Back in 2016, the University of Gloucestershire won a bid to be part of a jointly funded £3.16 million National Lottery /European Social Fund Building Better Opportunities (BBO) project known as GEM (Going the Extra Mile). This inclusive employment project was set up with the aim of engaging with and supporting individuals experiencing barriers to work due to a range of circumstances, and moving them closer to education, training or employment.

Individuals receive tailored support their own Navigator Developer to help them improve their confidence and are given – amongst other things – skills, training and interview coaching. GEM is a unique partnership of community-based Gloucestershire organisations and is managed by Gloucestershire Gateway Trust. To date, GEM has improved the lives, prospects and wellbeing of over 1,000 participants. The University’s primary role in GEM is to provide ongoing monitoring and evaluation of programme outcomes and process using a range of tools and methods including interviews, self-completion surveys and digital storytelling. The M&E project is co-led by Professor Paul Courtney and Leonie Burton.

As part of the GEM Service Agreement, the 25 GEM partner organisations committed to achieving Silver level accreditation in the international Green Impact scheme. This provides a way for GEM to report back to its stakeholders how it has met its sustainability and environmental targets. Green Impact is an internationally recognised benchmark environmental assessment tool run by SOS-UK (Students Organising for Sustainability UK), an educational charity created by the NUS. There are three levels of assessment – Bronze, Silver and Gold, with 10 modules within each level.

Green Impact is a sub-project within GEM and is run by Isabel Fielden who works at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), based at FCH Campus. Her role is to manage the project, which runs in line with a student’s academic year, and to coach and mentor the GEM partner organisations to ensure they achieve Silver accreditation. It also involves an end of year audit and awards ceremony to showcase how GEM partners have improved their sustainability as a result of the scheme.

Auditors were recruited and received Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) accredited training on 28th May. They came from a range of backgrounds and included an Open University student, 2 GEM participants, two staff from the CCRI at the University of Gloucestershire, a placement student and a postgraduate student.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused additional challenges for this year’s entrants and the Project Co-ordinator, as the auditor’s training normally takes place in a room with a trainer but instead had to be delivered online via Zoom. Likewise, the Audits themselves had to be undertaken virtually via conference call, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. While this has meant having to get up to speed quickly with this new technology, the silver lining of the lockdown has of course been a substantial reduction in everyone’s carbon footprint, and in turn an increase in their green impact!

This year’s entries demonstrated a high level of environmental awareness and commitment to the programme. The results were commendable and exceeded the original target – with 9 partners achieving Gold, 13 Silver, 1 Bronze and 1 working towards Bronze.

The Awards Ceremony took place online via Zoom in July 2020. As you can see from the image below, it was a great success.

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