How we are working to improve social mobility in Weymouth and Portland

There’s been reports this week of Weymouth and Portland ranking low for social mobility. This describes the educational and career prospects of people from a disadvantaged background in a particular area.

We take a look at what social mobility is and what initiatives are taking place to improve prospects for people in the borough.

In a report by the Social Mobility Commission, Weymouth and Portland is named as one of the worst areas in the country for people’s ‘life chances’.

The report highlights vast differences in areas across the country. While cities are doing better in this area, rural and coastal areas seem to be lagging behind.

Social mobility

But what is social mobility and why is Weymouth and Portland so affected? The term describes the educational and career prospects of someone who is disadvantaged at birth.

The State of the Nation report this week highlighted a number of areas that contribute to this. They include education, employment and housing.

There is much that the government can do to improve local outcomes. But there are also pieces of work taking place locally to improve lives and outcomes for our residents.

Why Weymouth and Portland

Weymouth and Portland is a coastal area with a rural hinterland.  It has a seasonal, low-pay economy with a few large – mainly public sector – employers. There are several wards that are among the most deprived in the country.

The borough of Weymouth and Portland has much in common with other coastal towns. It is remote from a strong industrial base, has a lack of investment and a lack of opportunity. Local agencies are trying to address this but it will take time to turn things around.

Here are some pieces of work that both Dorset County Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, working with partners, are doing to tackle the issues.

Education

There is lots of work taking place to improve results for students. And educational achievement levels have improved in many of our schools and colleges.

Both councils and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership have partnered up with the national Careers and Enterprise Company.

This is to support all secondary schools in Weymouth and Portland to develop robust careers programmes. These aim to inspire and prepare our young people for the fast-changing world of work.

We are also lobbying for extra funding for the area, including the government’s Opportunity Area programme.

There is extra support for young people and older adults to get into employment through Dorset Skills and Learning and Weymouth College.

Early support

Dorset County Council is trying to support children by offering help early on, before they reach crisis point.

One way we’re doing this is through family partnership zones. These bring together professionals who help children and young people in their local area.

These include social workers, teachers, police officers, GPs, health visitors, local businesses and others. Support works best when these people come together with a family to look at their whole situation rather than just the one problem they can help with.

The Chesil Zone is set up to support families in Weymouth and Portland.

Community work

We work with community groups to improve prospects for local people.

The borough council-led Working with You community development initiative is one of these.  It operates in our most deprived communities to promote partnership working and improve the quality of life.

The Melcombe Regis Board is tackling decades of decline in the town centre and immediate area. This includes local councils, the Team Around Melcombe Regis, Dorset Police, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, Public Health Dorset, NHS, and Aster Housing.

The project covers housing, community, environment, health, employment and crime.

Housing

This week, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council joined councils in north and west Dorset to promote Opening Doors – Building for the Future.

This aims to tackle the housing crisis with a target of 20,000 new homes in the area by 2033.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council is also working to improve standards in the private rental sector. A scheme to extend private rented sector licensing is currently being explored.

A rough sleepers’ outreach service engages with people sleeping rough across the borough, providing useful advice and assistance.

The council is currently helping the Bus Shelter project, run by a group of committed volunteers, to find a site to provide short term accommodation for up to 17 homeless people every night.

Dorset County Council  has recently invested about £650,000 to service nine hectares for land at Osprey Quay, Portland. This will provide new homes and employment space.  Construction has started on 27 flats and 41 new homes.

Economic development

Councils and partners from across the areas have come together to launch the Western Dorset Growth Strategy.

This is an ambitious economic growth strategy which has involved the business community. It complements the government’s newly-published Industrial Strategy. They both promote inclusive growth, improved skills and increased productivity.

The Peninsula redevelopment aims to bring jobs that are less seasonal and is part of an ambitious plan to regenerate the town over the next five years.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council also runs Weymouth Harbour and the beach, which are both vital to the local economy.

We work with Portland Community Partnership to prepare and deliver the Future Portland vision.

Digital inclusion

Being online helps people save money, access jobs and training and keep in touch with family and friends.

Almost every home and business in Weymouth and Portland (99.8%) has access to superfast broadband already. A further 260 premises will be connected through the Ultrafast programme in the next two years, giving them even faster speeds.

But people in the borough are at a greater risk of digital exclusion than elsewhere in Dorset. This is because fewer people have basic digital skills.

To address this, local libraries offer opportunities for people to improve their digital skills.

And from December, Superfast Dorset will work with local partners, including the borough council, Aster Housing and Weymouth Area Development Trust to train even more volunteer digital champions to help people get online.

To volunteer as a digital champion, email superfast@dorsetcc.gov.uk. Look out for more information about learning opportunities in local media and libraries from mid-December.

Health and wellbeing

A crucial part of being socially mobile is to improve health and wellbeing.

We have supported Osprey Leisure Centre with an award of grant money for improvements. 

Weymouth and Portland has some excellent natural assets. We have urban nature reserves at Radipole and Lodmoor, the country park at Lorton Valley and award-winning parks and gardens.

The natural habitats on Portland are among the best in the country. And all against a backdrop of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which has brought significant economic benefit to the area.

These important natural areas already support health, wellbeing, opportunities for physical activity and recreation, and economic development.

But we think they could provide more benefits. We are working with partners and the community to make sure those who stand to benefit most from using these assets do so.

There are lots of opportunities within our natural environment for skills development, training, and employment.

Dorset County Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council