Robert Streibel

Robin Hood must be a learning assistant

Study visit in Sheffield, April 2005 with CEDEFOP

Robert Streibel

Times have changed. There are no longer many Sherwood forest trees around Sheffield but there may still be more trees than the steelworks that made this town in the middle of the island of Britain important for so many years. The first factory in history was located down the valley, close to the river Don. This was the „Globe Works‰, now restored, a building full of clean and smart offices. The change came about not because of the times but because of politics. The years of conservative government had left traces; empty buildings and questions as to what to do with them. Sheffield is an example of traditional industrial cities on the way to the 21st century. Is there a future after the industrial world?

Legend tells us that Robin Hood lived and fought in Sherwood forest, trying to steal from the rich to give to the poor. A nice story but not very helpful for the 21st century. Not just one Robin Hood would be needed and money is not all that would be required. Investment would ensure the necessary new chances for new jobs. But money alone is not all that is required; Robin Hood must be a teacher too and one who is familiar with the new form of learning to deal with old problems.

The CEDEFOP Seminar in Sheffield was a good example showing what efforts had to be made to deal with a new situation. Active citizenship is one issue in the year 2005 and Sheffield presents some good examples of the way in which education can help to achieve this objective. The situation in Sheffield is not one of the best: in 1971 there were 136,000 manufacturing workers; thirty years later only 36,000 are left.

Sheffield is one of the most divided cities in the U.K. Here you will find some of the poorest areas of England as well as some of the richest, it all depends on where you were born ˆ on the hills in the West or down in the valley in the North. Location decides your education, your life expectancy and the money you can spend. A few miles can create an incredibly different social situation. This not purely geographical picture presented by Alan McGauley from Sheffield Hallam University was a good basis for the bus trip through the city. We saw good and bad examples of social housing, the good ones having roots in the Vienna of the thirties. The transformation of Sheffield could be seen with the crane perhaps its new symbol ˆ in every part of the city you could see a building site. There is a new deal for the city and money is coming back.

We were shown good examples of new employment possibilities; new jobs in Sheffield as a cultural centre including recording studios for bands. There are 7000 new jobs in the biggest supermarket with 18,000 parking places as well as jobs in call centres. Sheffield is also seen as a city of sport with the Stadium being like a monument to this new effort but they are rather seldom filled with people and activities and this is not a positive example for the use of money.

In Sheffield city hall the CEDEFOP seminar group from ten countries heard about the effort to deal with social crisis at neighbourhood level. The system for making a policy to meet people‚s needs made a change of structure necessary. Thus, in order to make a link between politicians and people, officers have been installed to discover what the neighbourhood issues are.

The money coming back to Sheffield is also going to the poorest areas. Housing in the Burngreave area is a big problem and money for its solution will come from the government in London but this will involve the tearing down of old properties. Last week the Labour councillor met with more than 300 people in Burngreave to find a solution that would convince them. „ If we can‚t find a good solution I‚m sure I will not be elected for the next period! „ Although the New Deal will bring a lot of new funding, the problem now is coordination.

Asylum seekers are a problem not only for the Conservative candidate for No.10, Downing Street. It is hard to deal with these people, said area officer Andy Shallice, especially if they see themselves as always being viewed as a problem. There are about 2000 in Sheffield now and they present different situations, particularly in schools. Somali people are seen to have learning problems.

Heely City Farm is an example of a long term project. A street was to have been built through this poor part of Sheffield but there was organized resistance and not all the old properties were destroyed. Today not only are there rare animals living at Heely City Farm but there is the possibility for children of the city to learn about rural lives. Parents come with their children and are becoming involved in the programmes. „To visit a school is a barrier for some parents but here they, too, can learn,‰ said David Grey. Heely City Farm is also a project to provide disabled persons with a place of work; in farming and in shredding cardboard for use in stables. This City Farm is also innovative in using energy in a more effective way.

Anthony Arblaster from the Politics Department of Sheffield University spoke about the political situation in England before the May election. In his view Labour will win but there is great disillusion among young people about Britain‚s participation in the Iraq war. The meaning of tactical voting could be shown in this situation and this may make the Liberals winners.

Ruskin Mill is a project which gives individuals with learning disabilities a new chance. They learn to work in metal industries and glass techniques and the ratio between trainers and learners is really incredible. One trainer for not more than three learners is guaranteed to be highly effective. A visit to an old factory that is to become the new college demonstrated how much had to be done in this part of England.

Liz Hawkins‚ lecture about the Open College Network showed how learning can be validated. It demonstrated how this new system can allow learners who had not climbed the educational ladder in traditional ways are enabled to participate in the learning process even at a later stage.

The most impressive visit was to the Burngreave Learning Campaign which was a system to get more people involved in the learning process. Knocking on doors with the new programme is just one example of recruitment and small steps were necessary to get this target group involved. Twenty learning assistance individuals have finished their two year programme and some have already found new jobs.

The Yemeni Centre was a surprise for nearly every participant in this study. What are Yemenites doing in Sheffield? It seems that, while steel production was at its peak, foreign workers came to Sheffield to work, even from the Yemen. About 30.000 did this. The state did not care about them ˆ they were just workers ˆ a situation not unique to England at that time. This house was founded as an educational and cultural centre. Today the target group has been extended because there are only 5.000 Yemenis living in Sheffield at present. Classes in Arabic are in the programme so that the children should not loose the connection with their traditional culture. This way of organising learning programmes has now been widened to include other ethnic groups too. The Yemeni Centre could also provide an example of how women might be involved in this learning process. In the beginning the centre was taboo for women; now one of the programme managers is herself a woman.

Our visit to the traditional pub „Tape and Barrel‰ in our free time gave us an opportunity to learn more about the target group but also had a sad side. Realising how many of these not so very old men wore hearing aids and that a lot of them might have had work accidents showed how hard life could be. This evening a Manchester pub played snooker against the „Tape and Barrel‰. The home pub won 6:1; a lot of pints had been drunk this evening and there was not much laughter but a spirit of comradeship, of sticking together, was noticeable.

The snooker WM is still under way as this article is being written. There is a long way to go for many Sheffield people to play in this league, to have a fair chance to participate in society. While the education programmes do help, they cannot guarantee success. Sheffield is changing and not only because a new railway station is being built. It is said that Sheffield is an ugly picture within a beautiful golden frame. The landscape around Sheffield is a great attraction and the effort to change the ugly site is tremendous. Visiting Sheffield today forces one to ask the question how Sheffield must have looked five or ten years ago when no one was speaking about a new deal for communities.

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