Cheryl Harper: Head of Operations at Learning Links [Interview]

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We are delighted to welcome Cheryl Harper-Duffin, Grant Kennedy, and the Learning Links team as a Shaping Portsmouth sponsor. Given our similar roles in the city it was with a great deal of excitement that Stef Nienaltowski went to meet with Cheryl recently.

The organisation do a brilliant amount of support, education and training across the city, and Cheryl and Stef discussed a number of common themes during the interview.

Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon, I'm sat with Cheryl, the Head of Operations at one of our newest partners, Learning Links. Learning Links is a local charity for our local community. Good afternoon Cheryl.

Cheryl Harper: Good afternoon Stef.

SN: So, Learning Links, first of all welcome to the Shaping partnership, and we're very grateful for your support. How would you describe the objectives of the Learning Links?

CH: I would say the objectives of Learning Links is to offer bespoke support to the local community in multiple areas, including employment, family intervention and support, homelessness, health, and training. We cover the South-East of England, but particularly work in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight.

SN: So, you really are local, in that sense!

CH: Yes, we've been around 20 years in Portsmouth.

SN: That's what I was going to ask, so 20 years in the City?

CH: Yes

SN: That's amazing. If you look forward now, say the next two or three years, where do you see the Learning Links being in that time period?

CH: Well, we see ourselves still delivering under our 4 pillars, which are Learn, Health, Family, and Furnish. What we will do is look to develop our programmes in line with the current client and community needs, and go from there.

SN: And one of the particular programmes you run, which is where you and I first came in touch, was the Healthwatch programme. It's of particular interest, as I say, to our new partnership. I wonder if you could explain a little bit about that programme, and what it's specific aim are?

CH: So, the aim of Healthwatch Portsmouth is to act as a voice for the local community to support in making health and care services work better for the people in Portsmouth. Healthwatch Portsmouth gathers local consumer feedback on these services to help improve service provision, and influence commissioning of services in the City.

SN: The Healthwatch Programme, really important for our City, how does that funding come into the Learning Links for you to be able to put on the programme?

CH: So, it's funded by Portsmouth City Council.

SN: Which is excellent because they are also part of our Health & Wellbeing Programme, so it's great that the synergy is there. Your training courses, again an important part of what you do, a variety of skills and gaps we know we've got in the City. So, again, what plans do you have maybe, to either continue with the current programmes, or evolve the offerings?

CH: So, Learning Links we're very about gathering the customer's voice, and the information from the customers about what their needs are, so we often react against the customers’ needs and introduce courses that support them alleviating their barriers where possible. We currently have our Community Interest Company, Optimum Training, which offers tailor made training for clients as well as corporates.

SN: And are those training courses say, are they held on the Learning Links site, or do you hold them in various places, how does that work?

CH: We hold them where they're needed, so often we can hold them at the warehouse, because we have a training centre within the Furnish warehouse, we can hold them in our St George's offices, but we will also go to where the clients are. For example, our current Family delivery of non-violent resistance, we're delivering through a couple of central locations, one of them being Spithead, so it's more central for the customers.

SN: Wow! And of course, where I come from, training courses tend to be held during the day, and 9-5 and whatever, do you offer training times that differ from that?

CH: We definitely do for the families, because it doesn't just happen to people that are not in work, we have working families. We offer day-time courses and night-time course, and we've started trying doing it through Skype as well for those people, so we can do a one-to-one session.

SN: Now that is interesting, because there's another programme Shaping's trying to run, where we are thinking of that, so I'd love to come back and talk about your feedback in the future. As ever we look at the City, we look at the issues the City's facing. I wonder, where do you see Learning Links being able to help in those issues the City is facing.

CH: So, going back to the young girls we were just talking about that, there's been a real increase in the demand for the non-violent resistance therapy, due to the number of child to parent violence incidences occurring, and people are being more open about speaking to it. Now people are aware that there is support out there, and they're not on their own, more and more people are coming forward with this, so we need to be able to keep the demand of the customers.

SN: Excellent, so just in case our listeners aren't familiar with the acronyms, NVR?

CH: Non-violent resistance. It's a therapy to work with parents who are dealing with child-to-parent violence.

SN: I see, okay. Now that Shaping and Learning Links have actually started their partnership, we know that Healthwatch is obviously one thing we are both passionate about, have you been able to actually discuss any other areas where our two companies can work together?

CH: I think there's quite a few areas, obviously health is quite key because that's on the agenda at the moment, but any of our contracts there's always aspects of health, whether it's for our customers that are on our Furnish contract, which is there to support people in the cycle of homelessness, obviously there's often health issues. So, when we look at any of our contracts, we're aware there's multiple cross-over in all of them, so I think...

SN: plenty of scope…

CH: Yes, definitely, because you never get one person who's just dealing with one barrier, it could be that's the main barrier at the moment, so we have to be prepared to take them through the whole journey, not just deal with one issue and leave that customer on their own.

SN: Exactly, and that's what excites me about our partnership, because I can see when I spoke to you, and I spoke to Grant, there is so many things that we are consistently doing, we're just doing them kind of separately at the moment, and we're going to start to bring them together, and offer help to each other which is great.

CH: Yeah, definitely!

SN: So, Cheryl, thank you, time has run out very quickly, time has run out very quickly, thank you for your time today, and I look forward to growing our partnership as we go forward, thank you.

CH: Thank you.

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