Left to right, John Taylor, Trustee at Heart of England Community, Sue Ormiston, BLF, James Walsh, Steps To Work, Julie Haywood, Director of Employment & Training, WHG, and Ian Darch, Director at Black Country Together.

A £23 million investment will help thousands of people in the Black Country build a positive future for themselves and their families. Four charitable organisations have received funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Big Lottery Fund to break down barriers to employment and tackle poverty and social exclusion in the region, through Building Better Opportunities.

The investment will support more than 10,000 people by 2020 and will focus on the key priorities identified by the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The funding has been secured through a strategic partnership between Steps to Work, The Heart of England Community Foundation, whg (which is working in partnership with Accord Group) and Black Country Together CIC. Each organisation has designed a bespoke programme of activities to cater for the needs of the community that it specialises in supporting. The four strands* look at a range of different issues, such as increasing digital and financial inclusion and helping people develop their skills and confidence. The leading organisations will work with 55 delivery partners across the region to reach those most in need.

Building Better Opportunities Black Country was launched at a strategic event at Banks’s Stadium, Walsall on Wednesday, 1 March, 2017. The event was hosted by Ninder Johal, board member of Black Country LEP, with speeches from Stewart Towe CBE (LEP Chair) and Sue Ormiston from Big Lottery Fund. Guests were able to see the difference the project is already making to participants’ lives through a video screened on the night, along with performances by Gazebo Theatre, who re-enacted case studies of current participants.

One of those to have been helped by the programme is Naila Khan, aged 31, from Walsall.  Naila had previous experience working in an office environment, but due to her disability and a lack of reasonable adjustments she had to leave her previous job. This had a detrimental effect on her self-confidence and she was left feeling uncertain about her future.  However, Naila turned to Building Better Opportunities Black Country, where she was given help to develop her skills and confidence. Thanks to the help offered by the project, Naila has since secured employment with the Disability Resource Centre in Birmingham.  Naila said: “I thought at first it was going to be like any other course, but I was made to feel at ease and that helped boost my confidence. Now I’m employed, I feel empowered to help others reach their goals.  “It’s made getting up in the morning even more worth it, because I know that I’m not just spending another day stuck at home. It has completely changed my life for the better and I feel much more positive about the future.”

Ian Darch, from the four charities said:  “We are delighted to have officially launched Building Better Opportunities Black Country and we are looking forward to seeing the positive impact it will have on thousands of people’s lives.  “It is built on a foundation of partnership and recognises the knowledge and reach of local organisations. It brings together this expertise to achieve ambitious goals and will make a fundamental difference to the future of the people and organisations of the Black Country.”