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Inspiring Stories

We hear so many amazing stories, and are always looking for more to share. Do you have one you want to share with us? Use our online form at the bottom of this page to tell us about your learning journey or click here


“Everyone has been really helpful & I really enjoyed my course. It was a good atmosphere. I got all the help & advice I needed & got to meet lots of different people”. – Bookkeeping Learner
“A learner has found a job at a local shop. He had only been attending the job club for three weeks!” – Job Club Learner
“Experience made me feel motivated, relaxed and stress free. The tutor was amazing and very talented. Service is invaluable especially for depression, must continue!” – Mixed Media Learner
“It met my expectation completely. The tutor was brilliant.” – Train-&-Grow Learner

Digital Learner Support

We have been working hard to develop our Digital Learner Support team in order to help our learners get online to keep learning. Find out more about what we did, how and why below!

Skills & Learning recruited, trained and mentored a flexible team of 18 Digital Learner Support Assistants (DLSAs) to respond quickly to the needs of learners lacking in digital skills or digital confidence, to support them to access their online learning programmes, engage in all activities and make the most of the resources developed for them, thus allowing tutors to focus on the effective delivery of their courses.  In September 2020, the team was supporting learners joining planned online and blended delivery courses – the team was then increased and called to action to support a wider group of learners in the November and January lockdowns where more courses moved from classroom to online learning.  This then included learners on very traditionally classroombased courses that support health & wellbeing e.g. Tai-Chi and art, who had to move to online versions of their courses and would have almost certainly disengaged without the support provided. 

But why did we do it? Teaching and learning staff were incredibly innovative and responsive when there was the need to move their course delivery online in March 2020.  Adult & community education is all about engagement, reducing isolation, identifying and supporting hard to reach learners, removing barriers and giving adults opportunities they haven’t previously had or been confident enough to access. The March 2020 lockdown threw usual delivery models and engagement ethos up in the airWe successfully identified and developed provision that could be delivered online and we identified learners who did not have the equipment needed to access online sessions and supported them in alternative ways We then identified that a significant number of learners who did have the necessary equipment to access online learning were disengaging due to their lack of digital confidence. Valuable learning time was being lost with tutors supporting learners to get into the online sessions, engage in the sessions and fully utilise the various tools and resources that had been developed to support online learning.  Digitally enabled learners were getting frustrated about the lost time and tutors were running out of solutions to keep all engaged and progressing.  

This is how we did it… We identified learning support assistants (LSAs) who had demonstrated digital skills and a positive approach to embedding technology in their practice. We also identified some other LSAs who were less confident but were passionate that no learners got left behind during the pandemic.  

We identified the essential digital skills required to access and engage in online learning platforms and various workarounds for common issues.  The LSAs were put through a crash course in essential digital skills for learning, troubleshooting broadband and Wi-Fi connection problems, using various devices to get online. The training provided was developed using learning modules from the Education & Training Foundation (ETF), the HOLEX digital ACE project, YouTube and other video tutorials, mentoring, IT Technician support and operating system training videos. 

A coordinator was identified from the team and systems and processes developed to identify learners at risk of disengaging, slipping behind or disrupting online classes and match them up with a digital learning support assistant.   Systems and processes have continued to be reviewed and updated as needed. 

Communications were sent to all learners before joining courses directing them to guidance on how to access their online learning and asking them to request support if needed.    

Office 365 business voice lines were purchased to allow DLSAs working from home to contact learners and support them with step by step guidance on how to get online/join their class.  We also purchased laptops to enable the DLSAs to develop their own skills and have the means to support learners.  

DLSAs made contact with learners before the start of their classes and supported them by phone to join their class online using the equipment they had access to.  They then accompanied them virtually during the class and for on average the first 3 sessions of their course until the joining and engagement with learning resources became smoother.  Some learners have continued to need digital learning support beyond the initial sessions.  

We were expecting a significant reduction in learner attendance rates because of the move to online learning. In fact, learner attendance on adult education budget funded courses has increased from 82% in Jan 2020 to 85% in Jan 2021.  

Since the start of Jan 2021, digital learner support has been provided in 125 online classes.  

In addition to improved learner attendance and retention on courses and qualifications, we have greatly upskilled our own workforce in a short period of time and prepared them well for inevitable further changes to business delivery.    

Learner digital confidence has increased and this will better support progression for some of our learners into further learning or employment.  We also now have more of an opportunity to encourage learners into digital based qualification courses, helping to plug the skills gaps identified by local employers.  Anecdotally, some of our learners are feeling confident enough to explore career options they hadn’t previously thought of – no data to support this as yet. 

Anecdotally, learners are more resilient when overcoming technical challenges and fewer are disengaging when things get difficult. 

Some DLSAs have now joined our team of mentors to support tutors and core staff with improving their digital practice. 

It is no exaggeration to say that without this we would not have succeeded in getting as many courses up and running this year, and many learners would have missed the opportunity to participate in remote learning at this time when connections with others and keeping minds active are so important to maintain well-being. 

“Thanks for your help. Everyone was really pleased you could assist. Even those who had managed before appreciated the work you have done, I certainly do.”

“I just wanted to thank you for your help this morning. It made a big difference being able to talk through the issues we have been having getting the learners set up in the Group and accessing the work they need to do.”

“Just wanted to say thank you for all your help. The lesson went really well.”

If you are looking to start an online course, but don’t feel confident with your digital skills, please contact us to discuss how our Digtail Learner Support team could help you here.

Sector Based Work Academies (SWAPs)

Sector-based work academies help prepare those receiving unemployment benefits to apply for jobs in a different area of work. Placements are designed to help meet employers’ immediate and future recruitment needs as well as to recruit a workforce with the right skills to sustain and grow a business. A sector-based work academy can last up to 6 weeks. Placements have 3 main components:  

  1. Pre-employment training (PET) matched to the needs of a business sector
  2. Work experience placement – a great opportunity for a business to identify talent and for the individual to cement their knowledge and understanding of the required role.
  3. A guaranteed job interview or help with an employer’s recruitment process

Skills & Learning provide the pre-employment training (PET) package. This was a new piece of work for Skills & Learning in November 2020 with JCP. 

Prior to Covid-19, Skills & Learning ran a hugely successful job club and employment hub scheme – the largest in Dorset.  However, on-going restrictions meant that delivery had to go online, which resulted in massively reduced participation.   

Alongside this DWP/JCP has launched a raft of new schemes JFS/JETS/Kickstart – largely aimed at those aged up to 24 years.   

We recognised the impending post-furlough redundancy risk in the area and the increased number of displaced retail, hospitality and tourism staff and wanted to be involved in programmes that will support these residents. We were also keen to strengthen our working relationship with JCP and local employers and develop further employment pathways and clear progression routes to apprenticeships.  

An important feature of SWAPs is that they each offer a flexible approach and can be adapted to meet the needs of a business. If an employer is unable to offer all 3 components, Jobcentre Plus staff may be able to work with them to overcome this, such as enabling them to join together with other similar employers in a consortium approach. Participants remain on benefits while on a SWAP placement.  

DWP/JCP will pay any travel and childcare costs whilst benefit claimants are on the scheme. There is no direct cost to an employer for running a sector-based work academy as training and administration costs are covered by government funding. 

We utilised our existing employability team who have been quick to adapt to this new way of working/approach to delivering support for pre-employment training.  They’ve worked alongside the different employers in different ways, adapting content to take account of ongoing restrictions e.g. workplace visits have been virtual and employers have presented overviews of their businesses.  This additional detailed engagement is a critical success factor as the employers can focus on the participants and identify attitudes and behaviours that match their needs.  

Learners attending SWAPs had to be supported with understanding different recruitment approaches required for social distancing including how to prepare and present yourself well in online interviews. Those without digital capacity at home were invited to attend their online interviews in one of our learning centres with support staff on hand to trouble-shoot.  

The SWAP included a thorough skills assessment of English, maths and ICT skills to ensure there were no foundation skills deficits which would prevent individuals from securing or maintaining their employment – where deficits are identified individuals are referred to classes – all of which are fully-funded as part of the National Entitlement. 

JCP Colleagues from out of area have asked if we can run SWAPs for them as they’ve been so impressed with our turnaround and flexible can-do approach.  

“Hello Michelle , I GOT THE JOB 👍👍👍 I’m over the moon, thankyou all for all your help , please thank Ben for me if you can, have a good xmas take care…… you were all great 👍”

If you are an employer and would like to know more about SWAP’s please contact us. 

If you are unemployed and would like to know more about how a SWAP can help you please contact your local Job Centre Plus.

Apprentice's Celebrate NAW with Council's Chief Executive!

Council’s Chief Executive Meets with Apprentices for NationalApprenticeship Week


Photo By: Freya Kendall

Apprentices working for the Borough of Poole and Bournemouth Borough Council met with the BCP Shadow Authority Chief Executive, Graham Farrant, on Wednesday 6thMarch 2019, to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week.

The event provided the apprentices with the opportunity to find out more about the future vision for BCP through an inspiring presentation from Graham. The apprentices were also able to have their voices heard through a Q&A with the Chief Executive.

Graham said: “The apprenticeship scheme is a really good way to attract workers to the council. Working for a council may not sound very exciting, but the scheme is a really good way for us to get skilled, young people working for us. Overall I think it’s a reallygood scheme. It’s really beneficial for us and for the apprentices”.

Mel and Sophie from the HR Learning and Development team said, “This was a greatopportunity for us to bring apprentices together from both Bournemouth and Poole and for Graham to share the future vision for BCP Council. We are excited by the opportunity to further develop the apprenticeship program within the new authority.”


Photo By: Freya Kendall – 1: Sophie Rowson, Graham Farrant, Mel Jardine 2: Freya Kendall, Graham Farrant, Nick Hillman

The Apprentice Learning Network (ALN was originally set up through the Learning & Partnership Agreement. This was established via collaboration between the Unions and HR. Freya Kendall, Marketing officer, and Nick Hillman, Business Apprentice, volunteered to help with the planning and running of the ALN.

Freya and Nick have worked with HR to organise learning and development opportunities for current apprentices. They have organised wellbeing, shadowing and team building training opportunities which has enriched the apprenticeshipprogramme. Nick and Freya have also recently won the ‘Young Member of the YearAward’ at UNISON’s 2019 Get Active Event for the work they have carried out for the ALN.

As the group has expanded so has the team who volunteer to organise the ALN. Recently Jack Matthews, Digital Degree Apprentice, Zak Cusens, Rights of Way Apprentice, and Matthew Tibbey, Communication and Participation Apprentice, have volunteered to help plan and organise future events and training opportunities for the ALN. Zak has also volunteered to under take the UNISON Learning Rep role within the Local Branch to help support and expand the training opportunities available to apprentices, young people and fellow UNISON members.

Jack told us “I learn best through doing andputting things into practice, so an apprenticeship is a brilliant way for me to enhance my skills and knowledge. The Council has always been very supportive with my 20% study time, and far from being viewed as the tea boy of the office, I have been made to feel a valued and trusted member of the team. The ALN is a fantastic way to meet other apprentices across the Council, and learn from one another in a more relaxed environment. I can genuinely say I love my job!”


Photo By: Freya Kendall – Jack Matthews, Graham Farrant, Zak Cusens.

The Council work with several training providers to run the apprenticeship scheme, including Skills & Learning.

Theresa Craven

Dorset Resident Wins Inspirational Festival of Learning Award

Theresa Craven from Dorset, has won a South West England Tutor of the Year award by Learning & Work Institute for her outstanding achievement in adult learning and contribution to her local community. The Festival of Learning Awards showcase and celebrate the wonderful things that learning can achieve for individuals, families, communities and employers. Read Theresa’s full story here.

Suzy Davies

Paddington Bear Animator Takes an Interest In “Snugs The Snow Bear”

“Snugs the Snow Bear” is beginning to capture the hearts of people in America, and indeed folk all over the world. But, here is a surprise for you, since Snugs is a bear full of secrets and surprises!

I was given courage to go ahead and write even more books to the series than I had originally planned to do, when Sheila Graber, world-famous animator of the original Paddington, and animator of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” discussed with me the possibility of animating my book, and supported me with her wonderful generous comments. Through email and telephone conversations, she helped me, an unknown writer, have faith in my artistic integrity and ability. Sheila complimented me on the activities of my characters!

People who have followed me will know that I also have another series planned, “Florida Critters” a series of short stories about the animals I meet here in Florida, at home, and on my travels. I shared some of these stories with Sheila, and she seemed to admire the “gentle humour” in them.

So why did Sheila Graber take an interest in my work? Well just read “Snugs The Snow Bear,” and find out!

Christina Martin

Beauty Learner

Christina Martin (Tina) lives locally to Skills & Learning’s Oakdale Centre and one day decided to walk into our centre to enquire about our courses. Tina enrolled on our Beauty Specialist Level 2 Diploma course and our Nail Technology Level 2 course and begun her journey into the world of beauty, which changed her life for the better. Read her full story here.


Supporting Teaching & Learning Learner

Clare was a Supporting Teaching & Learning Learner and has just landed her dream job thanks to the knowledge and skills she learnt during her course. Juggling two children, a job as a Teaching Assistant and her studies with us was a tall order, but Clare conquered all with the support of not only Skills & Learning but her Tutor Frances. Read Clare’s full story here.

Lee Dixon

3rd Place Student Barber of the Year

After enrolling on an Advanced Barbering Apprenticeship, which was delivered by Mike Taylor Education in partnership with Skills & Learning, Lee entered the National Student Barber of the Year Award and was placed 3rd out of 200 students. Read Lee’s full interview here and discover how he completed his training programme.


Robert is 60 years old and this is his story:

Robert first came to Skills & Learning when the Job Centre he was attending suggested he dropped in to one of our job clubs. What he really wanted to do was to improve his reading and writing skills, as he left school at an early age without much education. The job club tutor helped him to enrol in an Improve your English class and since September, Robert has had near perfect attendance.

“I’m just really surprised that I’m even in a classroom as I’ve spent most of my life in prison. I was taken into care at 7 years old as my parents weren’t able to look after me due to their substance abuse and gambling. In those days children were only placed with foster carers for 3 months at a time & then had to move on. Most of the time though I just ran away. My biggest scar is from hunger. I was always hungry and that led to me stealing to get food.”

As a teenager Robert was completely out of control, stealing and mainlining drugs from the age of 14, which resulted in him being sent to an ‘Approved School’. Robert went on to say “It was called a ‘school’ but there was no education in there at all. Then when I reached 16 the authorities sent me back to my parents who were still in a very bad place themselves with drugs and of course as soon as I got home, I too was back on drugs.”

“After that I went back to robbing and was in and out of prison for years until in 2003, I was offered Rehab as an alternative to prison and I accepted. Rehab was all about ‘self help’. I was determined to get clean and I really wanted to read all the self -help books for myself but realised I couldn’t read! That was when I realised I wanted to learn how.”

In the years since Robert came out of rehab he has been sleeping on the streets of Bournemouth. Robert told us that he doesn’t stay in one place for long and moves on every few days. He went on to say “I don’t even think about drugs anymore – no drugs – no alcohol. Then, during one of my visits to the Job Centre, I asked if I could learn to read and use a computer so they sent me to the Job Club at Bournemouth Library. I managed to get into an English class!”

“Somehow I got through the door of that first class and now I have the confidence to sit with people without the support of drugs or alcohol. The other people in the class have accepted me for who I am which means everything to me. Socialising without drugs is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never had friends like this, without drugs before.”

“In class I’ve learnt about full stops, commas and even ‘silent letters’ – which I never even knew existed – my reading has improved by leaps and bounds. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Skills & Learning paying my bus fares. I wouldn’t have been able to get to my courses otherwise! I’m really hoping that I can come back again next year.”


Case Study – Gary’s Story

Gary came to Skills & Learning in May 2017. He was referred to us from EDAS, the Essential Drugs and Alcohol Services, who offer a range of treatments to those who are affected by drugs and alcohol. Here is Gary’s story.

“I found out about Skills & Learning, (S&L), through EDAS. I attended a Reach and Aspiration’s day where Carol, the S&L Careers Advisor, gave a talk. I was interested so I booked a one to one appointment with Carol to discuss my options for work.”

Gary went on to tell us about his experience with Carol: “I met Carol soon after the event and told her that I wanted to be a social worker. I had no GCSE’s when I left school and Carol told me I would need a degree to reach my dream. We mapped out the journey I would have to take in order to get where I wanted to be, starting with my English and maths qualifications.”

Gary studied Level 2 English and Maths at the same time. Undertaking two qualifications at this level puts learners under a great deal of pressure and we would normally advise just one at a time. However, Gary’s passion was clear and his determination was admirable, so he enrolled onto both courses simultaneously.

“I wanted to do both at the same time so I could enrol for college in September. I was on both courses by June and was able to enrol for an ‘Access to Health and Social Care course’ at Bournemouth & Poole College. This would then allow me to apply for university the following year.” During his studies Gary struggled at times but the support he received from his tutor and the Learning Support Assistant was “amazing and supportive.”

Unfortunately, in the run up to his exams, Gary was involved in a terrible accident. He was stabbed in his arm and was rushed to A&E. Gary left the hospital soon after to meet with Carol and informed her that he needed surgery and wanted to delay his exams. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible and Gary began to struggle. He decided that he wasn’t going to attend his exams.

“I returned to the hospital and underwent surgery; where I was stabbed I had damaged some veins and some of my nerves. After my surgery I decided I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I was used to giving up on my goals, but this time was different. I sat my exams shortly after my surgery and passed! This was by far the best part of the course. Actually seeing my education through and holding the paper in my hands was the most incredible feeling. I feel incredibly grounded by the whole experience and finally feel I have purpose, a reason.”

Gary went on to say: “It’s all down to Carol and the tutors. I just gave up some of my time to set up some goals and it has taken me on this incredible journey. I was able to enrol for the access course at Bournemouth and Poole College and I also took on some volunteering opportunities!”

Note from the editor: “We actually have to disagree with Gary! We’re really glad we were able to help Gary and support him and his needs successfully but, Gary has

achieved all this through his own determination, clear vision and above all – hard work!”

Gary has volunteered at the Quay Foyer in Poole. During his time here he set up a brunch club for the residents to attend in the communal area of the Foyer. Each week he would purchase breakfast items such as croissants and bacon sandwiches for the residents to enjoy in a social setting. The club still runs and Gary returns to the Foyer every so often to stay in contact.

“I was offered a paid position at the Foyer but I have that thirst for knowledge. I am determined to go to university and the hours offered at the Foyer wouldn’t fit in with my studies. I then went to the Space Youth Project and volunteered there for 9 months. I have also volunteered as a ‘sleep in’ youth worker in Salisbury and at the Turlin Moor Youth Centre. I was a Stonemason before and was only interested in things if money was involved. My journey has completely changed my perspective.”

During his time as a volunteer Gary has dealt with some difficult situations that even experienced workers would struggle with. “I help to save and change people’s lives by providing them with essential support and protection. I have worked mainly with vulnerable adolescents and adults. I feel that I can connect with them in a way that has allowed me to develop with them and with a high level of respect for each other.”

Gary even volunteered as student rep during his college course. This was just another opportunity Gary never thought he would have. “I want to learn, I have the thirst for it. These courses have opened up so many opportunities for me. I never thought I would be here.”

Gary will be starting university in September 2018 studying ‘Psychology and Mental Health Counselling’ with the hope to progress from there to study for a masters degree. We wish Gary all the best on his incredible journey and we are so pleased to have been a part of it.


It had been years since Martin was last in a job centre and when he stepped through those doors again, little did he know that his life was about to change forever.

Martin’s life was just starting to turn a corner after years of living with addiction.

One of his first steps to recovery was to visit a job centre to find out what his option were.

But to Martin’s surprise these were no longer the days when you literally signed on.

Instead Martin was shown to a computer and told he needed to go online and complete a series of forms. And it was at this moment the world he thought he knew fell apart.

“It’s was like I had been in prison for 20 years and I stepped out into a world where everything had changed,” Martin recalled.  

“I didn’t even know how to switch the computer on let alone do anything else with it. It was really quite frightening.”

Martin did not have to feel frightened for too long as his support worker told him about a new course that could just be the answer he was looking for – Bourne Digital.

Bourne Digital was set up to help people like Martin who had been out of work for a long time and lacked the digital skills needed in today’s modern workplace.

A 12-week programme, it consisted of weekly lessons that covered all the Microsoft Office functions as well as building confidence, online security and careers advice.  

Crucially, each student had access to their own Digital Champion for one-to-one sessions to reinforce their learning and to receive support and encouragement.

“My Digital Champion was brilliant. I was full of fear but Mike, my champion was so good and helped build my confidence up. Even though it was all done via Zoom it soon felt natural and it was like we were just having a conversation.”

Martin’s main goal was to create a digital CV, which, with Mike’s help, he achieved.  

And completing the online forms that so phased him just a few weeks earlier when he visited the job centre? That’s a doddle for Martin now.

Martin gained so much confidence from Bourne Digital that he signed up to study foundation maths and English courses at his local college.

With many Covid restrictions in place, most of Martin’s learning has been done online.

“Oh wow, I can’t even begin to say how much a difference Bourne Digital has made to my life,” Martin said.

“I can now email, download things, complete online forms and search the internet – all things that are so important today that I just did not have a clue about a few months ago.

“It’s now part of my daily routine. Every morning I get up and check my emails.”

And what Bourne Digital has helped give Martin is a clear view of his future.

“I’ve always known that I needed to do courses in English and maths if I was to move away from labouring type of work,” he said.

“I did try a college course a few years ago but I struggled so much with the computer side of things I gave up after the second lesson, I was just too slow.

“But thanks to Bourne Digital I am back doing that course again.”

And in the longer term? Martin has a vision of where he would like to see himself.

“I want to be a support worker helping people like myself who are living with addiction or are homeless.

“I’m still on the road to recovery and I have to take things at the right pace but Bourne Digital has definitely set me on the right path.”

Bourne Digital – the facts

Bourne Digital was part of a pioneering programme called Power Up, which was an initiative by the Good Things Foundation charity and funded by JP Morgan.  

Locally it was overseen by Ansbury Guidance and supported by Skills &Learning, Dorset Council’s Digital Champions and BCP Council’s Library Service.

The course provided 12 weeks of digital training to unemployed and underemployed people in the BCP Council area.  

Launched just prior to lockdown, the courses had to quickly move online.  

Clients received weekly lessons on a wide range of subjects, including learning about the Microsoft Office functions, CV writing, online security and careers advice.  

Their lessons were supplemented with one-to-one sessions with a volunteer Digital Champion who helped to reinforce what they had learned and build-up confidence.  

One-to-one sessions were able to move to Bournemouth Library as Covid restrictions were eased.

The clients also enjoyed sessions from a range of guest speakers who provided information on providing information about local services such as the Foodbank, Citizens Advice Money Talks and Dorset Cyber Security.

• 100% students reported feeling ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ about their digital skills by the end of the course.
• 68% clients were supported to access information about further learning or volunteering opportunities.
• 33% clients who enrolled on the programme have accessed National Careers Services appointments

Apprentice Learning Network Event

We are unbelievably proud to have Apprentices who attend the Apprentice Learning Networking Group which provides support, learning and networking opportunities to Apprentices across the Borough of Poole & Skills & Learning, Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole. Our Apprentice, Freya Kendall, works alongside two fellow Apprentices Nick Hillman & Angel Martin, as well as the Borough of Poole HR department and Unison, where they organise events to help Apprentices get the most out of their qualification – Whether that is more learning opportunities, on top of the qualification learning element, networking or development opportunities.

The 3rd event took place in September 2017 and they focused on team building exercises to add to the Apprentice’s employability skills & development. Pete, a member of Unison, was also invited in to come and discuss learning opportunities they can access and Stevie, from Stour Valley and Poole Partnerships (SVPP) service, came in to discuss what makes a good team.

The Apprentices described the event as ‘Thoroughly enjoyable’ while providing them with useful information to help prepare  for their Apprenticeship and afterwards. It is a perfect opportunity to learn, network and develop away from the working environment and with others who are experiencing the same process.

The group is supported by Unison & has recently been recognised on a National level. We’re so proud to support such a wonderful development opportunity and hope this will continue.

You too can become an Apprentice and access wonderful development opportunities like the Apprentice Learning Networking Event by applying online here. If you are an employer you can talk to us about the services we can offer you in recruiting an Apprentice by clicking here or phoning 01202 123444 | .

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