£4.6m in grants awarded to boost digital skills

Clare Hayward, chair of Cheshire and Warrington LEP

Grants worth £4.6m have been made to 13 digital projects across Cheshire in a bid to help the region’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is keen to use the funding to boost skills in the sector for the region.

A new and innovative technologies hub, community digital hubs in libraries, a cyber security lab and a new ‘Inspiration open to all’ skills lab are just four of the projects that will provide new learning opportunities for more tan 52,000 residents.

The emphasis is on providing digital skills by implementing mobile equipment and training for people in Cheshire and Warrington to develop new skills and open up career opportunities.

The LEP is exploring alternative ways of providing access though online training and livestreaming to ensure the region is delivering for people dealing with this current pandemic situation.

Announcing the projects, LEP chair, Clare Hayward, said: “The LEP has a role in ensuring our economy is fit for the future. Over the coming months as we emerge from COVID-19, digital applications and skills will be key to helping the economy to bounce-back.

“It is inspiring to envisage the impact these projects will have.

“This current crisis has demonstrated the importance of our digital capabilities. Ensuring we have digital skills and equipment is critical to the success of our region going forward.

“We need to ensure our region is resilient, prepared for the recovery and a great success once the virus is beaten.”

These projects were funded by the LEP’s Local Growth Fund, with the project part of a £40m skills programme, funded from a range of sources including the European Social Fund (ESF), the private sector and the LEP’s Local Growth Fund.

The Skills Programme also includes: The Pledge Network; The Digital Skills Partnership; and Accelerate Cheshire and Warrington, an upskilling and reskilling programme that supports employees with the costs of learning.

One of the projects awarded £20,000 is University Technical College Warrington.

The college will develop a Cyber Security and Networking Lab.

Assistant principal, Chris Hatherall, explained the project, saying: “This exciting new cyber project at UTC Warrington aims to deliver training in network configuration and security through a hands-on practical approach to learning, using latest industry-standard equipment.

“Replicating real-world problems facing businesses, learners will work to protect against internal and external threats.

“The cyber and digital equipment purchased will be highly adaptable and over time will facilitate the teaching of a wide range of other foundation and advanced computing topic areas such as programming and scientific analysis.

“Users will be given access to this equipment and specialist learning environment as part of a cyber pathway which has been developed in line with major employer partners, including Fujitsu, National Crime Agency and GCHQ.

“From primary schools to Higher Education institutions, and SMEs to larger organisations looking to retrain and upskill, this kit can be loaned right across the community to help understand the challenges of 21st century cyber security.”

Clare Hayward added: “There has never been a more pressing time to fully harness technology within our businesses, so we help to quicken the rate at which our local economy can start to recover.

“Enabling our communities to have easier access to digital technology so they can increase knowledge and digital skills levels is vital, too, so we can open up career and employment opportunities.”