NW briefs: The Lancashire Colleges; Two Zero Scaleup Resurgence; Skills for Growth; Stockport Credit Union; Lovell Homes

Lancashire has been awarded an £8.4m boost for skills development to meet the needs of the zero/low carbon economy of the future through a pilot programme, delivered by the county’s colleges working in partnership with local business communities.

The Lancashire Colleges (TLC) – made up of the 12 further education (FE) and sixth form colleges across the county – has been chosen by the Department for Education (DfE) to deliver a Strategic Development Fund Pilot to explore how education providers can work together more effectively alongside employers and other partners to respond to local skills and innovation priorities as well as tackling the zero/low carbon agenda.

The funding will allow Lancashire’s colleges to implement and test new collaborative ways of working with each other to develop new curriculum, establish specialist skills demonstrator centres across the county and to deliver the skills local businesses need. It will also enable the colleges to develop industry-standard training facilities and expertise, helping to deliver skills programmes to prepare businesses to make the most of the opportunities that zero/low carbon emissions targets will bring.

The trailblazing pilot is one of the biggest of its kind in England, part of the Government’s Skills Accelerator Programme which also sees the North and Western Chamber of Commerce and the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce leading the Local Skills Improvement Plan to create a joined up skills strategy that will help the county become a leading region for zero/low carbon technologies.

Lancashire’s colleges will work with employers of all sizes and sectors across Lancashire, including agriculture, construction, energy, advanced manufacturing, digital and automotive.

Alison Robinson, principal of Myerscough College which led The Lancashire Colleges’ bid for the funding, said: “We want every business in Lancashire to benefit from this pilot so we can get a head start on building our future zero/low carbon economy, helping our companies to grow and our people to gain the skills they need for high quality, well-paid jobs locally. The Lancashire Colleges are creating leading skills and knowledge hubs with employers across the area and, ultimately, this is about transforming lives and communities by investing in skills, creating jobs and improving outcomes for local people.”

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Stephen Pritchard, left, and Cllr Riggott

A unique support programme designed to help Lancashire’s scale-up businesses bounce back stronger from the coronavirus pandemic has created around 90 local jobs and returned millions of pounds to the Lancashire economy.

Two Zero Scaleup Resurgence, fully funded by Lancashire County Council and delivered by Lancashire-based business growth consultancy Cube Thinking, was designed to help high growth small and medium-sized businesses return to full strength quickly after COVID-19. Twenty one Lancashire businesses took part in the 90-day support programme from July to October 2020. Results from feedback from the participants also indicates a 33% combined growth in turnover for the 21 participating Lancashire businesses in the year since they took part, contributing a further £4.4m to the local economy.

The programme was aimed specifically at firms looking to achieve sustained 20% year-on-year growth and included quality coaching and mentoring, high growth masterclasses featuring scaleup experts and peer-to-peer learning. Matrix247 Communications Group was one firm to benefit from the programme. The firm has grown turnover from around £3m to £5.5m and is in the process of a recruitment drive, increasing its headcount from 22 to 40. Matrix247 also recently acquired Bolton-based Task Office Systems, specialists in Microsoft Office products and digital copiers with document management capabilities.

Stephen Pritchard, CEO, Matrix247 said: “I’ve been running Matrix247 with my business partner for 30 years. Over that time we saw steady year-on-year organic growth, although in later years always in single percentage figures. After engagement with Two Zero and developing aligned strategies across all areas of the business, we immediately saw our organisations profits and turnover grow into significant double-digit percentages. Having now completed all of the modules, we have managed to maintain this level of scale-up which has resulted doubling our growth since our first engagement with Two Zero.”

County councillor Aidy Riggott, cabinet member for economic development and growth, Lancashire County Council, said: “With such positive results from a programme designed to help Lancashire businesses with high growth plans to recover and get back on track after the pandemic, Two Zero’s Scaleup Resurgence programme demonstrates how important it is that we continue to support Lancashire businesses who, in turn, help to grow the local economy.”

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Cllr Andrew Western

Around 2,000 people in Greater Manchester will benefit from a new training programme which will inspire business growth and plug the skills gaps employers have identified following COVID-19. Lead partner, UK Skills Academy, has been awarded a £2m contract of European Social Funding by Greater Manchester Combined Authority as part of its three-year Skills for Growth programme.

The funding will enable ‘Digital Skills Growth & Productivity’ – a two strand training programme that will support SMEs in the city region to develop the technical skills they need to thrive. Delivered between one and five days, the free training workshops will support business leaders across all sectors who need to move their services and products online, as well as employees in digital roles who need to develop practical skills such as cyber security, data analysis, information governance and digital marketing.

Cllr Andrew Western, Greater Manchester’s lead for digital, work and skills, said: “In Greater Manchester, we’re committed to empowering people and developing local talent to give residents the confidence and skills they need to further their careers, while ensuring local businesses have access to the best resources.

“Skills for Growth is truly employer-led and responds directly to the gaps businesses in our priority sectors have identified. This is one of the first digital packages we have commissioned through the programme, which will give business leaders vital knowledge to make actionable change within their organisations so they can adapt and deliver in an evolving digital world.”

UK Skills Academy will work in partnership with five other providers across the city region including: Growth Company, The Coders Guild, Apprentify, Manchester Digital and Back 2 Work Group. Gemma Beech, MD at UK Skills Academy, said: “Our own experience and high quality digital provision, along with our selected partners, are the right fit to respond to the needs of Greater Manchester’s digital skills shortages. Employers have consistently reported that they need support in developing technical skills and that demand industry-wide is expected to keep on growing. We have a of wealth of experience, innovative ideas and proven success in this sector and are look forward to welcoming our learners.”

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Jonathan Moore

Stockport Credit Union (SCU) has recorded its busiest month ever. In the past financial year, the credit union also achieved its best results – with an average of nearly 100 new members joining each month. The credit union enables people to access better rates of finance, move away from payday lenders and loan sharks, and encourage financial literacy and improve their financial management.

Credit Unions are membership-based not-for profit organisations whose core principle is that they are owned by their members. SCU, with its head office in Brinnington, is supported by volunteers in both back-office and customer facing functions, as well as on its board. More than 30 volunteers work with the credits union’s employees to support in excess of 4,500 members, keeping costs low and enabling more reinvestment into the community.

Jonathan Moore, Stockport Credit Union’s chief executive, said: “Credit unions are often one of the UK’s best kept secrets, but we’re looking to change that here in Stockport. We are now in our busiest time of the year, helping many families to cover the cost of Christmas and we are experiencing far higher demand than in 2020.

“Our performance this year shows how we can make a difference, but there is so much more that we can do. We look forward to assisting more people over the next year by demonstrating the benefits of being part of an organisation that puts its members first.”

The credit union is a saving and loans co-operative, regulated by the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority. SCU provides essential savings and lending services within the Stockport borough. It also works with partners to provide payroll support.

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Celebrating local heroes at Weston Woods

Lovell Homes has revealed its tribute to local heroes, with the naming of Weston Woods’ streets dedicated to local councillor John Hammond and four Weston World War veterans in honour of their contribution to the village.

John Hammond Close, and the other roads at Weston Woods, were unveiled in a celebratory event attended by councillors, family members and the Lovell site team. The road was named after John, who passed away three years ago, to celebrate all the great work he did for the local area. Alfred Edward Brereton, Allen Dunn, Thomas Henry Lovatt and James Eli B Platt were all born and raised in the village of Weston and fought in WWI as part of the Cheshire Regiment. Their names can be found at the Weston Church, commemorated on a WWI plaque in remembrance.

Anne-Marie O’Doherty, regional sales director at Lovell Homes, said: “Unveiling John Hammond Close and all the Weston Woods’ road names was a very special event that paid homage to people who lived in and shaped Weston into the village that we all love today. John Hammond was a key pillar of the community, committed to ensuring that the spirit of the local area remained intact. We’re, therefore, very pleased to commemorate him through the street dedication, as well as the local village heroes who gave their life in WWI.”

John Cornell, councillor and vice chair of the Weston and Basford Parish Council, said: “I worked very closely with John for a number of years, and he was incredibly passionate about the local area. As a councillor for more than 20 years he was very much a man of action when it came to new proposals and developments in the region. He was incredibly well known and liked in the area so I know the whole village will be really pleased to see him remembered in such a permanent way.”

As well as providing new homes for the area, Lovell Homes has also created 1.36ha of public open space with a new children’s play area located towards the east of the development and attenuation pond to the south. Weston Woods is a 99-home development located in the heart of the village, with a collection of three-, four- and five-bed houses and two-bed bungalows.

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