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South East LEP’s ‘Lessons Learnt’ webinar paves a path for best practice in future projects

The first in a series of South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) legacy events heard that the lessons learnt from delivering EU-funded projects included the importance of flexibility, partnership working, knowledge exchange and understanding local needs.

The “Lessons Learnt Webinar” on 8 November heard from project managers and delivery organisations whose schemes had benefited from the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)  in the SELEP area to support skills development and innovation and business growth.

They shared their insight in managing performance, priority sectors, milestone tracking and evaluation – vital legacy information as the work of SELEP transitions into a new form, to be led by the area’s local authorities in future.

Abbie Kempe, Director of Enterprise & Engagement at Canterbury Christ Church University, and Chair of the SELEP’s U9 Group which represents the Universities across the area, chaired the webinar.

She said: “It’s really evident that these projects have had significant impact both socially culturally and economically. It’s also clear from what we’ve heard today,  the importance of working together throughout the delivery of programmes and that flexibility and programme management have to be responsive to needs and feedback as activities progress. That’s a fundamental part.

“A further important learning point is how we interface with our audience and understand the local needs – one size does not fit all – and programmes should be relevant and simplistic to reach that target audience.”

The webinar highlighted the important role SELEP played as it highlighted the importance of networks, partnerships – and the variety of partnerships in terms of supporting knowledge exchange, leveraging expertise and track record to maximise reach and profile.

Missed the webinar? View it here.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

In the SELEP area, 23 projects were supported with £76 million ERDF supporting10,000 businesses to start and grow.

Against the ERDF objective of decarbonisation, LoCASE (Low Carbon Across the South and East) has helped 1,250 business with sustainability initiatives such as ultra-low emission vehicles, e-cargo bikes, solar panels and heat pumps.

Rob Robinson, from Kent County Council which oversaw the scheme, said the legacy of the project was that “every business has a story that could resonate with other businesses and the project allowed us to look at how sustainable development goals link in with what others are doing.”

Another project, South East Creatives had a total investment value of £5m involving 370 businesses. It brought together the knowledge and expertise of the creative industries with knowledge around ERDF. Sarah Wren Principal Project Manager, Creative Economy, Kent County Council said.

“We needed collective knowledge to make it work and in designing these programmes, in many ways, South East Creatives broke the mould.”

Dan Chilcott, also from Kent County Council and Strategic Lead on Create South East Programme, added: It was really key to have local hubs with an open door and friendly welcome. They were networks of businesses that creatives were already working with and so, had kudos and traction within the sector. They were trusted sources of advice.”

Jean Knott, International Trade Executive at UK Trade & Investment, said 286 SMEs were supported in their project with £1.8m in grants to export and market their business internationally. Top sectors included manufacturing/engineering, retail including e-commerce, and food/drink.

Her team’s legacy advice included: “Make sure any contractor or deliverer has a good knowledge of the objectives in the scheme and not just the processes, and also that they know who the stakeholders are.”

She stressed the usefulness of a “stakeholder map” adding: “To deliver a scheme successfully it needs to be customer focused, with clear guidance, timely responses to queries and with consistent messaging from grant administrators.”

European Social Fund (ESF)

More than 50,000 people in the SELEP area were supported into work, and with skills for the workplace, thanks to £80m in ESF funding.

Kate Kozlova-Boran, Interim Strategic Lead of Learning, Thurrock Council, explained how the second phase of Thurrock on Track project had helped 815 young people into the job market since March 2022 alone, and the scheme had been running since 2015.

She said: “One of our learnings is that as a small local authority, we need that continuity of support and offer,” adding, “you also need a strong understanding of your data, who are your people and who your partners are.”

Community grants programme, CXK, works with smaller organisations and Assistant Director Sarah Mills, said: “Sometimes smaller local organisations feel more risky from a governance, delivery or financial stability perspective – but working with smaller organisations meant we got into the spaces and places of those populations we really wanted to work with. It’s really important to have flexibility in your governance so you can allow smaller private providers to be involved in your process.”

She added: “We brought together a group of local stakeholders when we assessed the bids so while we managed the process, a lot of the decision making was held in consultation with other organisations that really wanted to see impact and best use of money.”

Enable East’s Heads Up programme focused on community members impacted by mental health issues and struggling to find employment or training. More than 1,030 people enrolled in Heads Up, 201 exited into employment, 124 went into training and education, and 85% of participants reported an improvement in their overall wellbeing.

Project lead, Rachel Newell, said the lessons learnt included “ensuring there’s clarity in your work with delivery partners.”

She said: From a delivery point of view, don’t presume that just because you’ve had a really good idea that the recipients understand it and know what to do about it. For us, it was absolutely game-changing when we revisited our resources and put far more into stakeholder engagement and communications to build up a huge network of community-based organisations who became our referral network for all initial plans – in the space of about nine months that resource was slightly tweaked and realigned, so we needed flexibility of approach.”

To hear more about what makes for successful delivery you can watch the webinar here.