Asfa Sohail

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How can colleges best support London’s economic recovery?

Our country is facing some of the biggest challenges it has seen for many years. As it rebuilds its post-Brexit and post-COVID economy, the impact of our recent history will not only be felt nationally but also in our local communities.

London is in one of the wealthiest cities in the world but as with many London boroughs, Lewisham suffers from high levels of poverty and inequality, with many of our communities being the most deprived in the country. Although there has been some skills devolution, there is great value in determining need at a local level and creating skills solutions to overcome the challenges the people in our communities are likely to face.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to post-16 education and FE Colleges have a wealth of experience in personnel, infrastructure, networks and resources, which helps when you need to offer a variety of solutions quickly. Greater flexibility in skills funding would open up opportunities to support the sectors most affected in our area and help even more people to develop the personal, social and employability skills they need to prepare for the jobs coming through in their region as our economy recovers.

Lewisham College’s mission of achieving social mobility through economic prosperity is critical to our strategic vision. We work in close partnership with local industry across Lewisham to offer education and skills training that leads to real employment opportunities for our learners and makes strong local economic impact here.

Our partnership with Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance has been a shining example of this, with our students offered greater support from the industry and a route into the creative sector. As we foster stability during changing times, we can be a source of opportunities for people in the borough, particularly as a college supported by a large national college group, NCG, which enables us to expand our curriculum and vocational offer.

We benefit from the resources and collaboration that comes with being part of NCG, whilst retaining our local identity with our partners in the borough. It is that identity that feeds our vision and achieve our local and regional priorities, which means we make a much bigger collective impact.

One of my proudest moments as a Principal has been seeing staff support our learners to overcome studying remotely. The difficulties many people faced accessing the services they needed and overcoming digital poverty seemed insurmountable when we first went into lockdown but we were fortunate to be part of a large college group and a network of formidable employer partners, GLA and community organisations who acted quickly with us to put in place additional support. It was truly a collective effort.

In our position as a College at the heart of our borough, we can help make a real difference and enhance the lives of those within our locality by widening opportunities and increasing prosperity. We are ideally placed to reach into local communities and establish a holistic skills and employment approach to tackle poverty, exclusion and inequality and build a genuine lifelong learning culture to deliver inclusive growth in our neighbourhoods and ultimately, the UK as a whole.

This blog is by Asfa Sohail: Principal at Lewisham College.

This is the fifth in a series of blogs by Collab Group London Principals in the run-up to the London Mayoral Elections 2021

To find out more about Lewisham College, check out their website here.

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