The John Wheatley Learning Network has existed, expanded and developed since its original foundation in 2002 as the Greater Easterhouse Learning Network, now extending beyond north east Glasgow, with a new learning centre opened in the Maryhill Hub.
The Network has consistently had support from the North East Glasgow Community Planning Partnership and is a key aspect of the North East Learning Programme.
The John Wheatley Learning Network is now supported by the recent signing of a Strategic Partnership Framework between the Wheatley Housing Group and Glasgow Kelvin College. This has extended the reach of the learning network beyond the north east of Glasgow and includes a commitment to the refurbishment of existing learning centres to the highest quality of environment.
The Network supports approximately 7,000 people each year in free Internet access and the use of College standard PCs, software, security and account services, providing portability of accounts, email and files from main campus to local neighbourhood centres. The Network comprises 40 community learning centres, 33 of which are based in north east Glasgow and 3 main campus progression hubs (flexible learning centres), providing a variety of access points supporting the needs of diverse communities, including centres based in:
- local authority community centres;
- independent community trusts;
- youth cafés;
- housing association centres;
- a service for people recovering from problem drug use;
- a service for homeless people and people at risk of homelessness;
- a tenants' association centre;
- a 'community shop'; and
- a social work service supporting family development.
The Network allows community inclusion agencies to take advantage of College technical services, software, security and URL filtering services and technical experience.
The Network is the main vehicle for Glasgow Kelvin College’s Wider Access programme, which supports community groups and individuals living in deprived communities to commission the College to deliver learning tailored to meet the needs and goals of local residents. This provision offers SCQF benchmarked learning and certification including:
- IT (normally in the form of flexible learning outreach provision);
- First Aid;
- Food Hygiene;
- Art and Design; and
- Customer Care.
The learning network’s sustainability is dependent on three major factors:
- the learning centres are each in a shared service arrangement in which the independent, autonomous host organisation is free to use the centre for its own informal learning operations, which can involve financial and benefits advice, support for housing enquiries, information supporting recovery from problem drug use, helping people find cheapest options for household purposes, whatever.
This shared service arrangement also enables cross-pollination of purpose, where customers come into the host organisation for the learning centre facilities and while there, ask about other services such as credit union (for example) services and are then able to ask about how to get access to the free IT facilities;
- the open partnership approach to use by all in the community leads to continued support from a wide variety of agencies. Each learning centre partnership is different to reflect they purpose of the host organisation; and
- the College trains and supports volunteers in order to maintain where possible open access for informal use by the community.
The Network, and the sustained experience of supporting digital inclusion in the community, has enabled the College to make a significant contribution to the Digital Glasgow programme - in particular relating to the development of services developed by the Digital Participation workstream, chaired by the Wheatley Housing Group, which supports the acquisition of the skills required for business growth and civic inclusion.
The Digital Glasgow programme is a Glasgow City Council initiative designed to address issues relating to Glasgow’s status as the least connected city in the UK, with the ambition to make Glasgow a world leader by 2017. Part of the contribution made by the College to this initiative has been to benchmark against SCQF levels the Glasgow Life 'Getting Started' digital inclusion programme. The College has subsequently worked in partnership with Glasgow Life to develop the Certificate in Digital Inclusion’, adopted as a joint certificate which is the training standard for digital inclusion volunteers in Glasgow.
Significant use of the learning centres is made by some organisations in support of work club activity, frequently including support for engagement with 'Universal Job Match' and other employment services. Work Clubs also provide the opportunity for the College to integrate and customise its IT flexible learning programme and its Adult literacy and Numeracy service. The context of support for employment seeking provides the opportunity for these learning needs to be clearly identified, with introductions to College provision brokered by people in local services with whom local people have developed trusted relationships - a theme, in fact, common across the whole of the learning network.
In addition, the Network provides the majority of venues for the College’s Youth Access programme, which won the Association of Colleges Beacon Award for Widening Participation for young people aged 14 - 19 in 2013.
The Youth Access programme supports over 1200 young people on an annual basis to gain access to informal learning opportunities - with certification options which include:
- Dynamic Youth Awards;
- Youth Achievement Awards;
- College certificated benchmarked against SCQF levels;
- SQA units; and
- the Trinity College Arts Awards; and
- John Muir Awards.
Youth Access works in partnership with a range of other agencies including learning centre host organisations, Glasgow Life and voluntary sector youth work providers, in addition to providing a vehicle for local health agency engagement. Typically, partners provide the diversionary activities supporting young people in initial engagement, with the Youth Access programme specialising in learning.