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Cross-border entrepreneurship training programme launched

A major new £8.6 million project aims to boost enterprise training and job opportunities for thousands of social housing residents in England and France.

Increase Valorisation Sociale (Increase VS) is a partnership between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and nine housing associations and training providers.

The programme is being led by Optivo, one of the largest housing associations in England, and will help 4000 people through entrepreneurship training, supporting 3200 of those into employment and the creation of 1200 new businesses.

Launched this month, the three-year programme will support residents in 38 neighbourhoods facing barriers such as single parenting, disability, multi-generational benefit dependency, high rates of poverty and low job opportunities. The areas involved are in the South and East Coasts of England from Cornwall to Norfolk, and the North Coast of France from Finistère to Pas-de-Calais.

Social housing residents can face higher than average unemployment so to help tackle this the project will deliver ongoing training and support for residents. The first large-scale initiative of its kind, participants will learn skills to help launch their own businesses, including how to trial and market test business ideas and how to manage their finances through micro-loans.

Dr Zografia Bika, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at UEA’s Norwich Business School, will lead an academic evaluation of the programme, enabling best practice to be shared for future sustainable entrepreneurship projects. The team’s work will draw on social housing data, findings from questionnaires, interviews and case studies.

Dr Bika said: “Our aim is to track the participants’ journey in trying out micro-enterprises, securing employment and engaging in personal development".

“By working with residents we are hoping to generate new insights into the local socio-economic and cultural dynamics that underpin the lives of those furthest away from the labour market. This will help future work on entrepreneurship and social innovation among marginalised communities and hopefully influence public and policy debate.”

William Miller, community development director at Optivo, said: “We’re delighted to have been chosen as the lead partner in this project. Optivo has a long and successful history of providing innovative schemes to tackle unemployment and job skills in our communities.

“In the last two years this has included trialling micro-enterprise training for our residents. The Increase Project is a brilliant opportunity to take this to the next level in a super partnership with French and UK housing and training specialist agencies.”

Of the £8.6m total budget, £5.9m has come from the EU’s Interreg France (Channel) England programme, through the European Regional Development Fund.

The Increase VS programme will ensure sustainability by creating a number of community ambassador roles and a strong stakeholder network in each neighbourhood. These ambassadors will provide on-going support to micro-entrepreneurs and continue to engage future participants, ensuring the long lasting legacy of the project.

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