New government proposals put English language at heart of community integration

Yesterday, the long-awaited Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper was launched by Secretary of State Sajid Javid. While not yet a firm set of policy proposals – the Government has launched the Strategy as a consultation – the direction of travel is encouraging.

At a time when political parties are divided on a large number of issues, it seems that one area they agree on is that funding English language learning for speakers of other languages – or ESOL, as it’s commonly known – is an important part of creating stronger local communities.

How much funding, at what level, and which department is responsible have been less easy to agree. While higher-level ESOL is funded by the Department for Education, very basic levels of English language learning for certain groups and in certain areas have, for the last four years, been funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) under a community integration umbrella.

The new Integration Strategy aims to provide greater cross-government clarity and direction by proposing a new national strategy for English language, which will include coordination of:

  • A new community-based English language programme, building on the existing one and delivered through an easily accessible network of ‘community hubs’
  • Support for improved English language in five Integration Areas: Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, and Waltham Forest
  • Funding for Councils outside these five areas who want to improve levels of English language as a means to better integration
  • A new network of ‘conversation clubs’, largely run by volunteers.

This is welcome news to Good Things Foundation, as we’ve been funded under the current MHCLG English language programme to deliver the highly successful English My Way. The programme has had powerful impacts; over 20,000 non-English speakers have improved their English language skills, reducing isolation and connecting with their communities. With an eye on the programme’s future, we have been eagerly awaiting the publication of the Government’s Integration Strategy since the Casey Review was published in 2016.

Last week, we held a celebration of our English My Way programme, with 80 local Online Centres holding community events to recognise and reward their learners’ success and to inspire other local people to benefit from the programme. I visited Zest for Work in Sheffield, a real community hub, and over 50 women came together to celebrate the success of the English My Way programme. The people I met there – who were mainly migrant women – have often felt lonely and isolated until coming to the centre.

Visit to Zest

Government policy can often seem intangible, but stories from the learners we’ve supported through English My Way show why ESOL for community integration is so important.

Nageswary, 60, moved to Rugby from Sri Lanka, and was lonely and financially struggling after the death of her husband. Her son works full-time in a warehouse, supporting them both, but they just weren’t making enough money to pay the bills.

With help from her local Online Centre, Benn Partnership, she was encouraged to start on the English My Way programme. She didn’t speak any English at all, so the centre made sure the learning had the right focus for her, and that she could get help for her particular needs.

“We learnt about jobs,” says Nageswary. “We learnt about speaking to other people. We learnt about asking questions in the library and other places. I liked learning about jobs because that’s what I was there to learn.”

Both the atmosphere and course content were ideal for Nageswary: “I like going to the centre. It’s very friendly. I find English My Way very good. It’s easy for me to use.” Thanks to the English language skills she’s gained, she now feels more connected to her community and has found work as a school cleaner, which has both increased her income and helped her make new friends.

Whatever political and ideological viewpoint you come from – and funding to support migrants is a polemical issue – it is hard to argue that low-cost support which takes people off statutory funding, into work, and into contact with others in their community is a bad thing.

How much funding will be ring-fenced to support better English language provision is not yet clear, but we are fully supportive of the plans proposed, particularly around informal learning which we know works so well in local communities, bringing added benefits of reducing social isolation and loneliness. If properly funded, the plans will ensure that people like Nageswary can play a full and active role in achieving their full potential, benefiting not just themselves but their whole communities.

We encourage Online Centres involved in delivering ESOL, including through English My Way, to get involved in the consultation and to ensure your voices, and those of your learners, are heard.

Building communities and changing lives

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and the halfway point of our English My Way celebration campaign – Say Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way. I visited Zest for Work, an Online Centre and English My Way delivery partner based in Sheffield, with my colleague Sarah, and I was blown away by all of the amazing women there and all of their achievements.

Zest for Work is a wonderful community hub in the Upperthorpe area. Not only do they teach English to speakers of other languages, they also have a gym and swimming pool, a library, a pay-as-you-feel cafe, and they teach employability skills. They have a truly holistic approach to supporting the people in their area and I loved seeing their work firsthand.

The party was organised by the tutors and volunteers, including Sharen Mathers, someone who was once unemployed following health issues. She did an ‘into work’ course at Zest, went on to volunteer at the English My Way classes and is now working at Zest, teaching English, leading on projects and inspiring the learners there. A real example of how Online Centres change people’s lives.


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Me with a small number from the group. Sharen is fourth from the right. 


The party was brilliant with more than 50 women there. There were balloons, decorations, and foods from all over the world – and the learners were from all over the world too! I was delighted to see so many people from different backgrounds and cultures coming together to celebrate their achievements. All of the women that were there were from three different cohorts at the centre. It really demonstrated the community cohesion and progression angles of the programme because some of the learners from the first cohort are now volunteers.


Me with one of the English My Way tutors. We wrote down some of the different countries that the women from the English My Way party are from.

I met a lady who first came to the classes and wasn’t able to speak any English. She’s improved her skills so much that she’s now at college and studying to further her education and get a job. She should be so proud of all the amazing progress she’s made.


Me with one of the many inspiring learners.


The learners progressed to an art class and made a tapestry.


Me and Zest for Work centre manager Lynsey and one of the volunteers enjoying the party.

I’ve talked a lot about progression and friendship here but seeing people come to classes, feeling nervous and uncertain, then blossoming and really coming into their own is what English My Way is all about. They make friends, they become less isolated, they improve their lives and they learn a very important new skill along the way.

English My Way isn’t just about teaching people English. It’s about building communities and changing lives.

An Australian Big Club With a Shared Vision

As I write this blog I’m literally halfway between Australia and the UK as I travel back following three weeks helping the Good Things Australian team in Sydney. I’m feeling inspired as I reflect on Good Things’ new normal as a Group with a subsidiary on the other side of the world, as well as reflecting on how much we’ve achieved in such a short period of time in Australia.


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Me with Good Things’ Data Design Manager Tom and National Director Jess at Parliament House in Canberra


Something to shout about

Two really big milestones for our Australian team happened in my last week in Sydney.

We reached 900 Network Partners in our Be Connected Network in just six months – that’s from all over Australia, every State and Territory, and in metro, regional and remote areas. This is a huge achievement and I hope it means that what we have on offer is really attractive. Talking to some of our Network Partners they are also really enjoying being part of something bigger – a big club with a shared vision – and we’re looking forward to providing ongoing advocacy and support for digital inclusion at a hyperlocal level.

We also held our first and only physical face-to-face partner meeting for organisations who are working with us to capacity build the Be Connected network. We’re working with around 10 organisations who come from different geographies and from different types of organisation. Including:

  • In New South Wales, we’re working with Leep – an organisation who are experts in recruiting and motivating volunteers and who are now embedding that expertise in digital mentors.
  • In Western Australia (WA) we’re working with the Australian Seniors Computer Club Association (ASCCA) and two project coordinators from the very North of WA and the very South of WA – both remote areas – and they will be working with organisations wanting to join the Be Connected Network and supporting them mainly via video calls.
  • In Victoria, we’re working with two very different organisations. Lively is a new non-profit start-up linking young unemployed people (18-25) with older people who want help with their internet skills. ECCV (Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria) is a much older organisation who works with social clubs and seniors clubs in Melbourne and Victoria who are from specific ethnic groups.

It was wonderful to meet all of the Capacity Builder projects. We will continue to have webinar meetings face-to-face but we won’t geographically be in the same room again – nor, even in the same time zone (in the Australian Winter there are five time zones across the country).

My reflections on leading and working in a Group really feels like I’m working for two organisations who have the same vision, the same goals and ambition but with different governance, different funders and in an opposite timezone. Working with teams on opposite sides of the world is challenging but also rewarding.

A big thank you

I really need to give huge thanks to Jess Wilson our National Director in Australia who is doing a great job keeping all of the plates spinning from the practical recruitment of network partners to engaging a range of stakeholders and bigger partners. Our plan is to keep the team small in Sydney and for UK staff with relevant knowledge and expertise to help us set up all our digital tools and systems and processes.

A huge thanks also goes to Fran Coleman who is leading the teams in Sheffield (our UK base) to support our Australian counterparts. Both Jess and Fran inevitably spend a lot of time out of the 9-5 just to make sure they can talk to each other.

Ooroo aka goodbye for now

When I’m in Australia there’s all the thrills and excitement of working for a start-up, except this one has a three-year contract with the Federal Government and colleagues in the UK with years of experience. Those thrills come with the knowledge that there’s so much to do, there’s so much opportunity and if you work 24 hours a day you’ll never do what you need to do.

Back in the UK, I have to hit the ground running reporting to the Digital Skills Partnership Board on Tuesday. It’s always great being in the Sheffield office and with our Sheffield team, they’re so positive and so focused and so productive.

My final thoughts as I jet back to the snowy UK is that I really am proud to lead such an effective organisation on both sides of the globe and I couldn’t do it without the support of so many amazing people.

Until next time Sydney…

Did we need a Minister for Loneliness?

I was delighted to hear the news that Tracey Crouch has been appointed as Minister for Loneliness.

We know that loneliness kills – it’s potentially more harmful than smoking or obesity.

I meet hundreds of people each year who would describe themselves as lonely. As one woman told me on a visit to a local community partner in Sheffield: “I was so depressed sitting at home with no-one except daytime TV. I just had to get out of the house.”

It’s great to know that the lonely people I’m meeting are now getting the essential social interaction that they need – through the Online Centres Network.

Volunteers and workers in our communities deal with lonely people every day. Good Things Foundation works with community venues across the UK – the Online Centres Network – and people come to get support to use the internet either for the first time or to get to grips with the basics, and so many of them say it is also important that it’s a chance to get out of the house and meet other people.

Bob Dunkerley, one of our 2 Millionth Learners from last year’s award ceremony, said: “Going along to Starting Point (his local Online Centre), for me, it’s a bit of a community that provides a necessary service for people who are on their own, especially older people. I need something in my life to give me an incentive to do things. The laptop training and companionship at Starting Point can do that.“

It isn’t just our digital skills learners that overcome loneliness by going along to centres. We’re a social change charity as much as we are a digital inclusion one, and projects like English My Way are vital in helping to tackle the loneliness issue. A video we released last year really demonstrates the camaraderie amongst one group of women at Online Centre Neighbours in Poplar:

Models that both empower people in a digital world and which provide face-to-face, community-based support are a powerful way to overcome loneliness.

Centres within the Online Centres Network provide an informal approach to help people overcome the issues they’re facing. That’s what an informal approach is all about, it’s focused on the person – what they need to do, and in the way and the pace that suits them.

Congratulations to you Tracey on taking up this vital role. It’s great to see the government making a commitment to such a pressing issue and I welcome the cross-sector and co-ordinated approach that will be taken.

I hope the community sector will play a significant role in cross-Government work around loneliness.

Tracey, you’re very welcome to come and visit an Online Centre and see this important work for yourself. Meeting the people who are taking such transformative journeys into the digital society and into happiness.

Digital is in everything and for everyone: A local approach to digital inclusion

I’m sure when you think of Salford, you think of Media City, culture, architecture, and… Manchester (the neighbouring city). In many people’s minds, Salford is probably one of the last places you’d expect high rates of digital exclusion, but actually, 24% of adults in Salford lack basic digital skills.

We’re delighted to be working with Salford City Council on a bold, ambitious, and groundbreaking digital inclusion project, Digital You, to bring all the benefits of the digital world to almost 8,000 Salford residents, with a goal of helping them to transform their lives.

We will be working with more than 25 local Salford community organisations – libraries, Gateways, community centres, community organisations such as work clubs and women’s centres, and housing associations. Any organisation who shares this vision of a better world for socially excluded people through digital – and who wants to join this movement – can. Our goal is to build on what’s already great in Salford – this is about growing capacity so that it’s not just a project but it’s a sustainable movement by working together.

It’s all part of a bigger project called #DigitalSalford and I was delighted to attend the launch event last week where I met lots of interesting and inspiring people, including Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Paul Dennett, Salford City Mayor.



Me with Paul Dennett and Andy Burnham


There were lots of people at the launch event who were intrigued by Digital You and wanted to find out how they could be involved in the project. There was a sense that this was collective and collaborative action towards a shared goal – and there was a high level of enthusiasm.

Local Authorities tell us that it’s important for them to have digital on their agenda, especially when there are 11.5 million people in the UK without the basic internet skills they need. The world for many people is difficult. Many people don’t have enough money and find juggling with the little they have hard. Many feel isolated from family and community. We are committed to helping people improve their lives. It’s not about technology it’s about people – and people’s place in our digital society and our digital economy.

Digital inclusion is about two things, one, about helping vulnerable people to have better lives and, two, it’s about making sure no-one is left behind as digital improves the access, effectiveness, and convenience, of commercial and public services.

The UK government is taking action with things like the Digital Skills Partnership board, but with other priorities like Brexit at the forefront of their mind, and with powers being devolved to some local authorities, in the not-to-distant future it will be up to councils to lead the way for people, organisations and businesses in their area to fully participate in our ever-growing digital nation.

In Salford, over the next two years, we will be helping some of the city’s most vulnerable people to grow the basic digital skills and confidence they need to thrive in today’s digital society. Salford has a bold ambition to be a digital city using digital transformation to ensure the Council’s services are a great experience for everyone. Digital You is making sure that when digital is in everything it’s also for everyone.

I applaud Salford City Council for being bold – for their leadership, their vision, and their investment in this urgent agenda – and I strongly encourage other local authorities to follow this closely.

We’re always happy to chat about what we’re doing and how we may be able to work together.

Why, as Digital Leader of the Year 2017, I think there’s no such thing as a digital leader

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Last year, I was voted Digital Leader of the Year at the DL100 Awards, which was a surprising and amazing honour. With nominations now open for this year’s awards, and being in a typically reflective mood for the New Year, it has made me think. I was, of course, delighted to win the accolade last year, but if we, as a society, are to truly embrace digital then there shouldn’t be any individual digital leaders.

Bear with me.

Digital is everywhere in today’s society. It is implicit in so many roles, from communications through to service delivery and project management. To be successful, you need to be digitally competent and confident – which is why we exist as an organisation.

The same goes for organisations too. Those not embracing digital are being left behind by their competitors, as evidenced by the latest Lloyds Business Digital Index. The report says the most digital business leaders are three times as likely to report increasing turnovers. Which implies that the most digital leaders are just better leaders.

In our increasingly digital society, to be considered a leader, it’s an absolute must to be able to do things digitally and to be able to support others to do things digitally. If you can’t do either, then you just can’t be called a leader.

A good leader thinks about the future of their organisation, they are clear about their vision for their organisation and makes decisions based on an understanding of the wider world they work in. They know their staff make the difference, and build an environment they can thrive in, and they understand customers, stakeholders, and partners, they communicate well with them. None of this stuff can be done well without digital.

There are lots of great leaders that champion digital transformation, and I’m honoured to have been recognised as one of them. But in 2018, should we still be talking about digital transformation? Digital has already transformed most of our lives, in ways both big and small. So when we’re talking about digital transformation, we should be transforming lives for those who still aren’t being included in our digital world.

Digital transformation, after all, is just making our businesses better, improving the way we communicate with customers and citizens, seizing all the opportunities that are available to us. It seems a bit of a no-brainer to me.

I am honoured to be named a Digital Leader, and will fully support this year’s DL100 Digital Leaders Awards as they are a chance to shine a spotlight on the benefits of embracing digital as a leader. And, I’m looking forward to seeing, and being inspired by, this year’s winners and nominees.

But that being said, I’m hopeful that soon we’ll reach the stage where every leader is a digital leader, and we’ll just be celebrated good leaders, rather than good digital ones.