Central London was hit hard by the Coronavirus jobs crisis. In the year after the first lockdown was introduced to control the pandemic, the number of central London residents claiming unemployment related benefits more than doubled from 71,000 to 186,000.
In order to support those who had lost their jobs, Central London Forward developed Connecting Communities. This pioneering employability programme was delivered across the 12 Central London Boroughs, by 9 delivery partners as one unique contract.
Connecting Communities commenced in October 2021, and was due to run until June 2023. The programme was funded by the European Programmes Management Unit (EPMU) utilising European Social Fund (ESF), which was matched with our devolved DWP-funded Job Entry: Targeted Support programme, to create a programme worth £18m. CLF later secured a further £1.8m of ESF, match funded with Central London Works – our DWP-funded Work and Health Programme. This took total funding for Connecting Communities to £21.6m, and allowed us to continue delivery up to the end of December 2023.
The project aimed to build employment support capacity in central London boroughs, and to help local residents to gain skills and move into sustainable employment. It was delivered by Camden, City of London, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, and Westminster, as well as by Ingeus. We originally aimed to support 15,000 unemployed or inactive residents, helping 6,000 of these into decent jobs, and supporting 2,000 residents into education and training, and 600 to complete basic skills courses. The programme focused on three cohorts; young people aged 18–24 who were not in education or training (NEET), unemployed and inactive residents with complex barriers to work, and those who were out of work but closer to the labour market.
Connecting Communities achieved some really impressive results. In total:
The programme significantly over-achieved for both our hardest to help participants and those closer to the labour market. We overachieved our profile by 122%, supporting 5,278 hardest to help participants, 30% of these went on to gain employment. Of the 9,348 participants that were closer to the labour market, 35% secured employment. As with other similar programmes, Connecting Communities experienced greater challenges in engaging with young people between 18-24. This was partly due to the changing labour market context. While youth unemployment had been forecast to continue rising, the number of young people claiming unemployment related benefits declined by a quarter (24%) in the year after Connecting Communities started as the economy recovered. We invested additional resource into supporting these young people and of the 2,705 (90% of our contractual profile), we supported 1,282 into education or employment which is an incredible 47% of the number of young people that commenced working with Connecting Communities.
Our flexible approach to providing support, ensured that residents received an individualised service tailored to their unique situation and needs. We were able to support with childcare to enable parents/carers to participate in courses, attend interviews, and to manage their initial days in employment. With low caseloads, residents benefitted from regular contact with their personal Case Worker.
A key part of the Connecting Communities offer was our Intermediate Labour Market (ILM) opportunities. These were subsidised jobs, paying at least the London Living Wage, which provided those who were furthest away from the labour market an opportunity to experience a workplace environment, develop their confidence and skills, and build their CV. A total of 64 placements were funded in a variety of roles including IT support, administration, plumbing, gardening, youth work, research, sports coaching amongst others. These ILM placements were hugely successful, with a large proportion of participants going on to employment in unsubsidised roles, often at the organisation which had given them the opportunity in the first place. You can hear more about the experiences of some participants here.
We developed a peer support programme, so that frontline staff from each of the delivery partners could come together to discuss common challenges, share best practice, build capacity, and motivate one another. This proved invaluable, particularly to the boroughs who had never previously delivered employment support services.
Connecting Communities has helped many Central London boroughs to develop their employment support capacity, and to learn from each other. It has been hugely successful in terms of delivering against our targets. But much more importantly, the programme has positively impacted on the lives of thousands of residents and families across Central London. We wanted to say a huge thank you to our colleagues at GLA, and to all of the fantastic teams across our delivery partners for helping make this happen.
Jayne Cox is a Contract Manager at Central London Forward