier and more optimistic now. It’s had a big impact on my life.’
Gail, 44, from St Asaph, added: ‘I have a rare health disorder which can be very debilitating and resulted in me having to give up my job.
‘Coming here has been great because the pace of learning is right and the Lego innovation is cutting edge and a fantastic way to develop your skills.
‘I’ve also began college courses in English and Maths because I want to get back into the work environment. It’s step by step, and they’ve given me the encouragement to do it.’
G2G Communities was set up by Bill and Moira Lockitt who were formally teachers and educational researchers – and now employs 10 people at the Innovation Centre in Rhyl.
‘We are passionate about learning and education and we wanted to help people, some of whom are living in the areas of highest deprivation in Wales’, said Moira.
‘Having lived in the area for almost 40 years, we know what the problems are in Rhyl and how they are often failing to be addressed.
‘So we decided we would do something about it and create the sort of learning environment that would help people feel better about themselves and achieve what they want to achieve.
‘Through our Gateway programmes, we’ve identified gaps in the market and the number of people that have come through our doors in such a short space of time is testament to that.
‘Whether it’s qualifications, further learning or employment we move everybody on. One of our adult learners is now doing a degree in law.
‘The LEGO ® Innovation Studio came about through research in the area that Bill was undertaking on behalf of the Open University.
‘It’s taken two years to conceptualise, research and launch and we’re extremely proud that the only community-based LEGO ® Education Innovation Studio in the UK is here in North Wales.
‘It has brought a fantastic brand and multinational organisation to Rhyl. We’ve taken the technology to schools in the area and it’s been a massive hit.
‘We’re also going to be moving adult learners who shine at the science and maths aspects onto specific courses at Glyndwr University, so it can be fantastic pathway to careers in areas like engineering.’
G2G Communities is currently working in partnership with Lego, Agored, Learndirect and the British Computer Society to develop accredited courses in science, technology and maths through Lego innovation.
The courses are planned for launch in 2014 and will be some of the first in the UK to use Lego as a central resource.
‘It’s an immensely exciting project’, added Moira. ‘My only regret is that we didn’t do this years ago because it is genuine innovation that will break new ground in adult learning.’
Tessa White, Engagement Gateway project manager at WCVA, commented: ‘Gateway is funding organisations to work with people whose circumstances often make them unlikely to respond to mainstream training.
‘This is a fantastic example of what the project is all about. There is no question that this type of innovation and flexible approach is effective in meeting the differing circumstances, interests, and abilities of people that have become disconnected from employment.’