Walking into the Ryecroft Community Centre we should have known we were in for a busy morning with all the people buzzing around.
Here to visit Walsall College, part of the Foundation’s Community Matters programme, their Health & Wellbeing – women only sessions, are designed to get women living healthier, build their confidence and get closer to the job market.
But what makes this session special is its partnership working.
The room is bursting at the seams, there’s women chatting, filling out paperwork, eating cakes and doing arts and crafts. However, it wasn’t always this way.
Kate Kaur, Community Connector at Walsall College, said:
“Two years ago, nobody came here, literally two years ago we’d try and introduce things and it was hard, but since we’ve started doing things alongside other people it’s just got bigger and bigger and bigger!
“We’ve been working from this centre for about a year. We’ve got other things down here that we can signpost them to which is great.”
The real boost came when Walsall College collaborated with the DWP, they were both using the centre at similar times and found their uptake numbers were low.
“When we were working separately it wasn’t really working, we were both getting one or two but together it’s really worked!
“The DWP’s project is called Walsall for All, they’ve got community connectors and they put them into communities to get ladies out.
“We do the Health and Wellbeing sessions, initially people are leaning how to cook and then we give them a recipe at the end where they can use fresh ingredients for cheap.
“We signpost them to courses, voluntary work, keep fit sessions, if they need help with Maths and English then we send them there too. We help them with jobs. There are loads of people we refer to.
“We can then provide extra support if needed, they might want an application form filling in, it depends on the customers!
“For some people this is the highlight of their week. Through cooking people gain confidence and the encouragement and support to know they can achieve things. Once the ladies attend one session they’re hooked, they don’t miss a week, the ladies have made friends, support and encourage each other.”
During our visit we met with the DWP, beauty technicians, Community Footprints, Geo’s Italian and a fitness instructor who all work from within the community centre. This eclectic mix of organisations and individuals provides the perfect connections for those attending the session.
One attendee, Sophie, has flourished:
“I came here a few weeks ago, it’s really good. When I first came here I wouldn’t speak to anybody but now I’ve come out of my shell.
“Before I was at home, just with my child and I just didn’t like speaking to people, it was totally different coming here.”
Following the support from Walsall College she’s now looking at starting a new career:
“I’ve already done my CV, and I’ve been on an Empowering Women course that makes you think about yourself. I’ve just signed up to a beauty course, once I’ve done that I’d really want a job in a spa.”
Another of today’s attendees, Naomi, is just starting on her journey:
“This is the first time I’ve been here. My work coach from the job centre told me about this session, it’s well better than the other one I go to. The room is far bigger and it’s much livelier!
“I’m looking for employment, hopefully something in admin, because I’ve got 10 years of admin experience since I left school when I was 16.
“Everyone here has been helping me, I’m going to college to do my Maths and English, just waiting for my start date! They’ve got me a job interview next Monday so who knows!”
We then meet Kerry who supports the sessions; she previously ran a massage business from the centre but is now providing fitness classes for the community:
“I want to get people moving I want to get people exercising, not just because it’s good for their physical health its good for their mental health as well.
“It’s a really good little package. It’s about educating people, you can feed yourself for £1.25 per head, so for a family that’s a fiver! And we teach it them from scratch. It’s getting people together, getting people mixing, teaching them to cook and getting them to exercise.
“We get people coming from miles away just because they haven’t spoken to anybody all week, not elderly women either, just young women, just middle-aged women, who’ve just ended up on their own for whatever reason!”
To find out more about Walsall College please click here.
To find out more about the Community Matters programme please click here.
The nationwide, Building Better Opportunities programme, is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund (ESF) who are co-investing in local projects tackling the root causes of worklessness, promoting social inclusion and driving local jobs and growth.
Community Matters is one of four projects within this programme across the Black Country and will help people across Walsall, Wolverhampton, Dudley and Sandwell move into or closer to employment by developing their skills and confidence.
Community Matters is managed by the Heart of England Community Foundation in partnership with local organisations across the Black Country.