Agenda and draft minutes

Economic and Skills Development Partnership - Tuesday, 3 May 2022 9.30 am

Venue: Enterprise & Innovation Hub, Ocean House, Bracknell, RG12 1AX

Contact: Lizzie Rich  01344 352253

No. Item


Action Points from Last Meeting pdf icon PDF 168 KB


The minutes of the last meeting held on 25 January 2022 were approved as a correct record.


Stepping Stones Recovery College


Anne-Marie Gawen, Bernadette Fisher and Cathy Wilkins from Stepping Stones Recovery College attended the meeting to present information about the college which opened in September 2021.


70 million working days a year were lost by mental ill-health, with a cost of £45 billion. 1 in 4 people were known to be affected by mental illness. Poor mental health has been linked to increased staff turnover, burnout, and lost productivity. Employers had a legal duty to protect their employees from stress. Therefore, there was not only a statutory duty but also a good business case to protect employees from mental ill-health.


The Recovery College has been set up to support people experiencing mental ill-health to build their resilience and help them to deal better with stress. Nearly half of the students were in employment, and the College has helped students go back into employment. Not everyone attending would have a diagnosis, but they would be struggling in some way with their emotional wellbeing and may have been off work with stress.


The college was set up as an adult education provider, not therapy, and has been modelled on the Centre of Excellence in Nottingham. The college has worked with students on prevention and recovery, helping them understand the concepts of stress and different mental illnesses. Students can be helped to put the building blocks of their lives back together, such as sleep, exercise, and managing their money. They also run drama and singing workshops which have helped students de-stress.


One principle of the college was to partner with local businesses, raising awareness and delivering courses within companies. For example, they have recently delivered courses at South Hill Park, training staff how to work with customers with mental health challenges.


In response to questions, the following points were noted:

  • The majority of facilitators were freelance and were registered specialists in different areas.
  • It was intended that all volunteers would be trained in mental health first aid.
  • The college’s core offer has been adult education and there were very few providers in the wellbeing sector offering that.
  • The college has always been free to students and also offered free training to employers. It was currently funded via two streams: Bracknell Forest Public Health, and private funding. The aim was to diversify and secure funding from local businesses.
  • The majority of students preferred to attend the college in person and all the courses were in small groups of up to 12 students. Out of hours courses were initially online-only but they had started having some out of hours courses in person, with the possibility to have more in person.
  • Students registered with just their name and address; students were not asked about any diagnoses.
  • If facilitators felt that students needed additional support, they would signpost to health providers such as GPs. The college has built up good relationships with the social prescribers and statutory services.
  • Some localities held a list of employers which were renowned for supporting people with long-term illnesses, and it would be good to have that in Bracknell.

·       The college has supported students to have open conversations with their employers which has led to some changing their career paths to avoid going back to jobs which were causing stress in the first place.


Bracknell Town Centre Development - Next Stages


Tom Woolven from Schroders attended the meeting to provide an update on the Bracknell Town Centre development.


Tom drew partners’ attention to the following general statistics in relation to real estate management:

  • Industrial units were going from strength to strength with record take-up, driven by online retail and supply disruptions which encouraged retailers to hold more stock. Due to not having enough industrial space in the country, there was unprecedented rental growth of 4-5%.
  • There was a huge drop in 2021 in office take-up during Lockdown; however, this was starting to pick up. A major law firm in London has said that employees could choose to work from home but would be paid 20% less than those working in the office. Good quality office and collaboration space was becoming more important to attract employees back to offices. The importance of sustainability has risen up the agenda over the past couple of years.
  • The retail sector was one of the sectors most impacted by Covid. However, the out-of-town retail centre sector has been very resilient due to bulky goods being more internet immune, the centres being easier to operate safely during the pandemic, being more suited to click & collect sales, multiple buying opportunities, and retail rents being more affordable as larger spaces drive the rent down.


The Lexicon

Tom updated that managing The Lexicon has been challenging during the pandemic. Rent collection was a major challenge as lots of retailers stopped paying rent. There has been lots of work to get retailers to start paying again and to recover arrears. Rental values have been challenged. Nationally, there was a huge divergence between good quality retail schemes and secondary schemes. The Lexicon was one of the better-quality schemes in the country, being a new and vibrant outdoor scheme. Therefore, it has performed better during the pandemic than other schemes and the impact of Covid has been less stark. It was anticipated that the next 12 months emerging out of Covid would be crucial. The vacancy rate has been kept low at 9% compared to 20% nationally. The Lexicon opened in 2017 and most retailers have breaks in their leases after 5 years so there could be restructures or new deals made this year. The main voids in the Town Centre were due to be filled with Sports Direct taking the former Sainsbury’s unit in Princess Square and Plush having already taken the former Topshop site as a temporary let (the long-term plan being to replace it with a more established High Street name such as Zara or Mango).


The Deck

The Deck was due to be the final phase of the Town Centre regeneration. The aspiration was for The Deck to include a mix of leisure and food and drink to provide more of an evening economy. It has been a major challenge to get through approvals during Covid, especially with the increase in construction costs. Schroders was committed to the project and has been working hard to ensure it is delivered. They have signed up 50% as pre-lets and this was in line with what was needed for the project to go ahead, subject to Council approval.


In response to questions, the following points were noted:

  • If the Council did not give approval for the current plans, Schroders would work on finding something viable for all partners. Some alternative options have already been included as part of the appraisal so it would not be a case of completely going back to the drawing board. However, the current offer was “very competitive”.
  • Schroders were hoping to have a decision in the next couple of weeks.

·       If the project were approved, Schroders would work to minimise any disruption, and noise levels would not be as high as it was during the demolition.


Employment and Skills subgroup update


Bob Collis presented an update on the Employment and Skills subgroup.


The main project the subgroup was working on was identifying any new skills needs or gaps and what businesses were looking for in terms of education and training. There have been two discussion groups on Zoom which have been very informative and teased out gaps and specialist needs, as well as what training providers businesses were already using or had access to. The long-term aim was to finance some sort of Hub or information service for businesses to find out what is available to their staff. Employers were looking for specialist training to support productivity and how to grow their business, more local training, support with administration of training, and better engagement with government schemes. There was lots of interest in Kick Start schemes but a lot of frustration as well. For older workers, the challenge was how to access training at the right level.


In response to questions, the following points were noted:

  • It was suggested that there could be a task and finish meeting with HR representatives from local businesses to see if they could learn from each other and see if any of the businesses were running the same apprenticeships.
  • Activate Learning has launched an Electric Vehicle (EV) training course for qualified mechanics, working with local electrical firms, and Reading College have two training rigs.
  • The biggest challenge has always been how to get information about training out to small businesses. There are also challenges in finding tutors to deliver the training at appropriate times and if businesses can release staff to deliver the training. There was a need for the ESDP to find the best way to communicate. It was noted that the Hub website was available to all businesses –
  • Partners recognised that there was disjointed information about EV charging, with no coherency throughout Bracknell Forest. Furthermore, the BID survey showed that a huge number of businesses had no Carbon agenda, and it was suggested that the ESDP may be able to help promote the Carbon agenda. Training was needed around EV charging and installation. Dawn Thompson shared that Tracey Rawling Church was due to deliver a presentation about that next week. Dawn offered to liaise with Tracey about presenting to the ESDP at a future meeting, and to send the links that are centrally available to the ESDP. (Action: Dawn Thompson)


Post meeting, Dawn was to forward the following weblinks:


It was noted that Ethical Reading could be another good organisation to link with as it focused on environmental and wellbeing issues.


Infrastructure subgroup update


Sean Griffin presented an update on the Infrastructure subgroup.


The subgroup had been looking at facilitating EV charging in the Borough and had done a survey in the BID area looking at the speed of charging and to whom the charging points were open. Following the survey, the subgroup has identified opportunities and spoken to suppliers. The next step for the BID was a feasibility study on possible sites. Sean displayed a map of the opportunities and explained that not all the current EV charging points were open to the public.


In response to questions, the following points were noted:

  • The majority of government funding was for residential areas. There was lots of talk about funding more EV charging points on motorways, but not much about installing them on business sites. If the ESDP were to pioneer something here, that would be unique.
  • Arlington Square were going to be installing six EV charging points.
  • Some businesses were charging to use the EV chargers, but the majority were free to employees.

·       It was suggested that the BID could link with the Parish Councils as there was a current project to provide EV charging points in recreational areas. However, the challenge was that the charging units were very slow. It was suggested that the Council could be involved in connecting outside elements to the whole of the Borough.


Any Other Business


Bob Collis explained that the next meeting of the ESDP would be the Summer Event on 19 July 2022 similar to the open-air event held three years ago at South Hill Park. The topic last time was looking at mental health in the workplace and it was intended that the Summer Event would build on that. It was anticipated that it would be a market-type event with a few stands and speakers. It would be a people-focused event.


Dates of Future Meetings

19 July 2022

18 October 2022


The next ESDP meeting would be the Summer Event to be held on 19 July 2022.