Posted: by Verity Hilton

Lifelong Learning and COVID-19: New Approaches at the University of Wolverhampton

Lifelong Learning and COVID-19: New Approaches at the University of Wolverhampton

This is our third profile regarding how our member institutions are responding to the new challenges brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic. This week we are profiling University of Wolverhampton's Centre for Lifelong Learning (CLL) COVID-19 responses which have continued to put learning at the heart of the communities the University serves and contribute to the University's far reaching civic engagement and COVID-19 responses which are vital during crisis and recovery. 


The CLL runs three Regional Learning Centres (RLCs): University Centre Telford, University of Wolverhampton in Stafford, the Black Country Studies Centre (in partnership with the Black Country Living Museum) and plays a key role in the development and implementation of the city-wide strategic initiative, Wolverhampton City Learning Region, which is working with partners to put learning at the heart of Wolverhampton. It is a member of the UNESCO Learning City Network.

The RLCs are vital for growth, community engagement, place and positioning of the University but reciprocally, they are vital to their local communities in supporting growth, access to learning opportunities, providing information and support to potential and current students. Whilst they may have closed their doors due to Covid-19, learning provision of all types is continuing through new approaches to retain both the momentum and audiences the University has worked so hard to build and to maintain the link between learning and place.  In addition, continued engagement with specialist learning and engagement groups to use learning as an approach to combat marginalisation and isolation through supported digital engagement. 

CLL developed an evidence-based response to Covid-19 based on best practice and key lessons from other cities who were ahead of the UK in the pandemic including Wuhan and Turin. By being part of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) and other key networks such as EPALE, staff have been able to engage with international colleagues through regular webinars and meetings. 

All CLL actions build on and strengthen existing relationships across the University and in each locality (schools and colleges, Local Authorities, key strategic partners including Chambers of Commerce, provider networks, businesses and third sector organisations). CLL is not a delivery unit and works with the University faculties to support growth and take their work to new and expanding audiences in key locations. For example, live streamed public lectures and online learning sessions translates the work to the greater benefit of the community.

Lifelong Learning at the University of Wolverhampton and its positioning in our regions during crisis and recovery. Our CLL aims are to:

  • Ensure that learning stays at the heart of the communities we serve.
  • Business continuity to support growth, recruitment and innovation.
  • Continued positive impact on economic, social and cultural wellbeing.
  • Continued drive to create life chances for all and to support those furthest from HE.

Below are some examples of the CLL activity which is focused on Lifelong Learning and its positioning in the region during crisis and recovery:  

The Regional Learning Centres have taken support online to engage with and support current University students in a range of ways including providing:

  • Advice on home schooling for lone parents struggling to combine this with their University studies and assessed work
  • Home schooling sessions through the Stafford Centre’s STEM videos which have been picked up by schools across Staffordshire (despite being low tech in their production we have received wonderful feedback from stressed students who were desperate for support) 
  • Blogs on University Centre Telford website to support with home schooling/online learning
  • Ongoing IAG to prospective students
  • Wellbeing support for current students who are struggling with the transition to online learning
  • Ongoing support from University Centre Telford for its Year 2 students with bespoke online careers and Business Start-Up sessions.
  • Creating strong mainstream accessibility to support and activities through Facebook 
  • English Café – Members of the migrant communities in Telford now attend online lessons on Zoom for social interaction and English Language support
  • Stafford’s Culture Café is supported through Microsoft Teams as well as linking in with pen-pals to practise their English.
  • The Knitting Group in Telford has moved from making blankets for dementia patients to making PPE for nurses at the PRH, connecting via Zoom to combat isolation and loneliness
  • Stafford’s Book Club Group has also become virtual with regular meetings and support through Facebook Groups
  • Language Classes joining together and continuing to study with resources supplied and new prospective learners joining up.


Ongoing Engagement for Specialist Groups to combat marginalisation and isolation including:

Live streaming of Public Lectures on a range of topics including health, wellbeing and cultural topics:

  • Academic staff from the Faculties have the opportunity to engage with the public and students in schools and colleges to raise aspirations and offer advice about progression pathways and careers.
  • The public lecture programme translates our work to the greater benefit of the general public and maintains the focus on the role of learning in a lockdown. 
  • Free support programme for SMEs to relaunch following lockdown or for people who wish to start up a new business. The programme is particularly aimed at the leisure and tourism industry who have been hit hard by the pandemic in Staffordshire.    


Online Business Support Programme offered through the Stafford Centre working in partnership with Stafford Borough Council

Lockdown Learning programme: despite the Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) being closed during the pandemic, the Coordinator of the Black Country Studies Centre (BCSC) has been supporting the new online History in the Home learning programme for school children   In partnership with academics and members of the new Black Country Studies Research Network, she has created an adult learning programme Lockdown Learning, with weekly blogs and videos and five minute insights to research areas including the role in fashion in Black Country history, brickmaking, Black Country landscapes. This is showcasing research from across faculties to new audiences and increasing pride in the heritage of the Black Country as a power house for innovation.

The BCSC has also facilitated a partnership between BCLM and the University’s EnTRESS project, involving Matterport scans of various museum buildings that will enable people to explore the museum virtually.

Wolverhampton City Learning Region (WCLR):

The WCLR core partners are coordinating the WCLR response to COVID-19 and working to adapt plans for the initiative  to take account of the changed nature of the roles of service providers in supporting adults in the City of Wolverhampton.

The city’s Learning Communities activities are normally conducted at community venues across the city, but partners have had to readjust their engagement and delivery methods to meet the needs of residents during the lockdown and are working to ensure community wellbeing during this challenging time and provide support for almost 1,000 residents on a weekly basis.  

Through conversations with WCLR partners the initiative is taking time to understand how it needs to respond in the light of the new challenges facing the city and learning partners. This will result in a new agenda that focuses on the ‘new normal’.

The WCLR 2020 Learning Festival has been re-scheduled to Spring 2021 with a Love Learning Social Media Campaign being developed to residents to the learning opportunities during the pandemic and beyond.

WCLR have joined the international PASCAL EcCoWell 2 Community Recovery Programme and are refocusing plans to adapt and tackle key challenges such as digital poverty and barriers to digital engagement for adult learners who have recently lost their jobs and on skills for the future economic environment. 


Aspire to HE Older Learners Programme

This face-to-face support programme that works with NCOP-eligible older learners has had to operate in a new way during lockdown. The aims of the programme are to work in partnership with Further Education Colleges in the university’s footprint to:

  • provide a dedicated and personalised support package to remove barriers to progression to HE for older learners.
  • focus on key areas of concern that might block progression.
  • provide a network of support to address each of these (course, HE experience, finance, workload etc.)
  • provide a role model in Patience Mudavanhu, a former University student, who has made a similar journey. 

As face to face contact has not been possible the programme is engaging with students through social media, emails, phone calls and individualised support is being offered to students who are expressing interest. It is a very challenging situation as often these are the hardest to reach groups with low digital skills, confidence and resources and are time poor.

For further information click on the link about the University of Wolverhampton Centre for Lifelong Learning

Verity Hilton

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